Black Mirror relates increasingly to teens

Alice Cai, Editor

*This post contains spoilers*

The screens all turned dark.

From checking social media to watching TV to using GPS to making phone calls, screens surround the modern-day teenager. Perhaps this wasn’t the case for people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond, but technology has been a fundamental building block and core part of this teenage generation’s lives since the beginning. That may be why most walk through everyday life treating intense use of technology as a casual normality. Born into a world where technological engrossment is habitual, it can be hard to take a step back and really think about its effect on life and interaction.

Technology is a server of unimaginably quick and convenient information. It connects cultures and ideas of past, present, and perhaps future. Through TV, website articles, YouTube, and social media, teenagers are exposed not only to others of their generation but also people diverse in age and culture. Through these, teens widen their knowledge to gain a larger view of the world relative to the small snippet of time they inhabit. The TV show Black Mirror, highlight perspectives and concerns a future run by technology.

Black Mirror, the name meant to evoke the image of a cold, indifferent horror of a screen turned off, consists of episodes that are separate stories in themselves but are tied together by the central theme: how technology brings out the worst in humans and amplifies its effects.

“The stories set archetypal human dilemmas-death, identity, fidelity-within an entirely new context, which is exactly how we are living them,” said Michelle Orange in her article covering Black Mirror for Vogue.

From virtual realities to reincarnation to killer robots to brain chips, Black Mirror seems to present within its four seasons all the technological dystopias of our imagination. In an age of rapid technological advancement, this TV show captures the darker side of human invention. It appeals to adults on the basis of its cynical undertone but also evokes curiosity from increasingly “woke” teens. It is especially relevant to teens because they will be the first to feel the effects of these future technologies. With minds that have been molded and grown in a world filled with technology, these dystopian characters are closer in nature to these malleable teenage minds than the adults.

The second episode of season one, Fifteen Million Merits, revolves around the modern ideal of fame and popularity. In this alternate world, everyday life is monotonous and conducted in a prison-like facility, where people pedal on bikes every day to power the prison. They live in a single, screen-surrounded cell, and their only forms of entertainment are watching celebrities, watching fat people get made fun of, and watching their “avatar” (cartoonish, virtual version of themselves) do things or buy stuff. This highlights the increasingly digitized world, emphasizing the emptiness of the average person’s daily entertainment. The only way to escape this physical monotony is to compete in a talent show, much like today’s America’s Got Talent or the Voice. The episode follows the life of a guy through his daily routine until he meets a girl with a wonderful voice. He gives her all his digital currency to support her in competing in the show, and she rocks the song. However, the plot takes a dark turn when a male judge asks her to show her breasts and the audience comes to the stark realization that the show was never about talent, but sexuality. Instead of becoming a singing sensation, the girl is coerced into sex work for mass entertainment. When the guy sees this, his deep dissatisfaction with society becomes desperation for a change, and he works his butt off to get onto the stage, where he threatens to kill himself while rambling off a speech on the faults of the world. In an even more unsettling climax, the judges start clapping and praising his performance, with the audience in the palm of their hand.

In the teenage world, fame is a huge deal. Popularized by reality TV, a close following of famous celebrities, singers, and actors and actresses, the idea of fame holds its attractions for teenagers. Whether it’s a guarantee of money and luxury, or on a deeper level, a reassurance of self-worth, many teens dream to become famous. This episode takes a look at the darker side of fame- the “not you for you, but you for your body” part of it. It also, through exaggeration, brings to light the ways digital industries manipulate and trap people. In the extrapolation of our current world, media is the only thing that we know- it acts like a sort of mind control, day in and day out, staring at the screens.

The first episode of season three, Nosedive, explores a social media-run world. Instead of having a number of followers, in this world, people are given ratings on a scale of one to five. These ratings are given out by everyone to everyone, and although they are completely unreflective of character, they are even used as passports in certain places- if one is below a certain rating, some services are not available. The plot follows a young woman who is trying to increase her popularity rating. She gets invited to be the maid of honor at her ex-best-friend’s wedding. However, she faces many difficult and unexpected obstacles, and her desperation and rash reactions drop her rating significantly. When her friend sees that her rating is only a 1.6, she immediately tells her not to come. She explains how the invitation to be the maid of honor was not because of their friendship, but because of her average status, and how the idea that she was friends with someone lower than her would move people’s hearts and get their wedding a better rating. Confused and desperate, she arrives at her friend’s wedding in a hysterical physical and mental state and is eventually dragged out.

Social media is one of the most prominent and influential parts of technology in the teenage world. The effects of social media stand in controversy: on the one hand, it is a tool to connect people across the country, a platform that exposes us to other’s lives and keeps us engaged as a social society; on the other hand, it is overpowering, and takes over people’s lives- it causes depression, a feeling of worthlessness, jealousy, distracts people from real-life interactions. Nosedive explores the dark side of social media in a world where this rating app is the foundation upon which people’s lives are built: their access to places, their ability to spend money, their friendships and everyday interactions are built upon mutual benefit in ratings. Nosedive gives us a blatantly honest and almost brutal look at the superficiality toward which our society may be heading. Although the technology in this alternate world is slightly more advanced, it really isn’t that much of an extrapolation.

The sixth episode in season three, Hated in the Nation, explores how robots, fallen into the wrong hands, could create a world in which human whim is turned into mass killing. The story follows a detective investigating the death of a journalist, who had been subjected to threats on social media with the hashtag #DeathTo. A series of further deaths raises the stakes, and when the public find out the hashtag actually kills people, they start targeting the Chancellor.  Apparently, victims of the hashtag are killed by robot bees that drill into their brains and detonate like a bomb. Meanwhile, the detective finds the origin of this hashtag and realizes that the man who created this system has a different intention in mind. The man collected the names of all the people who used the #DeathTo and sent out killer bees to take out all these people. Despite the detective’s efforts, more than 300,000 people were killed.

Social media platforms connect billions across the globe. Like any other technology, it can be used for great things- to fight for equality, to start movements of political reform, to save the environment (the list goes on). But like any other technology, it also holds the potential for great horrors. Especially amongst teenagers, hate is a common emotion, whether that be because of angst, hormones, or other stresses. The internet provides a platform for expression, and much of that contains positivity, but hate and shade also find their way into the web. This episode explores the horrors of hate as exacerbated by technology, as well as the unsettling nature of reciprocation, seen when all those who used the hashtag were killed brutally.

The first episode in season four, USS Callister, explores the disturbing potential of virtual realities. The episode follows a programming expert who is the co-owner of a large video game company. He faces one of the typical struggles: he is the guy doing all the work behind the video game, but his business partner steals the spotlight with his social skills. However, his story has a dark twist. Instead of standing up to his business partner, he bottles up his emotions and takes them out on a virtual version of his co-workers in the video game world.

As virtual worlds popularize and become more and more accessible to teenagers via the internet, they tend to cast aside real-world

problems by finding refuge and distraction in alternate realities. This episode uncovers dark possibilities of VR technology- the virtual versions of the coworkers are portrayed as fully conscious but stuck in this made up, video game world- and also hints at the harmful effects of immersion in virtual realities.

The second episode of season 4, Arkangel, explores technology in the context of parenting. All parents share the common want to keep their children safe, but the new technology introduced in this episode may take it too far. The story follows a single mother and her daughter as she grows up. After briefly losing her daughter as a toddler, her mother hears about and decides to use the chip technology Arkangel, which allows her to track her daughter, see what she sees, and block any emotionally triggering things from her view. As she grows up, she is exposed to a variety of influences, including a boy who does drugs. When she doesn’t come home one night, her mother uses the chip to watch through her eyes as she has sex with the boy. When her mom sees this, she makes the boy break up with her by threatening to go to the police about his drugs. She slips a contraceptive pill into her daughter’s drink, but her daughter finds out and realizes her mother has been watching her. In an emotional breakdown, she starts hitting her mother, and the chip blocks the triggering image of her mother so that, in the end, all she sees is a blurred red blob.

One of the most genius parts of this show is that although the technology in each episode is not yet achievable, the more abstract problems are already present and deep-rooted in our society. The show explores not only ways technology could go wrong, but ways it will go wrong because of the flaws of human nature. Overprotectiveness and rebellion is a very common struggle of teenagehood, only exacerbated by this technology.

Written by Charlie Brooker, the show has won awards like the Peabody Award, GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Individuals, and International Emmy Award for TV Movie/Mini-Series. It was also nominated for the NME Award for Best TV Series. The show premiered on December 4, 2011, and it has released four seasons over the course of the past 7 years. The fourth season was released in December of 2017. In total, Black Mirror has 19 episodes, each around an hour long. Each episode features a different cast of stars, including Hannah John-Kamen, Jon Hamm, Haley Atwell, Daniel Kaluuya, and more. The show has received much critique and attention in media, most of which is praise and analysis. The show received a 96% from Rotten Tomatoes, 8.9/10 from IMDb, and 9/10 from

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