I just got done watching a show that absolutely broke my heart. Yes, it was fictional (thank God), but it was utterly depressing. I’ve only seen three episodes of Black Mirror, a British sci-fi series on Netflix, but boy there’s some seriously heavy stuff in there. I don’t know whether to be entertained, sad, angry or depressed. Do the show’s directors enjoy messing with our heads and making us squirm uncomfortably in our seats? It certainly appears so!
The episode I just watched was called “Fifteen Million Merits.” It’s basically the story of a near future society absolutely SATURATED with media, and a lack of human soul and individuality. It’s definitely a dystopian story. The main character, a young man named Bingham Madsen, spends most of his day in a room covered in TV screens. I liken it to a high-tech version of solitary confinement. Instead of padded walls, there are screens which pump in media infomercials all hours of the day.
Bing’s life is incredibly boring as well. From the time he gets up, to the time he goes to bed, he spends his time trying to earn credits by riding an exercise bike and spending credits on useless things. He’s a human hamster on a never-ending wheel. The world he lives in has no purpose. It has no soul. And what little humanity there is in it, is stifled by the gloomy, monotonous, mundane way of life that he lives with other people who are in the building with him. But Bing doesn’t know any better. Until he meets a pretty girl named Abi who aspires to be a professional singer, and to leave the sterile, soulless world behind for something bigger and better. She touches his heart and snaps him out of the colorless, gloomy world they’re both living in.
Getting to know Abi makes Bing realize that his humanity, compassion and love for her, are far more fulfilling than what he had been doing up until he met her. Bing gives her the millions of credits he has inherited from his deceased brother, so she can pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer, and so she can have a better life for herself outside “high-tech solitary confinement” earning and spending credits on hollow things all day, every day.
Abi enters a singing competition called Hot Shot. She impresses the judges with her singing. It’s her big break. Her ticket to freedom. Her way out. Right? Nope. Dead wrong. After complimenting her performance, the two male judges ask her to strip naked. And the female judge enables their shitty behavior by doing nothing. Hell, she eggs them on. All three objectify Abi. They give her an ultimatum: Toss away her human dignity and lower herself to a sex object in order to be made a singer, or return to being a “slave to technology,” pedaling the bike, earning and spending credits every day for the rest of her life. Folks, that scene was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen in a while. You’d have to see the episode yourself to understand what I mean. The actress who plays her, Jessica Brown Findlay, really tugged at my heart with her acting. I was both genuinely sad for her character Abi and pissed at the scumbag judges. I wanted to help Bing get her out of that situation, and cuff the two male judges upside the head! But alas, it’s only a show.
Abi unfortunately gives in to the pressure of wanting to escape her boring life. But as is the case most of the time in true dystopian novels and movies, there are no happy endings. Sometime later, Bing sees Abi on the screens in his cell. Not as a world-famous singer who is free. But as a porn star forced to do awful things against her will. She loses her soul, her dignity, and her humanity. They break her. Turns out the “freedom” offered by Hot Shot was an illusion after all. There was no freedom at the end of the line.
Seeing Bing’s reaction to Abi being abused hurt my heart. It made me hope that he would break out of his cell to save her, and that the episode would end on a positive note with the two of them happily together. Unfortunately, we never see Abi again. And Bing ends up becoming a podcaster for the other people living in the dystopian society. He resigns himself to living his gloomy, stifling life. The girl who he loves is gone, and so there is no point to his life anymore other than to continue running on the never-ending hamster wheel. He contemplates suicide, but can’t bring himself to do it. So he performs for the masses, like a bird in a cage. Fade to black.
Even though the show was incredibly depressing, I noticed a few interesting and hopeful messages and themes. One was loud and clear: HUMANITY AND INDIVIDUALITY, ALONG WITH LOVE FOR OTHERS, ARE PRECIOUS THINGS, AND SHOULD NEVER BE STIFLED OR SACRIFICED FOR ANYTHING OR ANYONE. Our humanity and individuality add color and uniqueness to the world, and to the lives of those we interact with. Plus it is always better to live the raw, messy, gritty, authentic life that comes with the human condition, than to live in sterile bleakness. Being human is both beautiful and painful. It’s both joyful and depressing. But it is real. As long as we are allowed to live it, we are always FREE!
I got a sort of Anthem meets 1984 Orwellian-type vibe from this show too. Long story short, Anthem by Ayn Rand features a character who nicknames himself Prometheus, who lives in a sterile society, similar to the one Bing and Abi lived in. Human individuality, creativity and personality are seen as crimes, and are stifled. But “Prometheus” eventually rebels against his oppressive life, finds love with a woman he nicknames “Gaia,” and breaks free, taking her with him. They become like another version of Adam and Eve. A new hope for humanity. The society in the Black Mirror episode definitely seemed like the one in Anthem. But the episode ended like the ending of 1984. The main character resigns himself to his fate, there is no happy ending, and the bad guys win.
I usually write upbeat, happy stuff. But I had to blog about this episode of Black Mirror that I saw. It just affected me in such a deep, emotional and profound way, that I had to share what I saw and felt. It reminded me of what is precious in life, as well as what it truly means to be human. Loving others, sacrificing for them, bringing color to the world with our gifts and talents, and living freely. THAT is just the tip of the iceberg of what it means to be human. And if we ever lose our humanity or willingly give it up, we’ve lost ourselves forever.