This post is my second and last part of the series “Sci-fi Speaks Of Us”. View the first part here.
The rough “Black Mirror” is a three part television drama series which aired in December 2011, which was created by the British journalist and passionate satirist Charlie Brooker. He was the writer for the first episode, “The National Anthem”, which was a political thriller. In “The National Anthem”, a prime minister is more or less pressured into having sex with a pig on live television. Peer pressure is also a heavy theme in the second episode of “Black Mirror”, co-written by Charlie Brooker and his wife, Konnie Huq. The final episode, “The Entire History Of You”, was however handled by comedic writer Jesse Armstrong.
All of the episodes took place in different realities and settings, but as Mr. Brooker himself said: “They’re (the episodes) are all about way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy”. When explaining the title of the series, “Black Mirror”, Mr. Brooker stated: “If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The “Black Mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”
“15 Million Merits” stars Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, who lives in a depraved dystopia where everyone is forced into harsh physical toil, the only escape being to earn enough money to enter a TV talent show called “Hot Shots”. Overweight people are stigmatized by obligatory yellow clothing, being the lowest class in this fictional society. Commercials are constantly forced upon people in their homes, where the walls are all screens – you can skip them only if you pay. In the overly commercial society, Bing lives a lonely life until he meets Abi, a sweet natured young woman who has a beautiful singing voice. Enchanted by her voice, Bing convinces Abi to appear on “Hot Shots”. Abi does, she sings and moves the audience to tears, but unfortunately the jury is not pleased. Abi is then pressured into a rotten deal and Bing is left heartbroken. Eventually, Bings broken heart eggs him on to find a way to speak out against the unjust system…
The “Black Mirror” episode “15 million Merits” offers social commentary in its finest form. Through a tragic love story, Mr. Brooker and Ms. Huq tackle issues as sizeism, commerciality, the cost of privatization, the dysfunctional dream of celebrity and peer pressure. The world created in “15 Million Merits” is due to the people’s obsession with fitness and materials, neglecting any depth. Both Abi and Bing try to bring some form of feeling into the viable world they live in only to conform into the system by the end. “15 Million Merits” is honest in its depiction of humans: some people do want to rebel against systems that are cruel. Simultaneously no one’s completely immune to peer pressure and thus lose their rebellious or unique nature.
The extreme prejudice towards overweight people imagined in this Dystopia is pretty chilling to watch. A newly morphed and highly exaggerated form of prejudice found in this future of the media image is one which we can readily recognize, the prejudice against people of a larger girth and bigger bodies. Our common stereotype that overweight people are food obsessed and total slobs is inflated in by the politics of distraction in this dystopian moment and the population of this time are served video games and television shows where this stereotype is used as the misguided focus where citizens are encouraged to humiliate and underscore their misconceptions of the large sized among them. “15 Million Merits” addresses the danger points of marginalizing people for their body types in our society (or any type of prejudice) and shows us how viewing the “other” in our midst is used by an oppressive society to distract the populace from the actual horrors being carried out upon them and us. The subtle and constructed loathing that which leads to plus-sized people being viewed as less worthy citizens and persons is used by the weighty hand of the dominating social system to defer the majority from seeing, and recognizing, the tangible arrangement of subjugation forced upon them.
Along with this indictment of the politics of prejudice this wonderful episode also delivers a scathing and exact depiction of reality television. Mr. Brookner seems to nestle with the beliefs of satirist Bill Maher who once said: “reality television is nothing but cruelty and people enjoying cruelty”. Imagining if cruelty were used by the system to make of a person’s life only this as the founding principle of existence, Mr. Brookner and company explore the politics of distain and how this forms the core of existential emptiness.
It is this deployment of prejudice and emptiness by a system, far removed from the living experience, which fuels and is critiqued in the horrifying future Mr. Brooker and Ms. Huq illustrate here. And, sadly, one which is most readily seen in the trajectories and moments of our lives lived now and the political and corporate systems which hope to contain us.
While the story line in “15 Million Merits” is great, the acting is also superb. Daniel Kalyyla and Jessica Brown Findlay are perfect in their roles as lonely outsiders, trying to find a connection in an isolating and media deadening world. (Spoiler alert!) I truly felt for the Bing and Abi as an unlucky couple, which made the ending all the sadder.
“15 Million Merits” is a must see for Science Fiction lovers.