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Black Mirror is a Netflix series with non sequential episodes. In other words, each episode is totally unique in setting, plot, and characters. You can watch the episodes in any order and not be negatively affected. Because of this, Black Mirror can make a multitude of commentaries on the human condition and it’s relation to technology in a variety of ways in a small number of episodes. While each episode explores the unanticipated effects of a new or existing technology on humans, each episode is unique in the way it achieves this.
It is a great show for entertainment purposes because it really twists your mind to look at our world in a different way. Some episodes such as s1e1 do this with subtle changes to our current world. Other episodes are drastically different. Regardless of the episodes differences, you can see trends among all dystopias.


The very first episode seems to be in a world portrayed to be exactly like ours. New technologies that have not been invented yet are not present at all. The basic plot is that a English princess is kidnapped and the captor does not offer a cash ransom. Instead, he says the prime minister has to have sex with a pig on live television. The key quote from this episode is the response when the prime minister asks “What is our move? What does the playbook say?” The response is “there is no play book.” The main point being made here is that social media and media in general has a relatively new role in politics. However, despite it being new, it has an extremely high amount of power. It is a new force that when in the wrong hands is impossible to prepare against. It is dangerous.
While the pilot includes no characters or actors in the following episodes, it is the perfect introduction to the series because it shows that a simple twist can point out a major potential danger in a technology advance society like ours. Furthermore, most of the following episodes are even more technologically advanced to show us the unpredictable affects of new technology. While some of the technology being viewed seems unachievable, it is still scary to watch because we know that the pace of our technological advancement far exceeds the pace of the policy regarding it. Simply put, there are consequences when we make things we do not know how to deal and live with it

On Monday, March 6, I will be giving a conference presentation on escapism’s role in dystopias. While my focus will be on sci-fi dystopias or dystopias that have advanced technology, this is really something you’ll want to hear even if you aren’t a fan of sci-if.

Escapism is seeking relief or comfort from unpleasant realities. My main argument is that Escapism needs two things to be present. First there needs to be a push factor. This is the thing that will make a character want to seek a distraction for comfort or relief. In other words, what is unpleasant in their life. Dystopias are perfect for this. Dystopias are setting that are, by definition, unpleasant.

The second factor for Escapism is the pull factor. This is the thing that our character does or uses to escape their problems. Since my focus is on sci-fi’s and advanced technology dystopias, the pull factor tends to be based on technology. Part of my research supports that we prefer electronic communication over face-to-face. Especially when it would be an awkward or unpleasant conversation. This is evident in dystopian novels such as Ready Player One and the Hunger Games. It is also evident in TV shows such Black Mirror.

Of course these electronic escapes only allow the characters to find safe haven for a very limited amount of time compared to their time spent in misery. They can’t get enough in both the literal and figurative sense of the phrase. Furthermore, the connection between the unpleasant realities and the escapes isn’t just advanced technology. It can become an addiction that fuels the dystopian. Think of it like a Chinese finger-trap. When you try to escape, its grip gets stronger. The more a character gets captivated in their escape, the further they are from reality and the dystopia gets a tighter grip of control over the character. A good example of this is in an episode of Black Mirror. A new technology captures everything you see and hear and you can go back and relive memories or even share them with friends and family. The main character in the episode is constantly looking over past situations and becomes hyper-analytic and loses trust in his girlfriend. He becomes disconnected with reality and goes into a downward spiral and ends up alone. The technology had a total grip over his life.

While this is just one example, you can find similar trends among a large majority of dystopias feature advanced technology’s. I wouldn’t call them cliches though. They are more of new and developing archetypes, and that is exciting.

The thing that interests me the most about dystopias is comparing the quality of life between the dystopia and real life. The technology tends to be more significantly more advanced in the dystopia. However, the advance in technology can point out some flaws in human nature. For example, a Black Mirror episode showcases a seemingly wonderful technology. The technology allows the elderly to enter a virtual world in any time period they want (70s, 80s, etc) and relive their youth once a week. However, they can choose to “pass over” and live there forever after they die. While the technology seems out of reach to me, I think it points out a flaw in us today. We spend some much of our time in a fake, virtual world through screens that we can forget to live our real lives.

My independent reading is proving to have a similar theme so far into my reading. I am reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The setting is a pretty horrible world riddled with problems and overall misery due to overpopulation, unemployment, and energy shortages. It provides for a bleak life, but thanks to technology, people can find an oasis in a video game world called the OASIS. Imagine a super realistic virtual reality paradise; that is the OASIS. It sounds appetizing so pretty much everybody logs into the OASIS every day to play. It provides the foundation for the human population to live two identities: who they are in the flesh and who they are in the OASIS.

Ready Player One and Black Mirror are making me ask a lot of questions about how technology is playing a role in our lives right now. The big question I find myself coming back to is, “Are we flawed for the way we use technology in our lives or is the technology flawed?” Like most black and white questions, I’m sure the answer will have some gray area. However, I hope with my upcoming research and continued reading of Ready Player One I can find and articulate an answer.

In The Hunger Games (film), the premise of the games is introduced to the audience at the reaping. Almost as fake as an info commercial, the wording portrays being chosen as a sacrifice to the games as an honor. Despite its horrendous lies and fallacious façade, the Capital eats it up.

 

From the perspective of a capital resident, the video serves as a reminder of the horrible uprising of the districts and the capital’s triumph. Furthermore, the capital gains a merciful reputation to its citizens.  This makes the games appear more like reality TV show instead of public child slaughter to the capitol.

From the perspective of the districts, the video is shown every year without any sign of stopping. That within itself is dismaying as it serves as a reminded that the hunger games are not going anywhere and are here to say. The wording is demeaning to the districts and emphasize that they are going to suffer at the capital’s pleasure.

In essence, propaganda is a key to maintaining Panem’s dystopian totalitarian government. It is incredibly effective at its job of controlling the mindset, ideals, and beliefs of the masses and bending them to the capitals will. Even if the districts know they are viewing propaganda, it is still effective against them. If the written, spoken, or visual message does not get across, a subliminal message does; the districts do not like the capital and they cannot do a thing about it.

As part of the marking campaign of The Hunger Games, propaganda videos and posters were created to attract views. For example, a district 13 propaganda video was used as an ad for the movie.

In my opinion, I do not like this. When you are reading the books from Katniss’s perspective, you get a good insight about what each side is really about, so you can understand how absurd the propaganda is in the press war. If you only show the propaganda to a prospective viewer, you are skewing their mind away from the truth when they watch the movie. While skewing the mind of your audience is indeed the goal for propaganda, it should be avoided when advertising a film. An audience member should not be misled into what they are watching. It would be better to know nothing at all going into the film.

I’ve noticed a trend in several Dystopias. All the societies are trying to create a perfect environment to live but they all have a similar flaw. The Hunger Games has the games to prevent further rebellion and have a peaceful society. In Matched, couples are paired up and jobs are assigned to create an organized and structured society. These are just a couple of examples, yet in both cases, the needs of the society are given priority over the needs of the individual.

If I were to define a dystopia, I would describe a world very similar to ours. However, one key difference creates an imagined place where everything has been tainted in a negative way due to this one key difference. In The Hunger Games and Matched the clear differences are child sacrifice and arraigned lives respectively. On a deeper level, these imagined places compromised the possibility of a pleasant society when the needs of the individual insignificant when compared to the needs of the society. Thus, my definition of a dystopia is an imagined place where individual needs are held insignificant by society.

But what about combining dystopia with another genre such as Romance. I still think the definition works, but the additional genre gives a different lens for readers to see the dystopia. For example, in Matched the romantic connections throughout the story are constantly in a state of struggle. The cause of the struggle is the societal rules on matches and assignments. There is no room to consider an induvial’s wants, needs, passions, or love. Those become insignificant in a romantic dystopian world. For Sci-Fi, it is very similar. You could have aliens, lightsabers, and powerful female roles (looking at you Leia and Ray) but still be in an unpleasant dystopian world. In Star Wars a totalitarian empire is seeking to control and rule the entire galaxy. For those who do not like that, they become the rebels and become the enemies to society. Although I do not fully consider Star Wars dystopia but you can see the point. When you add another genre to a dystopia you will have the same underlying issue but will see it in a different way.

If you focus on a certain age group, such as young adults, I do not think the world within the novel loses the core issue stated in my definition. A slight tangent to think about after my definition: if a dystopia places the needs of the society over the needs of an individual, how should society and individual needs be related to each other?