The British have a long history of amazing satire. If you have spent any time living there and watching what their television programming schedules have to offer, you will know that different stations compete to host the most funny, satirical, ironic and irreverent shows. “Have I Got News For You” and “Nevermind the Buzzcocks”, for example, are both long running talk shows that aim to amuse with the classic British self-deprecatory humour—nothing too cutting edge but filled to the brim with good natured pokes and jabs at figures of authority, celebrities and anyone else who takes themselves seriously in the public eye. On the other end of the spectrum we have Scottish satirical geniuses like Rory Bremner who have kept the nation in stitches with their impersonations of politicians and the likes of Armando Iannucci, the brilliant creator of The Thick of It and its US incarnation Veep.
But there is one brand of satire that is really and uniquely British. This is the dark comedy satire genre that comedians like Chris Morris began to produce around the turn of the century. With shows like The Day Today, Brass Eye, Blue Jam and Nathan Barley, Morris catapulted himself into the country’s imagination with dark, surreal television that picked apart many of the nation’s biggest fears.
Nathan Barley was a hilariously cynical sitcom that parodied hipsters when the hipster phenomenon was still nascent. Morris wrote this is collaboration with Charlie Brooker, a Guardian columnist that was just beginning to make a name for himself. While Chris Morris’ genius has been intermittently dormant over the past half decade, Charlie Brooker has gone on to turn the dark comedy genre into something altogether more disturbing. This would be Black Mirror, a TV show first aired in 2011; each episode is a standalone story and each season lasts about four episodes.
You don’t have to be British or live in Britain to appreciate Black Mirror. This one is for all of us of the digital generation that wake up and check Facebook before we read the news, those of us that download “practical apps for couples” because we want to keep in touch with our significant others all day. It’s for the snapchatters, the tweeters, the whatsappers and those that actually liked it when Facebook decided to make a “history of you” video (or whatever it was called).
Set in a variety of dystopian futures, every episode of Black Mirror depicts a situation in which social media and technology have somehow gone from providing beneficial inputs to our lives to wrenching apart the cracks in our moral compasses. Social media and technology are not, however, the evil ones in this narrative. Neither are the big bad corporations that create the gadgets that we and the “wes” of our future are so dependent on. All of the characters in Black Mirror are normal people, sometimes weaker sometimes stronger. All of them make choices but these choices are largely influenced by the amount of technology that surrounds them.
In one episode a woman recreates a life size carbon copy of her deceased husband, in another a “love coach” helps shy guys hook up with girls in real time, a woman who abused her child is forced to relive a nightmarish situation over and over, each time having her memory erased before she relives her punishment in front of a live audience. As petrol stocks have dwindled people are forced underground to tirelessly peddle energy cycles that provide light for those above, while they are bombarded with mind-numbing television they have to pay not to watch.
Black Mirror is the most disturbing yet realistic portrayal of what may happen to modern society in a not-too-distant future that has ever been made. It is a work of genius and anyone who cares about where we are going as a society, should take time to watch it. Charlie Brooker does not come across as a technophobe throughout (we can easily assume that he has an iPhone and that he too enjoys the benefits it comes with). This is a reflection on humanity, a humanity of the future.
Not all is black in this future reflection of our lives, we are still people and still succumb to the same human emotions we have always succumbed to, yet we are standing perilously close to a dark digital abyss which deserves to be considered.
This article was originally published on upnairobi.com in April 2014