Above: Photo via japanesetimes.com
By Arts Editor Brendan Barlow
You may have noticed the release of a new season of Black Mirror in your Netflix feed. If you’re not sure whether or not to get on board, I’m telling you now to stop wondering, and jump right into one of the most frighteningly prescient series I have ever seen. Black Mirror looks at the ways our lives are presently run by technology, and shows us the different paths this reliance could take us. Even at its most bizarre and dystopian, there isn’t an episode of Black Mirror that seems as though it could never happen. Combining elements of horror, science fiction, and biting social satire, Black Mirror manages to be both frightening and accurate.
One such example of this accuracy is the Episode 1 of Season 3, called “Nose Dive”. It takes place in what is best described as the near-future, when society has become obsessed with a system of star-ratings that apply not to what you post, but to the actions you take in daily life. Each person rates the other based on their interactions in an attempt to increase their own rating. Each level of rating “unlocks” societal benefits, like preferred housing, seats on flights, and express lines. On top of these privileges, you also see the direct effects of being down-rated on the way people look at you, and how you are treated by everyone.
Each person uses their cellphone, and some kind of special contact lens to see each other’s current ratings, and feeds. You’re always aware of someone else’s rating, and your own. This forces members of society to always be performing, lest they be down-voted or cast out. The story’s main plot revolves around a woman who is asked to be a maid of honour at a friend’s wedding, and relishes the opportunity to increase her rating. As her journey continues, a series of circumstances cause her rating to decrease, and we see her unravel.
While the technology present in the episode is futuristic, it does pretty closely resemble services like Instagram and Facebook, and Black Mirror makes it easy to imagine the steps our society might take to reach the social situation you see in the show. It also highlights our present obsession with social media, and how much value we place on someone giving a thumbs-up or a follow, and the consequences of this value. I’m sure many of you immediately thought “not me, I don’t do that”, and maybe you don’t put stock in Instagram likes or re-Tweets, but we all look for validation somewhere, and when a piece of technology becomes ubiquitous it is hard to stay away from it forever.
“Nose Dive” presents a very scary reality, using social satire that does seem like the logical extension of the present trend in social media. While you can watch the episode and laugh at the outrageous lengths people go in order to increase their ratings, there will be a fearful twinge in the back of your mind as you recognize how real it is.
Each episode of Black Mirror is its own self-contained story, so there isn’t any wrong place to start. While some episodes are frightening, and others are funny, there is an overlying feeling of dread present, when you start to look at the way the world around you depends on technology. While I would recommend taking a look at the entire series, beginning back with Season 1, you can easily jump in at Season 3 and not feel out of touch or like you’re missing anything.
The question is, how much will you trust your streaming device once you’ve finished Black Mirror?
Brendan is a horror-loving, left-leaning, feminist presently studying at Vancouver Island University in the Bachelor of Social Work Program. He has been a lover of all things arts and entertainment for as long as he can remember, with a particular fondness for horror films and other spooky media. He lives in Nanaimo with his partner Melissa, and their cat Adler.