Review: Black Mirror – The Unsettling Spectacle(s) of 21st Century Technology

Source: NME
Source: NME

If you’re reading this review and you haven’t heard of or watched Black Mirror, then you are probably using the internet as the biggest research tool out there, as a way of catching up with old school friends on Facebook or, perhaps watching the occasional YouTube video on what one hundred layers of nail polish looks like. If you’re reading this and you have watched Black Mirror, then you probably have an entirely more sceptical and unsettling outlook on the internet, gadgets, and all of the devices meant to make our lives easier and happier.

Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s brain child first emerged on our television screens back in 2011 with the somewhat prophetic episode: The National Anthem (google it). Ever since that moment, it has been held in high critical acclaim, showcasing a distorted, disturbing, and yet altogether possible alternate reality to our own. The third and latest series is no different. Moving over to Netflix (the show was originally on Channel 4), we have seen Black Mirror’s number of episodes double, from three per season to six. The latest series aired just under a month ago and focuses heavily on the role technology plays in our day-to-day lives. It provides chilling insights into our ever increasing reliance on technology and one that, after watching one or two episodes, makes you want to close your laptop and switch off your mobile phone for a good few days. In this review, I’m going to be focusing on the first episode of the new series: Nosedive.

The series opens with Nosedive in which we see Lacie (pictured above, centre) rating every social interaction that she has; in fact, we see everyone rating every social interaction they have; all constantly glued to their phones (seem familiar?). In this episode, each person has a rating attached to them which is calculated from the scores of their fellow members of society. We meet Lacie, a respectable 4.3, navigate her way through sickly sweet social niceties in order to boost her score, which troublingly, is not too far removed from the world of YouTube algorithms and social media strategies prevalent now. The higher your score, the increased availability and opportunity to do anything: the 4.7s and 4.8s of the world are the new upper class. So it’s no surprise, then, that we watch Lacie and others desperately trying to climb their way to the top of the social (media) ladder.

Source: Ground Punch
Source: Ground Punch

The first thing that I noticed whilst watching this episode were the rosy pink hues that seem to saturate it; there is an inescapable artificiality of pastel and rose gold in this universe. All throughout the episode, I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that we were watching it through rose-tinted goggles – the way we all seem to watch other people’s live play out on Instagram. In fact, this seems to be one of the central motifs of the episode. It offers an exploration into the private and public appearance of the characters; the version of themselves that want to be rated 5 stars and then their real, flawed, but ultimately human selves. In fact, there is a palpable catharsis in the moments where Lacie gets to say what she really thinks and feels for once. The very final scene of the episode is a beautiful demonstration of this. Whilst it is undoubtedly chilling, there is a sense of optimism and hope to be realised with the end of the episode. Perhaps, Charlie Brooker and the two writers, Rashida Jones and Michael Schur, are reminding us that we need to retain this sense of hope and optimism for ourselves; perhaps we need to remind ourselves that everything we double tap isn’t necessarily the truth.

All three series of Black Mirror are available to watch on Netflix.

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Katie Houston