While exploring the future, Black Mirror refuses to succumb to cliched cultural narratives about the risks of technological innovation.
A little more than one-hundred years ago the world underwent drastic change. The industrial revolution changed the way cities looked, and more importantly, how people lived. Today the Earth faces a similar scenario. Today we face a new age, and much like the industrial revolution, it is different than anything we have seen. The ‘Digital Age,’ or ‘Information Age,’ has been the name given to the 21st century and fits seemingly well. With this new age come an array of questions. One of these questions that is frequently broadcasted through TV, movies, and books is the thought, ‘Maybe technology isn’t that great.’ Whether it’s Will Smith saving the world from powerful robots (I, Robot), or apes taking over the world (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), the development of advanced technology in sci-fi thrillers marks the end of humanity. This idea has become cliché and is truly overdone in Hollywood, revealing the same brainless idea of ‘Technology = bad.’
This being said, one show has centered its theme around this idea and has done it beautifully. Black Mirror, a Netflix Original, features episodes in the near future with some drastic change to humanity. Each episode is separate from each other, much like The Twilight Zone; most episodes revolve around some piece of newly developed technology. The new tech often appears great but upon closer examination turns out to be monstrous. Finding an episode with a ‘happy’ ending is rare and plenty of episodes leave you feeling weary of the future. Some episodes feature dystopian (or at first glance utopian) societies and others feature a world not much different than our own. Rotten Tomatoes summarizes Black Mirror’s first season by saying, “A suspenseful series that taps into the collective unease about our modern world.” Other reviews note Black Mirror’s insight to technology as brave and well thought out. Ultimately the show has received outstanding reviews and high appraisal from both critics, and, your everyday viewer.
While I agree that the show is outstanding and truly unique, I believe it stands out for a different reason. In light of this cliché of ‘technology = bad,’ unlike most programs, Black Mirror avoids beating this dead horse. The problem with the cliché is that it doesn’t do justice to the truth and often has the message that technology makes us evil, or, usually more so, that technology is evil itself. Black Mirror completely rewrites this scenario and leaves us feeling that no, technology did not make the protagonist evil, it only helped draw out the evil within.
One perfect example of this comes from season 4 in the episode “Crocodile.” In this episode we have arrived in a future where all of your memories can be produced on a television. Sounds useful, right? This new technology certainly helps police and insurance companies, but not so much criminals. Since memories can be drawn out onto a television screen, secrets are hard to keep. Illegal secrets are especially hard to hold on to and this ultimately reveals our protagonist’s true evil. To keep a secret, the main character commits mass murder and, in the end, even murders a child.
Now some may be saying, ‘What is the difference between technology making someone evil and technology revealing someone’s evil?’ And for that I offer a movie that has not seen such high approval. Nerve, the 2016 thriller drama, featured two protagonists competing in daring tasks and posting them to social media in exchange for money. The more dangerous a task, the more money they received. In an all too predictable ending, they got caught in a situation they could not escape, and by the end of the movie were very different people. The wasted idea of a new media site turning the lead roles evil was drawn out and all too predictable.
This is where the line can be drawn between Black Mirror and the vast majority of technological thrillers. Black Mirror flips this cliché and leaves the viewer anticipating when things will turn awry.
In this new ‘digital age’ of the 21st century it seems we are all left wondering when technology will hit its limits. Black Mirror explores some of these possibilities and makes us question, in a unique way, what humanity will look like when technology soars.