Monday, 12 December 2011

Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits

“That throat cutting thing? Neat gimmick.”

Wow. So much to talk about, most of which will only occur to me once this post is finished. That was proper good telly, that was; Nigel Kneale for the age of YouTube, iPhones and bloody X-Factor. How ironic that the best and most cutting statement about Britain in 2011 should come from something so old-fashioned as a one-off teleplay.

This feels very Charlie Brooker, but I suspect much of it (it’s hard to tell- I have no other script by her with which to compare) is by his missus, Ex-Blue Peter presenter and person with X-Factor related baggage Konnie Huq. Unlike last week’s, though, it’s a very human story. Daniel Kaluuya is superb as Bing (his name is a reference to modern tech in itself), our everyman. He’s a very subtle character, hardly uttering a word for most of the story and expressing his disquiet with his surroundings by means of passivity and inaction. It says a lot about him that we don’t even learn his name until we’re some way in. This gives him a certain nobility of character. Unlike most of his neighbours in this depressing world, he maintains a sense of feeling and authenticity. And yet, as we see, his fine feelings are ultimately rendered meaningless as he eventually learns, if not to love Big Brother, then to be co-opted by it, and to take his soma.

This is such a depressing existence, in which everyone lives in small cells and spends their days pointlessly cycling nowhere so they can earn credits with which to buy crap. There is no joy, no social interaction, and no attachment to the physical- everyone wears dull; grey clothing and even bits of origami are confiscated as “detritus”. Worst of all, people are forced to watch adverts for the crudest of porn and the tackiest of light entertainment shows, and heed to actively pay to opt out. Life exists to a constant soundtrack of the most awful and cynical of chart pop. There’s no fast-forwarding through the adverts in this society, and no peace, time to think, or to be truly alone. Significantly, Bings’s moment of connection with Abi, as her avatar blows him a kiss, is interrupted by porn.

Ah yes, Abi. I don’t watch The X-Factor, but I really, really don’t like these sorts of talent shows, It isn’t just snobbery (Although I really, really hate the way that this sort of thing is once again reducing pop music to the culture of the exploitative Svengali figure, after we all thought the Beatles had slain that particular dragon back in the ‘60s by writing their own songs. I exaggerate, but still.)- it’s the cruelty, the element of public humiliation, that I have often found just too upsetting to watch. And that’s what’s skewered here; poor Abi’s dream is cruelly reduced to a life of pimped sexual exploitation, alleviated only by drugs. It’s not difficult to see the metaphor here, or the implied comment on the ultimate fate that awaits the winners of these talent shows. And Jessica Brown Findlay is devastatingly good at portraying the sheer horror of Abi’s life as a “star”.

This is tyranny, all right, but it’s the tyranny of conformity, as expressed by Bing’s horrible neighbour on the exercise bikes, and by the reaction of the crowds. Bing’s final speech is wonderfully eloquent, and all the more effective coming from someone so passive and quiet. But he, like everyone, is co-opted, and the shard of glass he places to his neck is eventually reduced to a mere prop.

This is extraordinary stuff. It’s bleak, it’s brilliant and it’s Brooker.

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