Friday, 26 December 2014

Black Mirror

Black Mirror - Charlie Brooker's update of the science fiction anthology series - demands to be taken seriously. If that isn't clear from the serious themes (pornography, the failure of democracy, consumerism's facility for assimilating opposition), then the constant shouting at the audience helps. Not since Ricky Gervais decided to do a 'this is me' moment in the last episode of Extras has the obvious been stated so vociferously - although connoisseurs of the bellowing egotist might find that The Amazing Atheist on YouTube offers more post-millennial angst to the ounce, and more shouting.

Taken as a whole, Black Mirror is an archive of male insecurities: the majority of episodes feature enough female terror to fill a minor torture porn movie (here's a woman being chased by men in masks, here's another coerced into pornography) and all of them reveal a very warped view of women. They are either power hungry and hyper-sexual (the episode about the cartoon character who destroys democracy), child-killers, or happy to keep a simulacrum of their dead husband in the attic, so that he can visit her daughter at the weekends and, presumably, give her a quick pump when she needs
mild female terror

Across the episodes, there is some kind of attempt to critique our media saturated culture: it's the dark mirror of us, get it? 

Unfortunately, the media and technology are intent on fucking up the romantic love of men and women, turning it in a transaction or a weak reflection of 'authentic' love. As for other sexual identities - well, the gays are more likely to turn up in a 1950s' cowboy film.

It's a shame, because Black Mirror has serious points to make. In the episode about the child killer, it casts a cold eye over the commercialisation of justice, in which a terrible crime becomes fodder for entertainment; the one about the future society where an X-Factor type show dominates the lives of the poor proles, there's a painful dissection of how pornography replaces connection and then assimilates protest for profit. Even the weakest show, in which an animated character stands in a by-election and, in the cut of frame, takes over THE ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD AND TURNS IT INTO A TOTALITARIAN STATE (I felt that needed capitals to stress how the programme comes across), is a taut warning against both the existing democratic malaise and the danger of replacing politicians with puppets.

Brooker's writing is, despite his years as a TV critic, bloody terrible. One episode was written by one of them off Peep Show, and while he can't entirely be blamed for that, the entire series is filled with heavy handed rants and dismal structuring. The episode where a prime minister has to fuck a pig on TV revels in a series of scenes in which people watching him pumping the pig and make faces, interspersed with images of empty streets: it is as dramatically exciting as the current Celtic team. Meanwhile, the plots, the gimmicks, the big ideas, are a grab bag of Twilight Zones cast-offs and Philip K Dick riffs. Despite this, it still manages to be one of the most important programmes on TV.

That's as much about the shit-pump's ability to churn out mindless pap (something Brooker is attempting to expose), but it is also because Black Mirror does have something to say. The final image from the one where the X-Factor copy absorbs the rage of the protagonist into a fatuous facsimile of anger is melancholic and damning: the child killer episode has an elegantly amoral tone that never settles whether the punishment is cruel or appropriate (it is undeniably a money-spinner, though). The shouting at the audience is a desperate challenge to TV's habit of pandering.

Sadly, Black Mirror is undermined by the way it writes women - IN EVERY SINGLE EPISODE. While it is not clear whether this particular subtext is intended, each episode presents women in a negative light, and takes way too much pleasure in their torture. Perhaps the technology is just a macguffin, and Brooker's real message is to hold a mirror up to the misogyny that underwrites consumerism. Nevertheless, the mirror is horrific... AND HAS NO FRICKING VOLUME CONTROL OR NUANCE.

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