‘Riddance’ Review: A Group of Stutterers Is Called a Collage

by Katharine Coldiron

Where to begin with Riddance, a book that calls on an extraordinary plethora of resources and introduces a set of circumstances almost too complex to explain? An exhumation of influences—19th century spiritualism, Moby-Dick, Jane Eyre, Dennis Cooper, H.P. Lovecraft—would be a start, but it wouldn’t do justice to the author’s incomparable inventiveness. A tagline—”it’s about a school for stuttering children, and the premise is that stutterers can speak to the dead”—does not communicate that collage drives the novel far more potently than plot does. A background on Shelley Jackson might interest some readers, but honestly, this book exists on a plane independent of its author’s history. It’s a totally unique achievement, coincident with Jackson’s status as a writer of the postmodern weird, but not dependent on it. However, it is not a book engineered to satisfy a reader—merely one to occupy her slavishly until the final page.

Riddance itself is a collage, a book assembled from multiple sources; all of these sources appear to be created by Jackson. Certainly all the text must be, but it’s accompanied by photographs, diagrams, maps, architectural drawings, and other visual ephemera that go uncredited on the book’s title page (the book’s design and physical qualities are sumptuous—even the paper stock is rich and wonderfully smooth).

The pictures are suitably old-fashioned to the book’s setting (New England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), and might have been staged by their author with models. They might have been sourced in antique shops and digitally altered to add bizarre devices attached to mouths and ears. They might truly derive, unaltered, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when spiritualism was widely practiced and studied, and when medicine experimented with all manner of devices that harmed more than helping.

Aside from the visual aspects of the novel, the chapters are collaged as well, assembled from an infrastructure of books and documents that Jackson has invented altogether. These include a book, Principles of Necrophysics, that explicates the land of the dead dryly and without clarity (“when we say that the dead are in the recent past, we do not mean the past present that preceded our own present…We mean the past past, the present’s past”); a series of letters from Sybil Joines, the headmistress of her namesake school and one of the book’s two protagonists, to Gothic authors and characters; and three lengthy, first-person narrative documents. The three documents are “The Final Dispatch,” a record taken of Sybil’s last hours by her stenographer and successor, Jane Grandison; “The Stenographer’s Story,” an autobiography by Jane, who is the novel’s other protagonist; and “A Visitor’s Observations,” a collection of notes by a guest at Sybil’s unusual school. All of these sources are broken into small pieces and gathered in clusters of chapters.

Mystified yet?

  credit: Zach Dodson and Shelley Jackson
credit: Zach Dodson and Shelley Jackson

The infrastructure of these fictional sources gives Riddance a powerful authority and confidence. World-building is a tough thing to keep interesting, and Jackson’s method—to obfuscate, via a formal, Victorian prose style and a complex network of documentation, the dull task of putting together an alternate universe that the audience will understand—is successful, but not new. However, her execution, and the world she builds, are definitely new. She posits that stuttering is a method of stopping time, and that it opens, inside the stutterer’s mouth, a portal to the land of the dead.

Although the book spends a great deal of time and energy on the land of the dead, it never becomes a recognizable landscape. It doesn’t resemble familiar underworlds from Western sources; not Hades nor Dante’s nor the Bible’s. It’s partially this lack of familiarity that contributes to the book’s pervasive and deliberate mood of unease. Another contributing factor, though, is child abuse, which appears in the book with extraordinary frequency, in forms from blatant to implied. Both protagonists are victim to it, and perpetrators of it; Sybil is not kind to her students, but demanding and aloof, while Jane, a student, bullies and jockeys for superiority among fellow students and even staff. Both characters offer a window on the ambition of women, on seizing power despite profound powerlessness.

Which brings us back to spirituality. Barbara Goldsmith’s Other Powers pointed out that the 19th century spirituality craze was meaningfully linked to women’s empowerment. Women dominated the séance table, and it was partly out of those gatherings that early suffrage and temperance movements grew. Jackson is well aware of these connections, and they enrich the context of the fiction she builds. Women – ambition – witchcraft – spiritualism – speech – necromancy – education – Riddance.

  credit: Zach Dodson and Shelley Jackson
credit: Zach Dodson and Shelley Jackson

This book does have a plot, involving a missing child, a kind of supernatural drug ring, Sybil’s dead parents, and other elements. The plot loops between and among the book’s chapter clusters, making use of time signposts to orient the reader minimally. It’s still pretty hard to follow. And it’s simply not the point of the book. It’s a book of atmosphere, of fetishistic detail, and of the same kind of postmodern tap-dancing practiced by David Foster Wallace and Dubravka Ugresic.

Such a book is meant to be shown off, if not necessarily enjoyed. Riddance enthralls and engages without delighting. The playfulness of postmodernism has a gritty edge in Jackson’s book, a menace that the reader can’t quite shake. I think the main reason for this is a lack of kindness. No characters are kind to each other in this book—I don’t want to say not once, not ever, because acts of kindness might have slipped by once or twice. But as I think back, I cannot remember a single moment where characters interacted without ulterior motives (or open hostility). Kindness is a difficult thing to forgo for 500 dense pages. Even when the book proves itself metatextual, it does so at the expense of the reader:

“In the land of the dead, a person might well experience her life as a book, and not even her own book, but an anthology of fleeting impressions, speculation, and hearsay taken down by minor scholars and anonymous record keepers. She might, further, go so far as to heap this book with baffles and blinds, introductions, footnotes, etc., so that by the time the putative reader reached the crux of the matter she did not even recognize it.”

This passage appears on page 458. I did not smile in pleasure as I read it. I did not wonder in an intrigued, Matrix-y way whether Jackson was pulling my leg, and whether, if I read it again, I might sort out what was real (in her fictional world) and what wasn’t.

Instead, I felt desolate. Perhaps all of the time and energy I invested in this stunning puzzle-box of a book might have been in vain. Perhaps no meaning, none at all, had been made from Riddance. We will all die, the book reminded me, and no one, not even Sybil Joines, will hear our words ever again.


TBT: Ranking Pretention in 1970s Sci-Fi

by Katharine Coldiron 

It’s been my observation that although aesthetics generally were at their worst in the American 1970s (clothes, home décor, haircuts), it was an unparalleled golden era for filmmaking. In no other decade did American directors so thoroughly plumb the power of cinema: Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Kubrick, Cimino, Malick, and even the disgraced Allen did most of their best work between 1970 and 1980. 

However, the decade’s silly side is as memorable as its serious one. And some films have a high volume of both. Particularly in science fiction, for some reason; a surprising number of sci-fi films from the 1970s are incredibly self-serious. They bear deep intellectual ideas, but are executed with overly trendy production design and cringey scripts. 

Here are five 70s sci-fi films of particular note, each ranked with a Pretentiousness Score. The higher the score, the more the film fails at getting the viewer to take it seriously. This failure specifically derives from a gap between the loftiness of the film’s ideas and the ludicrousness of its execution. 

Silent Running (1972) 

Hijinks ensue when Bruce Dern dons a caftan and looks after plants in space, to the point of committing three murders to preserve them. Few plants are left alive after the planet’s biosphere has become too hostile to them (apparently?), and the remains of Earth’s forests and flowers live in domes in space, cared for by rotating teams of white men. Also, robots, named after Donald Duck’s nephews. No women appear in this film whatsoever, not even computerized voices. 

There’s a lot of Silent Running’s DNA in Moon and WALL-E, but it’s much more static than its descendants, and Dern and his environmentalism personify all the worst jokes about vegetarianism and tree-hugging. His method of trying to get the jockish other astronauts to give a damn about Earth’s last remaining trees mainly entails shouting and nurturing resentment. Not fifteen minutes in, Joan Baez sings a preachy ballad about children and sunshine. A sincere moral conflict about comfort, authenticity, and the shortsightedness of the human race, buried under decaying hippie rhetoric and obvious to-scale models.

Pretentiousness Score: 5/5 


Rollerball (1975) 

Hijinks ensue when a ridiculously dangerous sport holds the monied class in thrall in a fascist, pill-addled future. James Caan is the champion of this sport who, because he won’t retire, destabilizes the whole society and causes the deaths of many, many people. This one’s interesting in part because the idea of a single hero is threatening to the corporate overlords who run the world. It’s an example (also seen in Twilight Zone episodes) of mid-20th-century art that presents communism as a threat in ideological manifestations that are unrecognizable today. 

Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night) made this one, and he was infuriated that, upon release, everyone loved the sport depicted in the film, because jeez, you guys, it’s an allegory. Ha. Everyone knows allegories don’t look this exciting. Aside from the actual scenes of rollerball in play, the movie drags like hell, and Caan looks constipated throughout. The fonts are wonderful, and the corporatism is familiar and troubling; the collar flaps are unfortunate, the script is tedious, and the women are sexy lamps.

Pretentiousness Score: 4/5 


Soylent Green (1973)

Hijinks ensue when the planet dries up, food sources shrink, the gap between rich and poor widens untenably, the infrastructure is stretched too thin, and no one wants to solve any of this. Not that that’s a familiar scenario. This movie is best known for the spoiler in its final line of dialogue, but there’s a lot more to it: the lure (and uses) of suicide in a dystopia, haves and have-nots, the endgame of overcrowded cities, the passion and danger of knowledge. It blew my mind when I was a teenager. 

In re-viewings, I’ve developed the opinion that Soylent Green is a serious film masquerading as a broad genre picture, rather than the other way around. It has enormous beauty and frightening implications to its ideas, but it also has chase scenes and police drama, a couple of beefy-dude fights, plastic production design, and unnecessary pretty girls. It looks and quacks like its siblings on this list, and its ideas are really big, yet its seriousness is much more convincing. In his final role, Edward G. Robinson plays the gentle, luminous man he was in real life, rather than the dozens of cold gangsters he acted so well, while Charlton Heston sweats extensively.

Pretentiousness Score: 3/5 


Logan’s Run (1976) 

Hijinks ensue when the human race, confined to domes after a vague catastrophe, restricts its lifespan to 30 years, on penalty of messy death. Michael York is tasked to leave the domes and root out a group of disobedient citizens. A scantily clad Jenny Agutter is involved, as is a T.S. Eliot-quoting Peter Ustinov and a for-no-reason Farrah Fawcett. This film can fill up a bingo card pretty well: it has lasers, teleportation, a shopping mall as a primary filming location, an all-powerful computer, and nonexistent underclasses. 

Disclosure: I love this movie. Illogically, unapologetically do I love it. I love the idea of a society constructed around color-coded stages of aging, I love the campy Carrousel ritual, I love the dumb synthesizer music and the calm female computer voice and the bizarre shiny robot bellowing “Fish! Plankton! Sea greens! Proteins from the sea!” But I recognize that Logan’s Run belongs on this list, as a movie with philosophical pretensions and lame plastic models. Would we have a better society if people never got old? I really don’t know. Better by whose standards? And does that matter more or less than the cool outfits and pretty girls? It’s hard to tell, because the ideas remain a lower priority than the flashy production design.

Pretentiousness Score: 2/5 


Zardoz (1974) 

Hijinks ensue when toxic masculinity spins out of control in a future that’s half Planet of the Apes and half David Lynch. This film is so weird, and so complicated in its premise, that I don’t even want to summarize it—I just want to urge you to see it for yourself, although I send you toward it with all possible trigger warnings. Sean Connery wears a red diaper, suspenders, and a long braid, and that is not the strangest thing there is to see in the first five minutes. 

Some people hate this movie, or think it’s great, terrible fun (on the order of Showgirls), but I do not. I know no other movie like it, and I find it a fascinating product of a time when filmmakers had exceptional freedom and plenty of drugs. Besides, unlike the other four movies on this list, Zardoz rewards investment in its ideas. It’s strange, but it carries off its strangeness, if you can take it as seriously as it takes itself.

Pretentiousness Score: Jacques Derrida 

Pretentious 70s sci-fi films belong to a time when it was possible to see in the same glance good taste and terrible aesthetics, a decade during which a morally bankrupt president established the Environmental Protection Agency. Similarly, all of these movies boast committed actors and competent, even excellent directing in service of self-righteous ideas and outlandish storylines. In their contradictions, few of them have aged well, but then, few films become more interesting outside their original contexts, whether political or artistic. 

The renaissance in American cinema during the 1970s helps these films to transcend pulp. Sort of. But having a better sense of humor about them than the films have about themselves makes them doubly worthwhile: fun, and thoughtful, in the same glance.  

50 Years Later: 2001’s Lasting Impact

by shannon jay

2001: A Space Odyssey was practically a flop when it was released 50 years ago this week. On the verge of being pulled from theaters, teenagers high on weed and whatever else made movie houses second guess. Thus the strangest, most mysterious film of all time became an influential classic, growing in illusiveness with every watch. Possibly the most surreal film produced by a major movie company, director Stanley Kubrick didn’t allow MGM producers anywhere on set.  

Noted for the use of special effects ahead of 1968’s time, 2001 was one of the first to detail developing technology in it’s plot, outlining a nearer and realistic future. Wanting to pull the public from their televisions back into the theater, Stanley Kubrick and MGM decided to focus their next film on the Space Race. Responding to paranoia in 1950s invasion films, which worked to “boost morale and reassert scientific superiority over the alien Other,” we’d made our way into extraterrestrial’s arena. An interesting time in tech, the 60s showed a rise in developing computers and space crafts only drempt about since the dawn of science fiction. Kubrick employed designers from NASA and the leading authority on artificial intelligence from MIT to make every detail of the space ships as accurate as possible. Some of the team’s ideas were brought to life during the moon landing a year later, with striking accuracy.

An ultra-intelligent computer, paralleling IBM’s real-world developments, might be the first AI film lead. In the film, when Dave is deactivating HAL 9000, he murmurs “Daisy Bell” as he shuts down. In 1961, only a few years before the film came out, the IBM 704 computer created the earliest recording of a synthesized voice singing [the same] song. While the also developing spacecraft stayed neutral and the video phone a fantastical touch that so happened to become a distant reality, HAL may be the first instance where developing technology itself is intelligent enough to become the villain. 

As one shot shows a bone flying out of the ape’s hand and transforming into a shuttle, so shows an informed move away from these barbaric roots could still mean demise from our own creations. In an attempt to separate ourselves from “apes” by creating intelligent designs, Kubrick suggest we’d integrated our own inherent flaws that come with consciousness. Facebook’s latest scandal shows the bones we still use on each other for our own advantage, and the tech that turned on ourselves. We made ourselves susceptible to not A.I. like HAL per sey, but willingly gave information that fellow humans took advantage of for financial gain and very start computers were able to comprehend and utilize. 

Kubrick’s heavy research and informed staff make it no mystery that the always meticulous he was able to predict technology that would come not long after the turn of the millennium, such as video chat and iPads. Great shows like Black Mirror take this now existing tech and reimagine a somehow familiar future, but Kubrick was doing it before it was possible. 2001: A Space Odyssey was early in exploring ideas of technology robbing humans of loneliness. HAL 3000 was more of a helper than a friend, but the current digital age has proven Kubrick’s theory true. Smart phones provided constant connection to all of our contacts, and from ancient AIM chat bots to Siri, there’s always a computerized voice to keep up conversation.

Even the illusive monolith looks a lot like an iPhone, and is equally as captivating. Named after the EVA Pod from the film, the iPod’s naming shows a more direct influence. “Open the pod bay door, Hal!” inspired Vinnie Chieco to throw the infamous ‘i’ in front of the word that perfectly describes the relationship between the MP3 player and computer.  

We might never know what the monolith is suppose to be, and Kubrick probably never wanted us to. The book’s author,     Arthur C. Clarke, suggests it’s the moment awoke intelligence in primates, evolving to mankind. Perhaps within the creation of man, it is also the demise. From sparking violence in primates to humans becoming outsmarted by computers, the instrument from an unknown alien source seemed more of a challenge. Unlike the propagandic and back-patting space invasion films of the previous decade, we may never outsmart external forces of the unknown universe – and screw ourselves while trying to. 

Making Peace With The Future Of Star Wars

by davey jones

Forty years ago, George Lucas blazed a space opera trail through popular culture. As an intellectual property, Star Wars spawned a fan base that currently spans three generations, a growing number of films, endless franchising opportunities, and billions of dollars in revenue. Lucas faced increasing criticism since the turn of the millenium with the expansion of the Star Wars empire; some fans believed the new stories didn’t live up to his groundbreaking legacy.

Further criticism arose five years ago, when Lucas sold his franchise to The Walt Disney Company. In a cinematic era stocked with nostalgic comic book characters, one might ask if modern filmmakers are capable of creating new franchises without proven intellectual property. Then again, Star Wars itself draws from Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films, John Ford’s westerns, Flash Gordon serials, and The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. As creators and audiences continue to grapple with artistic notions of ownership and synthesis, a more pointed question lingers: will Star Wars fail or flourish without the guidance of George Lucas?

Lucas admits Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress “heavily influenced” Star Wars, with nearly identical plots, dialogue, and characters

I’ve been a Star Wars fan as long as I can remember. In 2016, As a long-term fan of the franchise, Rogue One was the first new Star Wars film I’ve loved since the Eighties. Rogue One was taut and thrilling with droll droid humor; it felt classic and new at the same time, like The Guns of Navarone infused with Sunshine. Unlike The Force Awakens released a year prior, the latest installment didn’t leaned too much on the success, and plot, of its spiritual predecessor. Fans were introduced to the tenuous ties between Rebel factions, the acquisition of the Death Star plans, and a fulfillment of Darth Vader’s nightmarish potential. I went home and watched A New Hope with renewed vigor and high hopes for the future of Star Wars under Disney purview.

I call my parents to figure out when exactly I first saw Star Wars. My parents saw the originals in the late 70s and early 80s. They adored it so much, Dad brought the franchise home in the hip new format — VHS. Dad can’t remember if I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater with them or not; he says I was a quiet kid, so maybe?

Either way, I was asking family members to scoop up second-hand Star Wars toys for my birthday by 1987. I received a Kenner Millenium Falcon as large as my torso, an AT-AT walker bigger than some dogs, a Snowspeeder still capable of laser lights and sounds (missing the tow cable), and an AT-ST in a scruffy-looking box. Thirty years later, I sold those nostalgic toys, telling the shop owner I was excited my collection would be a conversation starter in the weeks preceding The Last Jedi.

Thus, I was privately anxious about the latest episode. I’d already endured the Special Edition debacle in the Nineties, feeling betrayed and disappointed by three pathetic attempts to modernize the saga. Hindsight proved they were harbingers of the prequels. I saw Episode I with a friend the month before we graduated from high school; we both hated it. I saw Episode II during college, hopeful with news that Jar Jar’s buffoonery had significantly less screen time,
Natalie Portman resembled Princess Leia’s mother, and Hayden Christensen appeared brooding enough to portray the corruption of Anakin Skywalker.

I sat uncomfortably through a film most quotable at its worst: “I don’t like sand… it’s coarse and rough and irritating… and it gets everywhere.” By 2005, I did not have high expectations for wars, sequels, or guys named George. I should have heeded the warning in my heart but, as Ol’ Ben Kenobi said, “Who’s the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?”

Episode III was the chosen one, however, the film that would create Darth Vader! The mournful “NOooo!” near the end of the film felt more like what the audience was thinking. YouTube, launched earlier that year, was saving a seat for Revenge of the Sith’s unintentional comedy to usher in a pantheon of memes.

After the dust of the prequels settled, I would be unwittingly introduced to the next generation of Star Wars directors. Winter was coming as I huddled next to a space heater and eye-guzzled the first season of J.J. Abrams’ show, Lost. 2006 saw the release of writer/director Rian Johnson’s debut feature, Brick, a hard-boiled high school noir. Both would go on to further prove their sci-fi chops.

Abrams went on to reboot Star Trek in 2009, confessing his Star Wars fandom in interviews about the farm-boy-bound-for-space opening. 2012 brought both Looper, Rian Johnson’s popular time-travel flick full of misdirection, and the sale of LucasFilm to Disney for $4 billion. By Christmas that year, J.J. Abrams met with Disney, but publicly claimed Star Trek obligations would prevent his involvement. A month later, Disney had their way, confirming Abrams at the helm of Episode VII.

If Star Trek Into Darkness plundering the past had been taken as any indication, sci-fi fans might have been more prepared for the creative cannibalism Abrams would bring to The Force Awakens. At least half of the new Star Wars film felt like a legitimate attempt to overlap fresh characters and old favorites, but the plot seemed suspiciously reliant on blowing up a base capable of destroying planets.

I wanted to know more, but I had a bad feeling about this. Where did Snoke come from? Who might Rey’s parents be? Why did these open-ended mysteries remind me of Lost?

The first teaser trailer for The Last Jedi launched last April, accumulating millions of views and spinning analytics-driven media into ceaseless speculation about the aging Luke Skywalker’s fateful words, “It’s time for the Jedi… to end.” The second trailer, in October, furthered the frenzy with First Order forces reminiscent of the Battle of Hoth, a shot of Kylo Ren considering matricide, and yet another quote from Luke: “This is not going to go… the way you think.” Good! Right?

I was convinced Rian Johnson could pull the tail from the mouth of the Star Wars ouroboros. Nobody could’ve predicted Luke’s parentage in 1980, but escalating expectations have accompanied every Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back via emerging narrative patterns, box office projections, or flames of fan desire. I was expecting an epic return to form in the Skywalker saga, some greater reward for years of faithfulness during the largely consistent disappointment of the past two decades. More than anything, I wanted to be surprised by Star Wars.

I’d spend the better part of December dodging potential spoilers, resolved to sacredly screen The Last Jedi with my parents during the holiday. When the night finally came, I sat in the center of the last row in the front section awaiting the familiar sounds of John Williams and the slow crawl of giant yellow words. Somehow, I was a kid anticipating Christmas again; that was a way I’ve not felt for a long time. The feeling became complicated over the next two and a half hours. Luke’s quotes from the trailers both misled and chided the audience.

Mark Hamill delivered a performance that rivals anything he’s ever done, while the connection between Rey and Kylo showcased the complicated heart of this new trilogy, collectively yielding some of the best scenes. Almost every moment with Carrie Fisher felt worth cherishing while we
wonder how Disney will handle her physical absence in Episode IX. As for the rest of the cast, with so many entrances and exits to handle, many arcs did not feel duly developed… even in the longest Star Wars film to date.

Star Wars fans may slowly realize that the latest film’s title is part of the ruse Rian Johnson used to pull a heist. In regards to Johnson, I’ll paraphrase a quote from the second installment of another iconic trilogy: “he’s the hero Star Wars deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” Disney has contracted Johnson for a Star Wars trilogy reportedly set in a different part of the universe, perhaps indicative of his indifference to negative reviews of The Last Jedi.

The conceptual dissemination of the Force away from the Skywalker family, and perhaps even the struggle between fundamentalist Jedi and Sith, may prove fertile ground for creativity more akin to the original spirit of Star Wars. Maybe, with a trilogy’s worth of creative control, Rian Johnson can rival George Lucas. We can only hope.

Meanwhile… Solo better be good, Disney, for your sake. The internet is not as forgiving as I am.

Black Mirror Says More About Today Than Tomorrow


by Shannon Jay

Technology has always been at the core of science fiction films in the form of otherworldly inventions. Distant and destructive technology, however, has been swapped out in recent years with devices we come into contact with every day. Black Mirror, which just released its fourth season, exploits smartphones, computer, and modern media’s exponential development to create a dystopian future closer than ever before.  

Black Mirror recognizes that with the rise of Internet came a complete change in concepts of communication, and utilizes the new technological frontier to unsettle viewers not with fantasy, but familiarity. The show hyperbolizes an already “always on,” interconnected society shaped by social media, to see how this already ever present connection will integrate into everyday life in the future.

 This episode sneaks in a bit of #BlackLivesMatter commentary, too
This episode sneaks in a bit of #BlackLivesMatter commentary, too

While stories are seemingly disconnected, each Black Mirror storyline uses recurrently technology to stitch together separate instances. Slight differences in similar tech illustrate development over a relatively short period of time, reflecting our current, ever-evolving technical revolution.

A brain implant known as “the Grain” is used in “The Entire History of You” to track and scroll through memories in high def video, allowing users to “re-do” moments of their life. In “San Junipero,” implants are used to mimic these malfunctions successfully, creating an avatar-based world where everything feels as real as it looks, and where heaven might be found after death. In the latest season, writers get hella meta in “Black Museum,” where now outdated or fatally flawed ideas are housed.

How quickly tech becomes obsolete is far too familiar to viewers, also. In “Nosedive,” Lacie Pound is on a nationwide quest to increase her social status score. She rents an outdated electric car — the only one she can get with her plummeting rating —  after being denied a seat on an airplane due to her low score. Thus, when she goes to charge the car halfway through the nine hour trip, she finds there’s not adapters for her older model, stranding her once more. All who’ve dealt with ever-changing chargers with every few iPhone updates can relate.

Along with allusions to current culture, Black Mirror’s dystopian plot lines factually explores humans’ imprint on the near future with highly informed predictions. Our mistreatment of nature is illustrated in “Hated in the Nation,” where drone bees replace the insect population currently nearing extinction, and “Nosedive,” foreshadowing the overtaking of electric cars in reaction to the increasing threat of global warming and depletion of fossil fuels. “Playtest” and “USS Callister” explores the next level of virtual reality gaming; both episodes ground viewers in the present via identical cell phones, job apps, and beloved classic sci-fi references.  

“Less a critique of technology than of what you could potentially do with technology, or what technology could potentially do to you if you haven’t really thought through the consequences.”

– Charlie Booker, show creator

Societal tolls aren’t necessarily consciously manipulated, but instead tech takes over common sense or empowers inherently evil people. Creator Charles Brooker said the series is about “much less a critique of technology than of what you could potentially do with technology, or what technology could potentially do to you if you haven’t really thought through the consequences.” Furthermore, the era of smartphones created outsiders out of those who don’t own that technology. In “The Entire History of You,” Hallam’s Grain had previously been gouged out, and “happier now” without it, which shocked fellow dinner guests.

Most importantly, and differently than any other classic science fiction, it only slightly hyperbolizes a new and existing dependence on social media and quantitative popularity via likes. the implication of social media into our daily lives enforces deeply ingrained societal norms on a new level. Even on vacation, we’re working to keep up appearances with each Instagram photo posted or Snapchat sent, making even the most exotic location homogeneous to home. In attempts such as this to be “away from familiar places and discovering new ones unencumbered,” Christine Rosen said in her essay “The New Meaning of Mobility,” we’re never truly rewarded with an entire “freedom of disconnect.” Features already occurring in social media, such as blocking someone in the grim holiday special “White Christmas,” are brought into the real-world. 

Black Mirror uses already demonstrated destruction via dependence on constant social interaction. Within the first few minutes, we see how distracting technology can be when Ash is too bothered watching the news to notice his wife Martha, hands full, is trying to get into the car. The short time he’s in the episode, Ash is on his phone so much, Martha says he “vanishes down there” and refers to his phone as a “thief,” social media stealing the couple’s final night together. When Ash returns the moving van the next day, he dies in an accident. Character foreshadowing concludes he was distracted while driving, which is not at all far fetched considering 69 percent of drivers admit to using their phone while driving, leading to hundreds of thousands of accidents per year in the United States alone.

Furthermore, we realize later he shared so much of his life online, an artificial replica is able to compute his mannerisms and memories solely based on his social media data. Complications with the robot’s personality, however, shows synthetic representations and online personas are no substitute for true human interaction. Martha’s erection of the robot and Ash’s social media addiction illustrate how we’re never alone, and have no way to cope when we are.

While individualized technology can threaten personal relationships, the internet’s anonymity could have grave consequences on Earth as a whole, becoming an even harder to trace form of terrorism that’s easier to implement.Troll culture is tackled in “Shut Up and Dance,” blurring ethical lines via online strangers who spy on morally questionable individuals and punishes them. In the series premiere episode “The National Anthem,” a hostage video of beloved Princess Susannah has been surfaced and demands the Prime Minister has sex with a pig on national television by 4pm that day, or else the Princess dies.

Since the hostage video was uploaded on YouTube, it’s already been exposed to the public and picks up serious traction within hours, with commentary from citizens on Twitter to major media outlets tiptoeing around the details.

This episode in particular explores shows how fast information can be spread, how quickly tides of opinions can change, and how much can happen in only a few hours in our digital age. This episode uses technology at everyone’s disposal today, ensuing more fear than previous dreamlike and distant science fiction of yesteryear.

Check out VICE’s roundup of all the clever Easter Eggs Season 4 uses to alude to Black Mirror’s past tech.