Last weekend I finally finished watching the latest series of Black Mirror.
I dragged it out for as long as possible, so that I could
find the time to emotionally brace myself for each episode enjoy it for a really, really long time. Who knows when we’ll get another series – though, to be honest, 2016 has given Charlie Brooker plenty of material to work with!
After discussing it with a couple of friends, I’ve decided I’d like to discuss it with the internet too, with a tongue-in-cheek post about lessons learned from each episode.
So, here’s what I’ve learnt from this latest series. If you haven’t finished watching them, I’d avoid reading on, as there may be spoilers (also, what are you waiting for?!). If you’ve never watched Black Mirror before, I think it’s imperative that you start. And finally, if you have a (slightly sarcastic) lesson to share with me too, please let me know in the comments! We all interpret things differently, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
1. Trolling and online hate kills. Really.
I mean, not in the way that Hated by the Nation suggests – hopefully Brooker hasn’t predicted this as accurately as he practically did with #PigGate and The National Anthem. However, the real truth behind this episode – the last in the series – is that online abuse really can kill, and it shines an accusatory light on the fact that there are no consequences for the perpetrators.
We’ve seen more and more online abuse in recent years – we only have to look at what happened to Leslie Jones after the release of Ghostbusters this summer. Not only has there been outrage, but questions have been asked about the guilty parties, and how to charge trolls and online bullies. It’s a whole new ball game; the age-old issue of bullying, but on a shiny new platform which we like to think we can control…but can’t.
Faceless bullies on websites like Twitter (mostly) have no comeuppance when they torment others. Regardless of whether the abused have done anything wrong or not (many of the ‘victims’ in this episode are people who have committed crimes, whilst others are hated purely for their job),their lives are eventually taken from them by the hatred of others.
Brooker has faced the issue of culpability head on and pushed the issue to the very limit – which is what he does best. The victims die because of abuse from online accounts. Is this any difference to when online bullying today causes suicide?
I think not.
What you say and do online may seem temporary, but the effects can be long-lasting. Think before you tweet.
2. Those signs which ask you to turn off your phone? Don’t ignore them.
Ever wondered why flight attendants ask us to turn off our phones while we fly? Or why Doctor’s surgeries and dentists have signs up asking the same thing? I’ve always questioned whether it’s really necessary, and regularly wait for my dental appointments scrolling through feeds.
After watching Playtest, though, I’m not sure I want to risk it any more, just in case the dental machinery turns homicidal because of the signal (…or something.)
But seriously, Playtest brilliantly highlights the need to take technology a bit more seriously, and heed the warnings and recommendations by professionals. It’s temperamental stuff and we’ve become too comfortable and blasé about it.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be a little more careful about heeding warnings in the future. You never know…
3. We should be more scared of the things we can’t see, than the things we can.
Playtest was an episode of all things that go bump in the night. Cooper had a fear of spiders, bullies and the dark. However, once we got to know him – and more importantly, once technology got to know him – we discovered he was also scared of betrayal and, more significantly, succumbing to the invisible horrors of Alzheimer’s.
This is scarier than computer-generated human-spider hybrids (no matter how many nightmares that bit gave you). Your entire essence is removed; you are no longer what makes you ‘you’, and you revert to ‘factory mode’. Just because you can’t touch it…doesn’t mean it can’t get you.
The invisible is often more terrifying than the visible, and there’s no safety word to get you out of the nightmare. Brooker plays with the idea of reality, and the simple way we become confused about what’s ‘real’ in the episode just goes to show how unsettling that kind of uncertainty really is.
We’d need technology in order to see these human spiders (and I hope it stays that way) but we don’t need technology to mimic the loss of human essence. We’ve already got a monster doing that for us, right now. That part of the episode was very real.
4. We don’t need technology for how we see others to be manipulated. It’s already happening.
In Episode Five, Men Against Fire, technology is used to manipulate the way people are seen in order to ‘keep the nation safe’ against ‘undesirables’.
I don’t know about you, but I twigged the twist about halfway through, just before it was revealed. I thought it was a brilliant way of exploring how our views of people can be so strongly manipulated by the media and the government. There was a time before the rats, but it was the stuff of myth, turned into legend by the powers that be. Again, Brooker has taken it to the extreme. But think about it; we’re already being told to see people a certain way, to feel a certain way about them. The idea of the ‘other’ has always been threatening. Who are we to argue with authority?
I think this really is quite poignant, especially in the politically-charged world we are currently living in.
5. For God’s sake, beware the webcam.
A colleague at work has told me numerous horror stories about people spying through your webcam. He tapes his up, for good measure, and I usually laugh about it.
Shut Up and Dance was a very full-on episode (terrifying, powerful and confusing) but one of the most basic things I learnt from watching it was to be mindful of the fact that there are cameras everywhere. Literally, everywhere. We have invited lenses and little mechanical eyes into our homes.
Just something to think about.
The episode also asks you to consider sympathy, and how much you’d be willing to test the limits of this when faced with all the facts, which is very deep and thought-provoking. However…now I have to turn my laptop towards the wall when I’m getting changed. You know, just in case…
6. It’s OK not to be liked by everyone.
I love anything that sparks a debate about social media. As a bit of an addict myself, I enjoy being reminded that I need to look up, away from my screen, more often. It’s so easy to run your life around your online presence and reputation, especially when you’re surrounded by bloggers and influencers whose entire empire is built around being likeable online. We all know that it’s not real, but we still take it very, very seriously. My genration, especially.
When I watched Nosedive I knew it’d be a strong favourite of mine. Amongst the obvious lessons (the digital self isn’t a true representation; your online worth isn’t permanent; manners cost your reputation) it also reminded me of something which I personally have always struggled with.
It’s ok not to be liked by everyone.
In fact it’s basically impossible, unless you want to drive yourself completely crazy and never, ever relax, be honest, or happy.
As a perpetual people pleaser, I find this very hard to remember, but this episode brought it back to my attention. You do not have to be liked by everyone, no matter now it may seem. Focus on those who matter; and if you don’t like yourself in the first place, then you need to start from there.
7. Life is short, but it’s never too late.
If there’s anything San Junipero taught me, it’s that before you know it, your life will almost be over. But even without amazing technology which helps you live longer (whether or not that’s in a physical or digital world) it’s never too late to achieve what you want to do, be who you want to be, and explore new experiences.
In this episode, the end doesn’t have to be the end, but it’s still inevitable. Everyone has regrets and stories of sadness in their lives, and not only does it affect them forever, but it can also be the catalyst for change – the good kind of change.
We can’t guarantee that we’ll have the San Junipero project ahead of us, so we might as well dance to as much Belinda Carlisle as we can, while we can.
I know one thing for certain – I’ll never be able to listen to ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ again without a tear in my eye.
8. Sometimes you just need to know it’s not all bleak.
Oh, San Junipero. Again. A visually stunning episode, and one of the only Black Mirror episodes ever to make me cry like a baby out of something other than fear or despair.
For once, technology was not the enemy, but a much-needed comfort; giving people a second chance at the life they should have lived. To fulfil dreams, be the true self, and live more daringly than in life. The characters also had a choice, which really was unusual for Black Mirror.
Sometimes it’s nice not to over analyse something and just take it for face value. Life is sad, but also brilliantly beautiful.
9. Call your mum back.
How many of us contacted our parents after watching Playtest? Surely it can’t just be me.
I didn’t realise I’d taken so much from this episode, as it was one of my least favourites – but still, as Queen once sang ‘too much love will kill you’ and this certainly seemed to be the case for Cooper. His avoidance of reality and his fears surrounding his family was the thing that ultimately ‘got him’, despite facing so many other, more tangible fears throughout the episode. Facing issues head-on is scary, but could be the best thing in the long-term.
If Cooper had just called his mum back earlier, he would have been safe (for a little while longer, at least).
So, please ring your mum back, or her persistent calling may get you in a bit of a pickle.
10. The world is a scary, scary place
I know Black Mirror isn’t reality, and (hopefully) no more of Brooker’s predictions will come true. However, everything in the last series – and indeed, every series before that – has been so near-the-knuckle and so familiar that it makes us question, learn and debate.
I will always end a series of Black Mirror by staring at a blank wall, questioning everything about modern life. Each episode can make me feel sick, anxious, hopeless or helpless. Sounds like the worst kind of entertainment, right?
Wrong. It’s worth it. I love the fact that it makes me think, and that I’ll look at things slightly differently for the few weeks afterwards. It feels so good to have a programme which asks you to use your brain a little and interpret things in your own way. I know, for example, that some of you will have read this post shaking your heads and sighing in derision. But this is what I took from the series – and it’s a show which offers different experiences to each of us.
I can’t wait for Charlie Brooker’s 2016 Screenwipe to see what he’s made of this year. No doubt it will have sparked a few ideas for Series Four of Black Mirror, too.
Until then, however, I’m going to think a little bit harder about my reliance on social media, stay wary of my webcam, and take more care over which hashtags I choose.
What did you learn from this most recent series of Black Mirror?