This week I’ve twice found myself explaining the premise of Black Mirror to my parents (each one individually, granted); neither are aware of the series or its predecessors, but both are somewhat familiar with Charlie Brooker as an entity, and were subsequently surprised at his involvement in what sounded to them like a terribly dark concept. ‘But he’s funny! Yes his jokes toe the line occasionally but this sounds horrible!’
It’s precisely Brooker’s sense of black comedy that not only makes series 3 so enthralling but also so relatable. More than once this season I’ve ejected a humourless laugh in response to what seems an unfathomable reality, only to realise that it’s a knee-jerk reaction to something that feels uncomfortably close.
As it has done previously, technology plays a huge role in the drama. Black Mirror‘s effective USP is that its events could feasibly be playing out right here and now, creating a sense of urgency that’s perhaps lacking in something of a more solid sci-fi genre. It taps into popular modern social media behaviour, from the incessant ‘likes’ and validation that some users seek to the vitriol and witch hunts aimed at unlikeable public figures.
Season 3 also deals in varying degrees of horror. Some are just mildly distressing (like your Twitter/Instagram ranking affecting your daily life, as per ep 1), while others are almost hopeful (like the idea of love knowing no boundaries, regardless of time or mortality, as we see in ep 4). But we also witness real atrocities, from virtual reality violence to real life acts of war.
Credit where credit is due – even if you’re not easily spooked, at least one episode is sure to get under your skin. It might not make you jump or think twice before turning off the light, but I’d be surprised if you didn’t find yourself remembering it uneasily long after the hour stint was over. And this brings me to episode 3 – if we talk about nothing else, let’s talk about Shut Up And Dance.
Revenge porn gone wrong, essentially… but Black Mirror would never be quite so simple. A young man is unknowingly filmed masturbating to some images online, and must adhere to his hackers’ demands or suffer the consequences. Ironically this is the story that’s most likely to happen in the world we live in, a contribution that makes it particularly unnerving – there’s no real fancy tech or anything that makes it seem otherworldly, just a recognisable sadism teamed with a mix of GPS and an instant messenger app.
More disturbing still, however, is the fact that every person in this tale is deplorable, and we as an audience can only play silent witness to the atrocities. We feel duped, dirty, guilty, confused. And as the episode comes to a close, we realise we must either reject those feelings or accept them. Whatever your choice, we’re victims of the evils around us… and that has haunted me ever since.
Whether you pick and choose episodes or watch them as a whole, Black Mirror should be considered mandatory viewing for anyone with an awareness and/or concern about 21st century culture.