Black Mirror/Utopia/2013

“2013 is unfolding real horror-show-like” said the protagonist Alex, as he sat back in a bubble of styles and tastes, mixed, and mashed together from decades gone, too alcoholically inebriated to care that the here and now is almost unidentifiable  except for a general distinct lack of faith in everything” (Imagining the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange inhabiting  our present social landscape).

The ghosts of every era have frighteningly come fully to life in our times. Full-throttle hyperreality. A world where people are more Victorian than the Victorians were; more 60’s than the 1960’s were, more Madchester than the Madchester scene was. A world full of simulacra. But why?

Surely the anxiousness caused by the inability to visualise/represent our postmodern (or late-capitalist) times need to be fueled by more than just confusion, in order for the past to embalm the present to such an extent that it becomes alive at the expense of the present? A collective sense that, in our blindness to our times, something is running amok, off its leash, slowly unraveling that which holds together civilisation?

In my last blog I described a feeling that 2013 gives me: a feeling of the uncanny. That all that should be dead and gone – inanimate – has now been brought back to life; or in another way of looking at it, we are behaving like ghosts ourselves; that the world we knew is dead, yet we go through the motions. We go through the motions despite there being so much scandal and corruption, in media/political/business establishments, that there is nothing left to trust in. We don’t know what else to do put to repeat our old actions.

A protective veil of simulcra helps us believe we are elsewhere in time. This veil gives way (either due to a descending social gradient or the passing of hours in a day) to the protective bubbles of alcohol/drug intoxication. You happen to pass through a certain part of your local area, at a different time of day, to realise the necessity of illegal drugs in peoples’ lives in order for them to exist (subsist). All avenues to deny the present have become so entrenched that you realise out-right madness is indeed a requirement to survive the strange and unsettling passing of days in 2013.

Amidst, what I would describe as a landscape of chaos,  two television dramas (in particular) have settled into this mental environment, like large plants that have grown out of it all. They portray a tangibly close to The Now world, a sort of science fiction; the type of science fiction specific to a time that no longer believes in a future (our time). They are so close for comfort to be Pizza-eating TV-watching fodder, that you have to be in a severe state of disillusion not to notice that we are indeed looking through a Black mirror.  Appropriately most of us are in just that state – in order to refrain oneself from running around and screaming. These two dramas being Utopia and Black Mirror, both shown on Channel 4.

As much as the extreme violence in Utopia initially sends jolts of shock through your nervous system, it isn’t what makes the lasting impact: it is that all this violence is perpetrated in order to find certain people and certain items crucial to controlling a global sterilisation project, which is being planned due to the very same issues that we must face in the century above anything else; resource depletion and feeding a growing population, with such a situation possibly leading to hellish ends.

Utopia reflects back to us the humongous issue that, due to its appearance of having no immediate effect, has almost vanished to the social conscious since the financial crash in 2008. We are locked into a cultural infliction that the theorist Mark Fisher diagnoses as ‘Capitalist Realism’. Utopia presents back to us the only solution we would have to save the human race under our ‘Capitalist Realism’ infliction: mass sterilisation. Surely one must retain the hope that a human race outside the dynamics of capitalism may yet find itself with a humane way of dealing with these century-defining problems?

Utopia’s networks of conspiracy get the mind working overtime, but the lasting mark it carves into our minds is the thought that says “hang on? what are we actually going to do to save the human race?” The violence is perhaps a welcome reflection of the levels on inhumanity that unaccountable powers will go to to get their way, but we need not rely on the possibility of acts of secrecy to know that this occurs. One must surely then follow up the first thought by asking whether the continuation of humanity under unaccountable power, which leaves a snail-trail of corruption as it inches towards the cliff face of civilisation, would be worthwhile anyway. But I’d argue that this is when one’s thoughts die via the thought-guillotine of Capitalist Realism, that places thought back into the survivalism of the here and now under extreme austerity.

If I do appear to have a somewhat paranoid feeling that I’m seeing the unraveling of things, so be it, (I hope it is!), I can’t help it, but I don’t think I’m alone in seeing the drama Black Mirror as being a zeitgeist-moment. Black Mirror is written by satirist/presenter Charlie Brooker, a man who is so apt for our cynical times, that it is maybe right that he doesn’t show the true size of his intelligence so often, allowing him to sneak it under peoples’ noses without them knowing.

Black Mirror is Science fiction specific to these cynical times, where we just hold on day in day out; a science fiction for a time when we have forgotten our own times, unaware that they are far more futuristic than we think – which has disastrous consequences. Three different episodes show a future so incredibly close, but it’s like looking a picture you know well yet then suddenly spotting something is incredibly wrong. This is our future, as with the future depicted in the Children of men; one where what is already present now is just made to get more extreme.

Yet Black Mirror operates perfectly in a postmodern society where more pedagogical warnings are told to go fuck off and get back on their high horse; it’s incredibly subtle. For example, the last episode. A cartoon character standing for election becomes more popular than real politicians. Anybody who has read ‘The Hell of It All’ ( a collection of Charlie Brooker’s columns for the Guardian’s G2 section) will know that this is what he more or less summed the then-London-mayor-candidate Boris Johnson up as being. Brooker showed a meek fear of the political consequences of people voting for somebody for their cartoon-character likability. With Waldo (the name of the character), in the last episode, who actually is a character, Brooker subtly leaves the consequences of the rise of such a figure to political power to short intervals between the ending credits, the point when people usually assume the story has ended: the man who did the original voice for Waldo, who quit because he became worried about they way it was all going, finds himself homeless in a fascist-looking state ruled over by Waldo television screens. The last shot shows him being beaten by police in black uniforms.

What does such an ending have in common with our times? Black Mirror’s subtle stabs through the blindness of cynicism, show us what social consequences can arise from a culture of cynicism and lack of trust. Our cynicism has been growing and growing, as the pillars of society have crumbled into total untrustworthiness over the past decade. In 2013, we now find ourselves in a landscape where we have no trust or hope in anything that orders our society, yet we have to carry on because we know no other way. We just Ipod ourselves out, even further so, and drape ourselves in even thicker reflections of a more comforting past. But the cracks in the present are getting harder to step over, and many are already tumbling down into them.

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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