Monday, 5 December 2011
Black Mirror: The National Anthem
“The online hive mind did the maths.”
If you expected to see the next Buffy review, don’t worry; the blog is otherwise going to be entirely Buffy (plus a movie most Saturdays) at least until I get to the end of Season Three. After that I might switch to a short, one-off series (probably Edge of Darkness, but we’ll see. It might be Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set- any preferences?) before I start to alternate episodes of Buffy and Angel. After that, I’ll probably do something similar after each 44-episode block. Otherwise, though, the only other stuff I’ll be reviewing is current television. And that pretty much only means Dark Mirror, Sherlock, and Doctor Who. Otherwise it’s Buffyverse all the way!
Anyway… I’ve really been looking forward to this. It’s by Charlie Brooker, for one thing, and the man can (almost!) do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. But the concept seems brilliant; a modern take on The Twilight Zone, with three independent teleplays extrapolating various ultra-modern technologies (Twitter, reality TV, Sky Plus) and extrapolating in a vaguely sci-fi way. Plus, knowing the writers involves, I suspect there’s going to be the exact sort of darkly humorous tone that I like so much.
This episode begins with a ringing mobile phone in the marital bed of prime minister Michael Callow (Roy Kinnear). This is appropriate, as it more or less foreshadows the theme of modern technology, its intrusiveness, and the way it speeds things up to a pace which makes rational thought impossible. I notice the last thing we hear, in the final scene before the flash forward at the end, is also a ringing mobile phone, but the circumstances are horribly distance. It’s a nice touch to bookend things with this motif.
We have the highest of high concept, er, concepts: a terrorist has kidnapped a popular princess, and is going to kill her unless the prime minister has sex with a pig, on live TV, that very afternoon. Eurgh. This is strangely appropriate from a former writer from Oink, a comic I remember well from my childhood. But, obviously, this is really about the media, the twenty-four hour news cycle, the tyranny of mass opinion, and the impossibility of hiding things in our post-superinjunction age. No sooner does the PM see the video than he’s told it’s up on YouTube, and trending on Twitter. D Notices mean nothing in this context, and the British rolling news channels can’t keep quiet if CNN and Al Jazeera are not. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
There are some delicious moments of very Charlie Brooker cynicism- the Queen’s attitude; the tweets in general; the journalist getting information by shooting footage of herself naked, and then literally getting shot; and of course the attitude of the public once the severed finger from the princess is apparently received. If there’s one consistent theme in Brooker’s work then it’s a healthy disdain for the mob. Ironically, the PM doesn’t even know of the attempt to fake the… footage in question. But it’s still him who has to face the consequences.
From this point onward we know that the clock is ticking and there’s no escape. Deliciously, it’s the opinion polling that seals the PM’s fate, as well as the clear implication that neither he nor his family would be safe from the mob. From hereon in there are many, many shots of the PM all alone. And that’s what he is, despite the audience of 1.3 billion and the empty streets- Brooker has no doubt that empty is what they would be. We don’t get to see the act itself, mercifully, but the PM’s suffering is very clear. He’s left pounding away for nearly an hour.
The twist, of course, is that it’s all a twisted joke; the ultimate artistic installation from a former winner of the Turner Prize. One year later it’s all back to normal, except that the PM is now dead to his wife, whose final call he couldn’t bring himself to take.