“In today’s life, the world belongs only to the stupid, the insensitive and the agitated. The right to live and triumph is now conquered almost by the same means by which you conquer internment in an asylum: the inability to think, amorality and hyperexcitation.” – Fernando Pessoa.
Although brash in its assertions, the fascinating thing about Pessoa’s declaration is the fact that it was written in the twentieth century, yet almost two decades later, little has changed with regard to societal inclinations. If anything, the advancement of social networking platforms and the speed with which opinions and propagandist agendas are able to circulate, actively contribute to this notion of insensitivity and hyperexcitation. There is no longer time nor incentive to research purported ‘facts’ chiefly distributed by journalistic organisations, which expedites Pessoa’s theory of collective agitation.
Due to an astonishing surge in popularity following the release of its third and most recent season, many are now all too familiar with the series created by Charlie Brooker in 2011. Black Mirror aired on Channel 4 initially before it was bought by Netflix in 2015, and is widely recognised for its communication of chilling, moralistic fables that predominantly comment upon the role and significance of technology upon human decorum, in a dystopian world alarmingly similar to ours. It has been noted that the show’s appeal resides somewhere in between its unique subject matter and the surreal tangibility of its parabolic storylines, which, like many of Pessoa’s postulations, are simultaneously futuristic and contemporary.
The name of the series itself is one which elicits multifarious connotations. While its fascination with technology leads some to believe that the ‘black mirror’ in question is a direct reference to mobile phone screens – in an age where more people in the world have access to mobile phones than lavatories – others insist that it is simply a symbolic representation of the act of social commentary. Either way, the programme’s examination and illustration of technology’s all-encompassing presence is indisputable.
Aside from the thrilling consolidation of satire, drama, sci-fi and black comedy, avid spectators often remark upon the series’ haunting cinematography and the fact that each standalone scenario could potentially occur in the near future. Even so, one of Black Mirror’s most cogent critiques can be excavated from the third season’s fifth episode: ‘Men Against Fire’.
On the surface, it manifests as a stimulating, us-against-them type narrative, somewhat aimed at partisans of the action-adventure genre and reminiscent of combat video games like Call of Duty. Nevertheless, when scrutinised further, profound ideas relating to immigration and social segregation begin to emerge. In the episode, proselytised soldiers are fitted with cerebral microchip implants which control their vision, ultimately distorting what they see. As a result, it is discovered that the ‘roaches’ the soldiers are trained to loathe and exterminate are in fact fellow human beings, who may or may not be illegal immigrants.
The Trumpian era within which we now find ourselves, when combined with Brexit dissatisfactions and heightened terrorist activity, tremendously reinforces xenophobia, prejudice and exclusion. Like the draftees in this particular episode, we have been conditioned to scroll past the bloodied corpses dragged from decrepit structures in Aleppo, or shake our heads in casual disbelief at racial slurs hurled at Muslim men and women because of their faith, all the while demanding ‘equality for all’ in LGBTQIA marches. It is a paradoxical, almost satirical absurdity.
Human lives are lost in great masses every day and the frequency with which these harrowing images are disseminated has produced an almost contrary effect. We are dehumanised to the point of indifference because of the ‘normality’ of these occurrences, the irony being that they are not normal in the slightest. While death is a universal concept that must be handled with the utmost consideration regardless of the nation in question, the sordid truth is that because of this growing sense of cultural segregation, we are now more inclined to pray for Berlin or France, than for Syria or Iraq. Unbeknown to an unsuspecting public, a hierarchy of the significance of human life has been subtly implemented over time, which was detected by the Black Lives Matter movement just before its creation in 2013.
In the same collection of philosophical proclamations, Pessoa states: “Our problem isn’t that we’re individualists. It’s that our individualism is static rather than dynamic. We value what we think rather than what we do. We forget that we haven’t done, or been, what we thought; that the first function of life is action, just as the first property of things is motion.”
While to some extent Pessoa’s ideas are valid, it can be argued that 2016, in particular, has been all about the enigma of national individualism. The more time progresses, the more introspective thinking is encouraged through politics and social media, and in an age of astounding technological advancement, Black Mirror is a channel through which all aspects of this progress can be observed. It does not merely depict an increasingly self-obsessive society but focuses on the repercussions that accompany this temporal, social development. We are boldly confronted with nothing but a mirror, yet nothing could be more frightening than our own reflection.