Season four of the science fiction series Black Mirror reveals the shows unfortunate underlying nihilism and human fatalism.
There are no spoilers in this article. I am addressing the tone and context of the newest season, and not the specific content.
I can still remember the first episode of Black Mirror that I ever watched, and how mind-blowingly spectacular I found that first season. The two subsequent seasons didn’t disappoint, either. In many ways the exploration of how technological and social trends in the near future could go completely awry echoed many of the things I had been writing about. Often it felt like seeing my own concerns on film, but done extraordinarily well.
Something changed between the third and fourth seasons, both for me and the show.
What has changed in me is a desire to consume and contribute to the compulsive cynicism that has come to color our cultural climate. Cynicism has become a negative virtue signal that prevents healthy, adaptive, productive dialogues and actions. While it also holds an important key to reflection on the self and the world around us, when taken too far it creates a feedback loop of hopelessness and ill will. At this point it would be hard to argue that cynicism hasn’t become a regular, obtrusive norm of public dialogue.
In this way I now see Black Mirror, especially the new season, as skating a little too close to the nihilism of low brow cultural icons like Rick & Morty. Both of them are very clever, and often bitingly funny, but all of that intellect and humor rides an endless wave of ‘everything-is-fucked-anyway’ therefore ‘it’s-all-meaningless-bullshit’. That kind of thing is way cool when you wanna ideologically high five your edgy bros, but it is not really helping us to see positive, hopeful ways ahead.
As for what has changed in the show, well that is more a matter of scale. “People can be the most frightening shits there is,” was always reflected in the Black Mirror. Yet it seemed to be more of an undercurrent, a subtle reminder, so as not to throw technology under the bus alone.
Season four felt like a shift. Instead of seeing mostly unintended consequences, or the results of technology and social system evolving along sinister paths, we are now seeing the darkness of individuals and groups. It is not that the dark portrayal of individuals and groups is inaccurate, just that there is already overkill in that message.
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