A couple of days ago I watched the second episode of the current series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, we were promised the show would “tap into our contemporary unease about our modern world” and was “a twisted parable for the Twitter age”. What we got was a hysterical mish-mash of histrionic acting, twists so audacious M. Night Shyamalan would blush and endless references to painfully modern technologies and trends. Smartphones, reality TV, tabloid hysteria, social media, Derren Brown: it was a frantic of stew half-thought out ideas and semi-sadism. It was entertaining in the same way it would be if a bunch of sixth-formers were given a huge amount of money to make a drama about “our modern world”.
So the next day I started a Twitter trend called #blackmirrorideas which aimed to satirise the show with ideas for future shows.
Quite a few other online folks, a lot of whom I hadn’t met, jumped on and lols were had, as modern people probably say.
It was y’know pretty fun. Then the next day we went through THE BLACK MIRROR when I received the following tweet:
And so it turned out some enterprising tweeter had taken the idea, made there own account and was tweeting tweets that looked kinda familiar.
For about 10 minutes I was outraged, pissed-off, mortified. How could someone have taken MY IDEA and used it to achieve MILD POPULARITY on a SOCIAL NETWORK. I felt like that comedian who got ripped off by Joe Pasquale. I turned to ONLINE COMMUNICATION METHODS to discuss this calamity. Via Windows Messenger a friend pointed out it probably wasn’t worth getting emotionally involved in 140 characters jokes and someone on Facebook chat uncovered the fact that someone using the hashtag #blackmirrorseason3 had been doing the same thing a good day or so before me.
So, I had been getting irate about someone taking an idea from me that wan’t even original in the first place. Truly THIS was a “parable for the Twitter age”; this was as good as explanation as any as to why Black Mirror doesn’t really work for me. Our interactions with modern technology are generally characterised not by hysteria and horror but irritation and emotional overreaction. How many times have you been annoyed by a WIFI signal dropping out unexpectedly? How many times has the ambiguity of type lead to hurtful misunderstandings?
Black Mirror doesn’t really have that much to say about the “modern world”, certainly not in the way Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men did, not like The Wire, which told stories revolving around modern technology without ever making the tech the centre of the story. In smaller subtler ways Lena Dunham’s Girls and Steve McQueens Shame have both explored how the internet can come to muddy human relationships. In fact, Black Mirror has a lot more in common with a lot of nu-Dr Who episodes; a vaguely smart idea is used as a pretext for an off the peg suspense story – actually, with it’s gratuitous swearing and violence Black Mirror is a dead-ringer for sexy Who spin-off Torchwood.
I have written about Charlie Brooker before, stating that he “often seems stuck in an irresolvable tension between being funny and making IMPORTANT POINTS about society and… stuff.” With Black Mirror Brooker resolves the tension, the humour is gone, there are just IMPORTANT POINTS and cheap thrills. As this rather good essay points out Charlie Brooker is slowly turning into Ben Elton. For the last twenty or so years ex-comedian Ben Elton has been churning out novels which semi-satirically take aim at what ever fad is the flavour of the month. In 1996 film violence, in 2001 Big Brother, in 2006 The X-Factor: there’s bloody loads of them each probably making IMPORTANT POINTS about the “modern world”. I have only read one of them, many years ago, and it wasn’t good.
Black Mirror isn’t bad, it’s just a bit hollow. That said, if each episode ended with Charlie Brooker declaring “I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had a little peek into a Black Mirror this evening” whilst porcine internet-celebrity Chris P Bacon trundled across the screen (the modern world makes us all pigs in wheelchairs, right?) it would not only resolve the funny / IMPORTANT points dichotomy it would be the best TV show ever.
Actually this mock-up by @freyargh sums it up better than I ever could with mere words: