Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Black Mirror, 2: 15 Million Merits

A much better effort, I thought, than the first programme in this trilogy. Without an against-the-clock storyline we were able to enter more fully into the world depicted and muse upon its verities. So here we are, in a world where humanoids (or at any rate the young good-looking ones) are locked away underground, pedalling on gymn bikes to build up credits / merits (the creatrors seem to take a dim view of gymns), and fed a Matrix-like world of videogames and streamed TV junk (porn being in heavy supply). There do not seem to be  books, or any other source of real culture, and language has decayed to the point where conversation is denuded into almost nothing.  Individuals are locked away for some time in individual cells made of screens where video is beamed from all sides and watching appears to be compulsory. The only way out of this inferno seems to be to spend 15 million merits to have a chance to appear on the talent show 'Hot Shots', an amphitheatre of cruelty and all things synthetic, there to perform to the boos and yelps of an artificially generated audience. Before you go on stage, you have to drink 'Compliance'. Thus a promising singer can be recruited to a porn channel (it's either that or back to the bikes). In the story her champion manages to appear himself on the show and speak out angrily against the tat, the packaging, the fakery ... but the system, as total systems do,  immediately co-opts all opposition, and the would-be rebel is rewarded for his 'passion' with a penthouse, a more attractive artificial reality to look at, and regular slots as a show protestor on another 'stream'. (A neat acknowledgement by husband-wife writers Brooker-Huq here that their attack on TV is also TV entertainment).

Regular dystopian tropes, then, but beautifully observed. The 'Hot Shot' judges (led by a brilliant Rupert Everett) were amusing but also sinister, and touches like the bored-out-of-their heads staff and the awful Scouse contestant ('singing is my destiny') gave it all a credible air. Most memorable of all was the picture of human nature itself melting into something else, as endless junk, grey uniforms, and the vanquishing of the past by media tat did their work. We sensed that tender relationshiops like the one between the two protagonists did not have long to go. Not Orwell's totalitarianism, but late post-humanist capitalism triumphing over the human spirit. This one really did hang together, and will linger in the mind.