Published on March 4, 2013 | by Lorelei Watt


Black Mirror: Looking into the future?

Black Mirror - The Waldo Moment

Could Black Mirror be Brooker’s idea of the future? [Liam Daniels/C4]

The future is now. Or at the very least, a skewed dystopian version of it. London is one of the most watched cities in the world through CCTV.

People voluntarily share every detail of their life online from where they are to what they have eaten for breakfast.

Clinics have been set up in swanky Harley Street to treat our addiction to sleek smart phones, which run every aspect of our life. Gadgets control most of us, willingly or not.

Books, films and other media have always been interested in exploring the darker side of life.

The earlier version of the lauded series by columnist, critic, presenter and satirical Renaissance man Charlie Brooker Black Mirror, is a close attribute to the still very relevant seminal novel, 1984.

Big Brother

Many of the concepts introduced in the novel have now entered the common lexicon. ‘Big Brother’, ‘doublethink’, ‘newspeak’ and ‘thought crime’ are now commonly used words.

The authoritarian state introduced in the novel can seem uncomfortably close to today. In Black Mirror, Brooker introduces a totalitarian Orwellian world where everyone is watched and ruled by gadgets.

It is this constant feeling of being watched that informs viewers of the Black Mirror series, that one is not in control, and whether it is like the eponymous ‘Big Brother’ in George Orwell’s 1984, or the multitude of gadgets that represent the seductive ‘black mirror’, it taps into the human fear of not being in the driving seat of one’s life.

“You didn’t know what you were going to get, but you knew it was going to be a bit off-kilter, entertain you and often disturb you.” Charlie Brooker

In 1984, the government constantly watched the population without their consent, Black Mirror updates this to the modern day. Whatever happens, one can be sure that it will be captured on mobile phone.

Speaking to Channel 4 about the second episode in the series entitled White Bear, Brooker says that: “I was thinking of the ubiquity of camera phones here” and adds “what if rather than a zombie movie, you had a story in which 90 per cent of the population just became emotionless voyeurs.

“They’d just film whatever was happening in front of them, especially if it was horrible. What would happen to the remaining 10 per cent? Some of them would go nuts and start doing terrible things to amuse the ‘audience’. White Bear explores that nightmare – and then hopefully creates a new one.”

Orwell’s 1984

Black Mirror, according to the blog i09 is set “five minutes into the future”, and like Orwell’s 1984, offers a totalitarian version of a media-saturated dystopian world controlled by gadgets.

Talking to Digital Spy, Brooker said that he “always loved those unsettling anthology shows, where you didn’t know what you were going to get, but you knew it was going to be a bit off-kilter, entertain you and often disturb you. So Black Mirror sprang out from wanting to do that.”

The show is certainly controversial, showing a prime minister forced by a court of public opinion to have sex with a pig; it attracted hundreds of complaints to Ofcom.

However, many praised it for an uncompromising look at a totalitarian dystopia, not run by the government, but by a mutual Faustian agreement of the populous.

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Social media played a key role in the first episode of Brooker’s three-part series [Image: Liam Daniels for Channel 4]

In 1984, the government and ‘Big Brother’ are constantly watching to create the perfect punishment catered for everyone in the nightmarish room 101.

In the first episode of the second series, a grieving widow creates a replacement for her husband through his social media interactions. As i09 says it “about how social media preys on our emotional fragility to suck private data out of us” – although they admit these themes are not as fully explored as they could be.

Indeed, the idea that someone can be ‘created’ from social media interactions seems to be remarkably prescient.

There is a service from Facebook that keeps ‘tribute’ pages open for the deceased and some people are creating a service which can send emails out to your loved ones at regular intervals after you have died.

Or as Brooker points out to Channel 4: “I looked at Twitter one night and thought ‘what if all these people were dead, and everything they were saying was being mimicked by a piece of software’?”

“I was thinking of the ubiquity of camera phones here…what if rather than a zombie movie, you had a story in which 90 per cent of the population just became emotionless voyeurs.” – Charlie Brooker

The final episode of the second series of Black Mirror deals with a manufactured politician. Just as in 1984, where the leader ‘Big Brother’ is revered, obeyed, but never seen, the last episode deals with a fake CGI person, who goes into politics.

Totalitarianism succeeds by the population agreeing on a certain viewpoint, through propaganda or force, or that a person is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ regardless of  actual policies.

Brooker, speaking to Channel 4, draws parallels with Boris Johnson: “He represents ‘character’, something most MPs seem to lack. He’s become bulletproof. He can actively, openly fuck up – literally performing slapstick at times – and people seem to love him for it.

“Never mind his policies. He rose to prominence by doing panel shows. Now some predict he’ll be PM one day. That’s an odd state of affairs.”

Changing societies

Just as Orwell wrote in a time of economic turmoil, changing societies, the rise of fascism and the Second World War, Charlie Brooker’s series takes place in a society where everything can be hacked, watched and filmed.

While Orwell’s imagined totalitarian 1984 have come and gone, it can certainly be argued that some of his concepts have come to pass.

While the ideas in Black Mirror seem far fetched to some, some aspects of the idea have come to pass. Speaking in Empire Brooker admitted, “it was interesting that the people who didn’t like the first episode,” in which the prime minister was forced by a court of public opinion to have sex with a pig, “didn’t like it because they thought it would never happen”.

Despite the incident never happening, Andrew Mitchell, the former chief whip, was forced to resign over an alleged altercation at the gates of 10 Downing Street, companies are offering services to send out emails after you die and more often than not, people will choose to film a potentially fatal altercation rather than intervene.

Maybe then Big Brother is not the government. Maybe it is the phone in your pocket.

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