Our society's mirror
"It’s not a technological problem we have, it’s a human one." — Charlie Booker, creator of "Black Mirror"
"Black Mirror" is one of the most important, and most scrutinized series of all time. It was created by Charlie Booker in England, but soon found a following in America, too. The first two seasons of this anthology series included three episodes (season two had a Christmas special, too) that were aimed at telling different kinds of stories.
Each episode has different actors and a completely different story. But they all have a singular focus. In keeping with the title — which is meant to be a reference to how technology, specifically cell phones, tablets and computers, are a mirror into our society.
For the latest season, Booker teamed with Netflix and upped the episode count to six. The most recent season dropped on October 21, and like his previous work it asks some very difficult questions. It tells some dark stories. And it is, at times, hard to watch.
It begins with "Nosedive," and hour featuring Bryce Dallas Howard and Alice Eve, and directed by Joe Wright — who gave us "The Soloist" and "Atonement." And it's a jarring hour that asks some hard questions about our society and Social Media.
Set in the near future, Social Media ratings control everything for a person. They define your societal class, your profession, and even your living situation. And they define your worth in the eyes of the world. And one young woman, Lacie (Howard), is desperate to find approval from the world at large. She's sitting at a 4.2 rating (our of five) and needs to get to a 4.5 to land her dream apartment. When she is asked to serve as Maid of Honor for her childhood friend, a 4.8-rated woman with a guest list of all high fours, she sees a way to advance her social stock.
Instead, her trip doesn't go as planned. And when she shows a crack in her perfect social front, things only get worse. Along the way she encounters a kind truck driver (Cherry Jones), a 1.4, who gives her a different perspective on life. By the end of the hour, the spiral has continued for Lacie, and there's hope she's starting to see life in a different way.
But we don't really know. There are no easy answers in "Black Mirror," as there are no easy answers in life. "Nosedive" isn't the only episode to tackle Social Media. In fact the sixth and final episode of the season, "Hated in the Nation," also has some harsh criticism of Social Media, and the way that people interact on Facebook and Twitter in particular.
Other episodes tackle different potential threats. One focuses on where video games might be headed. Another tackles the way we use our online access in perverse ways. Another looks at how technology might be used to oppress people groups. And one, the lone hopeful entry in the group, looks at how technology can free our minds when our bodies fail.
But what I like about the series isn't just the quality with which it's put together, which is exceptional, but the fact that it asks deeper questions. One of the things I love about "The Walking Dead," or used to anyway, is that even though it's a world full of zombies it is people that are the biggest threats and the greatest danger.
In the same way, though "Black Mirror" is about the down side of technology and advancement, technology isn't the enemy. It's people. People are the biggest threat. And what the series had to say about Social Media really rang true, especially in our current climate.
Season three debuted prior to the election, but I fortunately saw it after. That made the stories in episode one and six even more resonant considering the current vitriolic climate we've created on all our Social Media platforms.
I remember when I was in college, now more than a decade ago, I observed the way early forms of Social Media were impacting people's communication. People that would never utter an unkind word in person became incredibly aggressive and nasty online. I called it Internet courage.
And it feels like that has only magnified over time. People use Social Media as a bully pulpit. They shout at each other. They pound each other. They shame each other. And it's changing who we are as a people. "Nosedive" and "Hated in the Nation" may be flawed in some ways, but they hit that idea right on the head.
"Black Mirror" might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's impossible to deny it touches on a cultural nerve that's worth exploring before it's too late.