On the first episode of the BBC showBlack Mirror, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is awoken by an early morning phone call and presented with news of an ultimatum: Either he fornicates with a pig on national television that afternoon or kidnappers kill a princess. Over the next hour, viewers get treated to every official and unofficial response to this threat, with social media and media in general playing a central role in whether the pol will couples with the swine. To give away the ending would be rude, so I’ll leave it at this – to see is to believe.
And that’s the theme of Black Mirror, a serialized program from the BBC that presents an entirely new story every episode, each one a dark reflection on our interaction with social media and technology. Like the Twilight Zone (of which it is oft compared), Black Mirror has pinpointed our societal anxiety: how, whether we like it or not, technology has made us both performers and voyeurs, the watcher’s and the seen, all competing for space enough to breathe in a constantly accelerating existence. In a separate episode, and perhaps its most effective, a husband is able to ceaselessly replay an interaction his wife had with an old lover. Using implanted technology, the husband notices that what seemed an innocuous gesture was much more than that, and that the suspicion of infidelity is given a whole new dimension when we can toy with it through technology.
The show is returning on Christmas Day for a special featuring Jon Hamm, interweaving three stories of Christmas misery, all taking place in a near future where technology is just a step ahead of where it is now. What’s so chilling about Black Mirror is that instead of a science-fiction future complete with flying cars, it really does seem close enough to our time to freak us the hell out about how we interact with each other in the age of social technology.
“We’re like people who are playing a driving video game for the first time, and we’re smashing into the walls left and right,” Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator, told the New York Times. “As we get better as a species, we’ll master it. But at the moment we’re colliding with things all the time.”
Collisions seems an apt term – in Black Mirror, technology doesn’t make us stronger as a society, but seems to warp us in ways that drive us towards resentment and hate. How about that for holiday cheer?
Black Mirror: White Christmaswill play on The Audience Network at 9:30 ET on Christmas Eve.
Photos by Hal Shinnie / Everett Collection