The Black Mirror waits everywhere: the iPhone, iPad, e-readers, desktop, laptop, the bank ATM, the doctor’s tablet. Each one enhances life while offering the possibility of ruin. We tell these black screens to do things and they do it, except when they oppose us or let in criminals who steal money and photographs. We feel betrayed. Behind the Black Mirror are imps bearing tridents and doing devilish things, prodding us until we squeal.
They destroy privacy, they publish so many stolen photos of naked people that the only way now to repair the safety and self-esteem of victims is for the entire planet to post naked photos of itself. Rupert Murdoch naked. Jason Kenney naked. You, me, the guy at the corner store who sells you ramen and lottery tickets, your high school principal, Jeff Bezos, your parents, your pets.
Most of the people I mentioned are male. Men unwillingly naked online, their bodies being assessed on Twitter? Well, it would make a change. It would make men kinder. It would be good for us all. There is no way to defeat online intrusion other than surrendering, stripping and pretending it doesn’t matter.
I call the online world the “Black Mirror” because it’s the title of an extraordinary drama series on Channel 4 in Britain created by the great Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker. It’s about the digital world which has basically eaten our lives, chewed them up and spat them back at us. I’m fine with this — although I worry about how often I use this phrase to ease the pain of having to watch beheadings online for work — because a pre-masticated world is easier to digest, particularly when we’re taking in 100 times the amount of information we used to. The Black Mirror makes my job so much easier than it was 10 years ago but I have to fight to slow down a hyper-expectant clicking brain.
I have previously hesitated to write about the show Black Mirror because it’s not available in Canada and hard to describe to non-viewers. I buy foreign DVDs and have them shipped over but I’m aware that if I direct you to the series, those of you who worship the God of Cheap will find a way to steal it online the same way people lift the Toronto Star online instead of subscribing and sneak photos of people like actress Jennifer Lawrence.
They were not “leaked,” as most news stories put it. The Black Mirror makes it easy to break and enter, to abuse people anonymously, to go over to the hateful side.
Brooker’s hour-long dramas predict the Black Mirror of the future. In The Entire History of You, people record their lives on an eyeball device. So when a character’s wife says she isn’t cheating on him, he can check her alibi by replaying the entire day from years ago that she’s trying to rationalize. In Be Right Back, when a husband dies, the wife can order up a doll grown in the bathtub and install a dead man’s speech habits, memories and personality. In The National Anthem, a much-loved princess is kidnapped and the British PM is forced to have sex with a pig on live TV to have her released alive. Who would vote for the man who didn’t save a young woman’s life? And worst of all, who wouldn’t watch it?
And in White Bear, a hideous episode, a signal on everyone’s black mirror turns the population into voyeurs programmed to torment and kill a tiny number of innocents left unaffected by the virus. The sight of crowds grinning and holding up their cellphones to film a young woman’s humiliation, incomprehension and terror is . . . the world we live in today.
We all say that the misuse of the digital world could be very bad, but the genius of Black Mirror shows just how bad it could be. What worries me is that Brooker is not a celebrity, just another writer schlump, but if you go online you can see him and his exhausted wife take their newborn baby for their first walk on a London street in 2012. He was photographed by the Black Mirror, in this case a hard-right tabloid, and I cannot think why except that he writes for the Guardian, a left-wing paper so clever and humane that it enrages the opposition. Readers mocked Brooker’s wife’s clothing, the baby’s name and their choice of pram.
Don’t say it’s Brooker’s fault for taking the baby outside. Don’t say it’s Lawrence’s fault for having a human body. Don’t say, “If your bike got stolen, it’s your fault for riding a bike.” We all have precious privacy and suddenly a cloth is whipped off and a savage audience jeers.