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 In the latest season, writers get hella meta in “Black Museum,” where now outdated or fatally flawed ideas are housed.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 She rents an outdated electric car — the only one she can get with her plummeting rating —  after being denied a seat on an airplane due to her low score.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. 


Don’t Touch My Pride: Douglas, Williams, and Media’s Criticism of Their Hair

by Shannon Jay

Venus Williams and Gabby Douglas have a lot in common — they’re strong, black women who have come out on top countless times in traditionally elite, expensive, and white sports. They’ve also suffered from plenty of media scrutiny. Whether it’s through these women’s hair, unfair application of rules or norms, or stereotypical assumptions, the Williams sisters and Douglas are too often marginalized by critics in ways that overshadow their historic accomplishments and countless contributions to America’s greatness.

Overt coverage of these athlete’s hair in particular work to maintain white beauty standards and attempt to make these women feel bad about their black pride.

At 15 years old, Gabby Douglas left her first Olympics as the first African-American woman to take home the gold medal in the all-around individual title. Instead of this historic victory that earned her praises from the president and her face on cereal boxes, the media was focused on her hair. Twitter was abuzz with criticism, and her hair became one of the micro-media site’s top 10 2012 Olympic controversies. In her article on the social media response to Gabby Douglas, Kathleen McElroy found most hairy criticism did not come from whites, however, but from “Black Twitter.”

The usually strong support system that actively acts “as a public space and subject of the white gaze” was the same that ripped Douglas down, showing that beauty standards and the unfair practice are upheld in our sweatiest, hardest working athletes. Particularly upsetting is that this should be the community that’d be the proudest of her accomplishments and the most understanding of her hairy dilemma.

Douglas’ mother told Fashionista that the family made jokes to diffuse that situation and uplift the gymnast’s spirits to keep her focused. “How ignorant is it of people to comment on her hair and she still has more competitions to go,” she said. “Are you trying to ruin her self-confidence? She has to go out there and feel good about herself.”

Black America risked a historic shining star’s success to note her napiness, but why? McElroy said what played out was the voices of African American women who were “once stifled by their hair choices [are] now liberated and uniquely qualified to scold black women to get in line.”

Unique hairstyles don’t just skew success and lower self-esteem only when it comes to beauty standards, but can sometimes affect women’s scores. At the 1999 Australian Open, Venus Williams lost beads from her signature hairdo. In accordance with the controversially interpretive Hindrance Rule, she was docked a point due to the “distraction.”.  In her post-match interview, Williams said she had not been warned when beads had fallen out in past games. Her opponent Lindsay Davenport even revealed that “it’s not a distraction, a little annoying, maybe,” but “it’s the rules.”

However, this unprecedented incidence usually applies to the flailing of larger, louder, easily seen objects such as loose balls or the hat that Davenport had lost points for in a previous match. The fact that no one had said anything about Williams’ beads flying in previous matches, writer Sarah Projansky suggests this is “an unfair and racist application of a rule that was written without Venus or, potentially, other African American players in mind.”

With this in mind, Projansky begs the question in her book “Spectacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture” — what if it was a clip or barrette that fell out of a white player’s hair? Furthermore, was Davenport really that “annoyed” at a single bead, or moreso Venus’ presence and her place as a fair opponent, as a black woman in a white world?

Keeping in the stereotype of “angry black women,” LA Times said Williams “lashed out” during “bead-gate,” qualifying that she “did not go ballistic and start crying, the way she did at Wimbledon,” painting her as overly emotional and erratic in multiple instances. Meanwhile, they praised Davenport’s “businesslike performance,” who herself said she’s “a different player” than Williams, citing her confidence and smartness on the court as deciphering factors.

Commenting on the rest of Williams’ disoriented performance, Davenport said, “you have to be a little tougher, [and] not let that bother you.” But, it’s hard to not be bothered when you know the cards are stacked against you, even when you’re one of the best. It’s tough to not be thrown off your game when an instance occurs where this disadvantage is so apparent. You’re already defeated when no one else sees that, and think they’re better than you because of it.

For these women, the political will always be personal. Being docked unfairly, criticized trivially, and given no empathy in the face of tragedy doesn’t stop these women, who have defied their scenarios to be the best. Imagining them being any greater without these restraints is hard, but it’s a road we deserve to earn for them, for the amazing ways they’ve represented America on the world stage.

Their inclusion in these spaces is only the beginning of the work that needs to be done, and the analysis of the nuances that halts this change will always be necessary to provide personable progress. For all the time, sweat, and tears they’ve devoted on and off the field for us, we need to work always to earn them the respect they rightfully deserve.