In “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Red” asks fellow inmate Andy Duphresne why prison-break novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” is not shelved under “educational” in the prison’s library. It is with this same naivety that we should ask, “Why is Black Mirror not considered educational programming on television?” The show’s creator Charlie Brooker has called his program “all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”
Black Mirror, which debuted in the United Kingdom in 2011 and is currently on Netflix, is the most engaging and important television show right now. Fans of the Twilight Zone will recognize the series’ non-connecting structure – each episode contains its own ecosystem of plot and cast. The only constant in the “Black Mirror” is the sense of legitimacy behind its messages.
“Black Mirror” raises the following questions: With today’s advances in technology, will the skeletons in our closet remain hidden? What is the real power of a phone’s camera? Are we as interested in the rise of an individual as we are in the fall? Are we as much machine as we are human? Episodes of Black Mirror tackle these questions by depicting gadgets that are eerily similar to present day technology. In the show’s Christmas special, characters are fitted with a neural implant that can change music, takes pictures, make a reservation for dinner, and physically “block” people from being heard or seen. Suddenly, Google Glass feels much more sinister. Long after the credits roll, we are left asking one question: is this the path we are choosing for ourselves or has it already been chosen?
Black Mirror is the not-so-far-fetched manifestation of present-day society. We believe in nearing the danger zone in all our endeavors, cutting down the constraints that withhold us from achieving the best possible outcome. In one episode, the main character lives in a world powered by energy generated from riding stationary bikes. These “riders” are the lowest class of citizens and follow a mundane routine of biking and gathering “merits” with which they can purchase food, pornography, and items for their computer simulated avatars. The main character forgoes spending his “merits” in order to purchase a spot in his world’s equivalent of American Idol. His world provides a look at the servility we force upon ourselves when our desire to customize and shape goes too far.
Black Mirror also shows us the upside of such imposing constraints. In the most hotly debated episode of the series, “The Entire History of You”, humans can choose to have a device installed in their brains that records every event of their life. While this brings great opportunity to remember the good ole’ days, it has immense potential to open old wounds. The device spells trouble for anyone overly analytical. This episode is drenched in the question “Why can’t we just forget?” About botched business meetings. About old fights. About love lost. Memory is subjective, but pain is more objective than anything we know. We already have enough problems trying to forget about the girl or guy who broke our hearts over the summer; why give us the opportunity to idle over it in high definition?
Black Mirror may be fiction, but it tells a believable prophecy of what our future may look like. If there is any indication about the plausibility of a Black Mirror-esque world, it comes in The Future of Life Institute’s open letter warning about the dangers of artificial life. Notable signatories include Tesla’s Elon Musk, Physicist Stephen Hawking, and UR’s Professor Henry Kautz. Citing the possibility for “undesirable behaviors and consequences”, this paper, supported by the greatest minds in the world, acknowledges the faults that could occur in our tech- heavy pursuit to be ever better. Today, few shows blend originality and reality with such expertise. Homeland does a modest job addressing the threat posed by domestic terrorism. The Newsroom attempts to expose the rules behind news making. Plain and simple, Black Mirror shows its viewers the terrifyingly possible.
Gilboard is a member of
the class of 2018.