The dystopian series Black Mirror made a return this Christmas in a special that satirises the potential dangers of technology. ‘White Christmas’ is written by the series creator Charlie Brooker, the Guardian columnist famous for the Newswipe/Screenwipe series and Dead Set, the programme which imagined a zombie apocalypse beginning in the Big Brother house.
Having seen the first two mini-series’, including the brilliant ‘Prime Minister must have sex with a pig’ episode, the Christmas special does not disappoint. It stars Jon Hamm as Matt Trent and Rafe Spall as Joe Potter and begins in a secluded house on Christmas day. The audience is left in the dark as to how and why they are there, although all is revealed as the story unfolds. The programme consists of three main sub-stories which are told to us as memories by Matt and Joe.
The first narrative centres around Matt’s former ‘hobby’, which consisted of him tutoring others how to pull women. In this technologically-advanced society, this means being able to see and hear exactly what a client is saying through some sort of contact lens, enabling Matt to feed him lines and even use facial recognition technology to investigate potential partners on Facebook. This, somewhat predictably, ends disastrously for poor Harry, having unexpected repercussions for those involved.
The second story focuses on Matt’s day-job of cloning a client’s consciousness in order to turn them into personal assistants for their original self. Greta (Oona Chaplin) chooses to undergo the operation, meaning that her terrified cloned consciousness will be installed into a device in her house. At first the clone chooses to not co-operate, so Matt uses torture in order to break her. He does this through altering the clone’s perception of time until she has ‘lived’ through six months with only her own consciousness for company. Driven half-mad, she gives up and concedes to a life of being a slave to the real Greta, organising her life from waking her up to ordering groceries.
Terrifying ideas like this about the culmination of smart technology are juxtaposed with more amusing ones, such as the characters being able to ‘block’ people as you can on social media but in a physical sense. Through a technology known as Z-Eye, when you block someone you turn the physical space they occupy into a fuzzy grey nothingness, unable to see or hear them or communicate in any way until you remove the block. This has devastating consequences for Joe, whose pregnant girlfriend chooses to remove him from her life forever in the third sub-narrative.
As the story unravels, it becomes clear how much of a nightmare world the characters are living in; it would undoubtedly be depressing if it weren’t for the vein of black comedy which remains present throughout. Dystopias have had a surge in popularity of late, particularly within the realm of young adult fiction, and Black Mirror provides a compelling mixture of the terrifying and the comical typical to the genre. While we are left in no doubt that it is a technophobic exaggeration of the evil technology could be used for, it serves as a reminder of the hold it has on our lives. It is particularly pertinent at this time of year, where many people will have just unwrapped the latest gadgets on the market, then proceeded to post about it on the addictive world of social media.