Black Mirror made its debut in 2011 and we are still devouring this dystopian fictional series because we can’t get over the chilling sense of familiarity it now provides. The show has given us the eeriest dystopian realities of the 21st century and seems to be a dark reflection of our future.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is no less than an episode from Black Mirror, a terrifying version of the future – social distancing, humans hooked on black screens, trying to make one self-relevant, eerily quiet streets, and malls.
The spread of coronavirus has taken over 8,000 lives and has left more than 200,000 infected globally, and I feel this pandemic is here to stay for long (hoping not). The disease, which earlier seemed non-threatening and which the world did not take seriously, has now confined us to self-isolation though introverts, who have always been home-quarantined, have a list of pro-tips to give to governments, who have asked its people to uphold ‘social distancing’.
Before the coronavirus became a pandemic, Hollywood star Jared Leto, who also starred as Joker in Suicide Squad, isolated himself for a 12-day silent meditation retreat in a desert. While meditating in the dessert Jared was at peace, away from social media, the devastating news cycle, and technology.
He must have thought that he would return to rise and shine as this totally new person, ready to conquer the world, but what he didn’t expect was, to emerge into the middle of a global pandemic called COVID-19. In his Instagram post-Jared states, “I walked out yesterday into a different world. One that’s been changed forever.”
Now, does this incident ring a bell? Well, it should, all the cynical Black Mirror lovers like me. In season 5, episode 2 titled Smithereens deals with the crisis at a social media company, which gets out of hand, and the founder of the company, who has been on a silent retreat and who didn’t want to be bothered during his meditation has to intervene, something he wasn’t expecting. This just shows how we are living in the image created by the writers of Black Mirror.
Well, another hard-hitting episode of Black Mirror that made me question the universe was the second episode of the first season, called Fifteen Million Merits starring Get Out actor Daniel Kaluuya. In this episode, people spend most of their days trapped in an enclosed, automated space, a high tech environment, surrounded by black screens. Characters in this episode have to perform a mundane task (cycling on stationary bikes) to earn certain points/currency for food and entertainment, now isn’t this strangely similar to what we are doing right now?
Working from home – performing tasks, being monitored while on a laptop screen, and for what? Yes, you guessed it right – money/food/entertainment, and we are doing it every day.
Black Mirror has always been on point with its basic idea that - no matter how useful the technology is, it will eventually overpower us.
Third season’s last episode, Hated in the Nation is a take on ‘self-inflicting’ destruction. It is set in the UK where the law is trying to protect its innocent citizens from a mysterious villain, or murderer robot bees.
This has become the reality; social media has been ruling us in such a way that it is being used for spreading hatred and false information.
‘Hated in the Nation’ unfurls a plot-line about social-media shaming, people behind the screens do not care about the consequences, and similarly, due to the outbreak of the pandemic, a certain community is being targeted now.
The US President recently called COVID-19 a ‘Chinese virus’ following suit the Republicans too used similar words, in fact, misinformation and online harassment has impacted people so much that real people around us are becoming victims of ‘racist attacks’. In Delhi, a few northeastern students were targeted and called ‘coronavirus’. In Israel, an Indian immigrant from the northeast was targeted because of his looks, the attackers called him ‘Chinese’.
All this has been influenced by online hatred and the media has a huge role to play in this. In Black Mirror, at least a team of detectives hunts down the online hate monger but what's being done in the real world?
It’s not just Black Mirror that predicted the doom. Films too have often explored the subject of a pandemic.
‘Don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone and stay away from people’, does that sound familiar? Well yes, the social-isolation we have been asked to go into, is exactly the same. This current situation reminds me of a 2011 medical thriller Contagion directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The writer of Contagion Scott Z Burns predicted the outbreak of a virus much before Black Mirror’s creator Charlie Brooker. In Contagion, an outbreak of a deadly virus takes over the world, which spreads through touching other people and infected surfaces, it spreads like wildfire resulting in a pandemic. The film illustrates how the virus takes over the world and the panic it creates because people don’t know what it was, how it spreads or what it's going to do.
This deadly virus has created so much panic and fear among people, that they are ready to kill each other to save themselves. Recently, in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur, a man was allegedly beaten up by a couple for ‘sneezing and spitting’ without covering his mouth.
This incident reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, in which Joker played by the late Heath Ledger is interrogated by Batman (Christian Bale) – in this interrogation scene, Batman compares the Joker to garbage, and Joker calls the society selfish and immoral. In the evergreen sequence, the Joker compares human morals to a ‘bad joke’, he says that society’s morals "...drop at the first sign of trouble...
.....they are only good as the world allows them to be, when the chips are down these, uh, civilized people? They’ll eat each other.” Twelve years later this again seems to be true. We are living in such dark times, that we are ready to shed our last layer of humanity in a snap.
While I don’t know what the future beholds for us, I do hope it’s all green and sunny and that this one hell of a pandemic gets over soon and we go back to socialising- ‘Bumbling’ and ‘Hingeing’ and eventually meeting our dates. But, till the time you are being forced to ‘self-quarantine’ ‘self-isolate’ ‘social-distance’ yourself, you might want to watch the 5th episode of the 4th season of Black Mirror titled Metalhead – where a woman is being chased by a robotic dog in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
(The writer of this piece is a cynical character, who believes that the world might end soon, and we all should make amends before ‘2020 becomes 2012’)