black mirrors | commodifying the wondrous


Technology is necessary, potent, and ubiquitous.  A large amount of way more qualified people than myself have talked about technology and it’s effects – positive and negative – on the flesh-and-blood constructs that use it.  But recently and ironically, a TV show brought to mind some very necessary, potent, and ubiquitous (if not easily recognized) ideas related to technology, and I wanted to share it with you.  Because that’s what we do here.

Black Mirror, created by Charlie Brooker, is an exploration of the darker side of man’s relationship with technology.  Each of the two seasons features three episodes of about an hour’s length, exploring everything from manipulating crowd-mentality to numbing grief with the aid of social media.  Brooker is a gifted creator, and this show is generally top-notch – writing, acting, cinematography, etc. (although some episodes are definitely more convincing then others).  It delivers the complex and dissatisfying punchlines, for the most part, breathtakingly.  Fair warning – the content is very raw, though not unnecessary in communicating the point.

Brooker’s holiday interview of 2014 is enlightening as to what exactly he’s getting at with these cautionary tales.  Besides being interested in actively unsettling people due to a lack of that in modern television (??), Brooker, a writer and producer, notably of comedic commentary, points out that “a lot of the stories… are about a lack of perceived control in today’s world.”  Why the title?  “When a screen is off, it looks like a black mirror; there is something cold and horrifying about that… I quite like the fact that people are watching it on [their TV or smart phone; that] when the end credits start running and the screen turns to black, they see themselves reflected.”

Speculative fiction such as this, set in a near-modern world, is just far enough from our everyday that we can look at it objectively.  The most disturbing part of Black Mirror, though, is that in viewing the thoughtless, brutal, ravenous interactions of the characters you find yourself looking at yourself objectively.  Like most influential art, it turns the question back to us.  As Brooker points out, “the villain is never technology.”  In each episode, we see the truth of humanity enslaved, not by technology, but by themselves.  I found myself sobered and deeply saddened (in the right way) after watching.

One of the most stunning episodes is “Fifteen Million Merits”, in which talent, beauty, and truth are packaged and sold to the highest bidder for the entertainment of the masses.  In this episode, Brooker chose to very directly relate this to pornography.  The wondrous becomes a commodity.

Whether our use of technology is redeemed or not is worth asking.   A more important question is whether our use of our creative abilities is redeemed or not.  Why are we creating?  Who are we creating for?  What motivates us to interact with art, beauty, and truth in destructive or creative ways?  The answers to these questions reveal our inner life in relation to our art.  What are we reflecting to the world – darkness, or light?

Brooker’s characters do not die sensationally.  Rather, they go on living lifelessly, which I find to be terrifyingly truthful of our day and age.  We have a decision to make daily – what will we do with the wondrous?

Turning it back on ourselves: how do we see commodifying the wondrous happening in our own lives?


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