2020 May - Black Mirror (TV Series) Themes

I've been watching this series and recording notes on the cautionary messages that each episode contains. This list I'm maintaining here focuses only on the side-effects of technology; there are definitely other human themes as well, like any artistic work. According to The Guardian's article by the show's creator, the title refers to the dark screens of all consumer electronics. "Black Mirrors" are already ubiquitous. Wikipedia has a great list of all episodes and plot summaries. However, the emotions, visuals, and emphasis are not captured there, which are important for theme communication. Ironically, the series is only available through Netflix- a form of technology the show looks down on.

Humankind has evolved to live in a world where natural limitations provide some basic protection from ourselves, and each other. Technology overcomes these limitations, but also circumvents the societal protection it provided.


0.0. Bandersnatch A prequel set in the 1980's, the main idea is that reality is the result of endless branches that a person decides to take. (Who truly makes those descisions, is another question). Technology has yet to degrade society in this movie, but it underlines the message that our world and the universe of the Black Mirror series are not much different- it is simply a matter of if we decide to make it that way.


1.1. The National Anthem Spread of social media, "new kind of terrorism": anonymity not only obscures the attacker, but also the motive. Anonymous and remote communication, as well as social media pressure allows unprecedented control of individuals.

1.2. Fifteen Million Merits Mind control advertising and media, forcing consumerism. Walled garden made literal.

1.3. The Entire History of You Complete history records can lead to incrimination, false ideas when taken out of context, their existance makes people go to extreme lengths to retrieve them, the notion that people can change is forgotten- records are permanent and involuntary.


2.1. Be Right Back Recreating people from their life work, peoples' online interactions do not represent them completely.

2.2. White Bear Infinite torture, using reliable and repeated torture as entertainment. Making someone suffer after erasing their memory of the crime

2.3. The Waldo Moment A cartoon created character has no human flaws, therefore can be more likable than a real person, and can have any message applied to it.

2.4. White Christmas Giving secret help via radio, seducing potential partners, making them think that they're the transmitting person. An intelligent system that acts the same way as a person, must be the same neural net as that person, but then, must the same ethics as human be considered for treating the system? Completely blocking others prevents efforts to make peace. If a copy of a mind confesses to a crime, does that mean that both copies are guilty?


3.1. Nosedive Obsessively rating people puts too much pressure on them to be desirable, and fake. Is giving preference to people who are more popular good for economy and society? Allowing social status to have economic benefits further motivates fakery.

3.2. Playtest Outsiders cannot understand/troubleshoot how one's mind works, or their fears. A machine that simulates your greatest fear, but your greatest fear is losing your mind. Are there things that the mind cannot experience without causing mental damage? Even if the experience is totally virtual?

3.3. Shut Up and Dance Malware removal tools can also be malware. Hacking personal online interactions can generate extremely pressuring blackmail. Someone's notion of whether something is socially acceptable can be manipulated merely by receiving threats to disclose it.

3.4. San Junipero Uploading mind to simulation post death, choose between immortality or actual death. Consent for medically assisted dying is required from family or spouse, even if patient is conscious?

3.5. Men Against Fire All life is sacred, except life that harms you, therefore must eliminate the genetically unfortunate. How different must genetics be until one is not considered same species? Trusting tech diagnostics over patient complaints. Multiple copies of spouse to have sex with simultaneously, no cheating. Augmented reality tech can be hacked to make army attack wrong people. Can be abused to make army overcome natural fear of killing fellow humans. Erasing memories of soldiers to prevent trauma.

3.6. Hatred in the NationHuman practices disrupt natural food chains vital for human survival. Widespread drone use is very desirable target to hack. Irrisistable opportunity for mass surveilance. Government funding biases project agenda (backdoors). Social media allows for "passing jurors" to make public opinions on things they can have any level of knowledge about. Older generation does not see value in tech to help with work, or understand risks.


4.1 USS Callister Creating a simulation of a human mind, that mind expects ethical treatment and may not desire to be simulated. Factual innaccuracy: a simulated mind created only from DNA does not retain memories of the person at the time the DNA was sampled. What happens to a physical mind that is participating in a simulation, but the simulation is deleted? Simulations allow people to live out fantasies that would be unhealthy in real life (nerd fantasy stereotype).

4.2 Arkangel Companies take advantage of traumatic experiences to overcome hesitation of giving up privacy. Censoring anything prevents people from forming a true experience of the world, and prevents ever learning how to react in a healthy way. People want what they can't have- lack of exposure increases curiosity. Distrust from parent leads to distrust from child.

4.3 Crocodile Is the parent company at fault in an autonomous vehicle accident? Extracting memories (unvoluntarily?) for use in CSI. A party's efforts to find proof of wrongdoing can advance invasive technology. Memories as video out of context are misleading. Again, widespread autonomous vehicles are used for mass surveilance. Surveillance society causes people to over worry about innocent actions, loss of autonomy. If anyone's vision can be recalled as video, there is no-longer any privacy, surveillance is everywhere there is people.

4.4 Hang the DJ People can no-longer make social descisions for themselves, reliance on tech. Society has become a literal walled garden where things are practically deterministic. Again, if a simulation has sufficient realism, conscious entities will think they are real inside. Predicting the future by running a copy of reality fast forward.

4.5 Metalhead Giving machines extensive ability to interface with the world increases their threat when malfunctioning. Computers will always try to execute their task with no consideration of intended purpose. Machines that are merciless (unlike humans) can be outsmarted by humans, in a few cases (not giving up causes dying batteries).

4.6 Black Museum Technology creates opportunities for new addictions, the mind craves unique sensations. There is no cure for side-effects of cutting-edge tech, because it's uncharted territory. Prioritizing future development over fixing current tech problems. Human rights for extracted consciousnesses. If a digital mind can live forever, is it always murder or suicide if they die? Factual innaccuracy: human brain is not pure hardware that can run multiple "instances" of consciousness- use % is distributed. Again, subjecting an immortal mind to infinite torture (guilty for murder) for satisfaction of onlookers. The term "cookie" is applied to something that consuers would naturally find disturbing, masking the real workings (like a browser cookie).


5.1 Striking Vipers Virtual world avatars influence others to act different than they would in reality. Living a life in a virtual world that is as real as reality makes one give up on their average but real life. Is virtual sex in a game cheating? Immersive video games enable more complicated relationships beyond monogamy, humans will need to accept this in order to live healthy lives.

5.2 Smithereens Social media is addicting and distracting from the real world. Social media has the most comprehensive personal data available, and it is public, and can be used to theorize motives for crimes. Continual push for expansion of large companies most often does not follow CEO/founder's original vision, resulting in the founder practically not in control of their monsterous service.

5.3 Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too A simple AI can seem like a great friend- it is computationally easy to always be positive. Entertainment companies prioritize profits, not artists' wellbeing, and treat them like livestock, using drugs to manipulate. Creating digital likeness (holograms) of performers violates trademark, and de-values the real person. Online media content distribution allows reaching huge followings, but this makes artists (or producers) hesitant to break away from fan's expectations.

Updated 2020 Jun 10, 2021 May 04