- Essay #1 Final is due by 11:00 pm tonight (on Canvas)
- Black Mirror: “Fifteen Million Merits”
I do like Black Mirror, but I haven’t gotten around to anything past season 2. The show can be intense for American audiences, so keep that in mind if you venture further. I chose “Fifteen Million Merits” because, although this is a British show (so you might need the subtitles on to understand what they’re saying), there is much in the episode relevant to American culture. As you watch the episode, make connections to similar texts you know about. Also, consider the vocabulary below:
- simulacrum: the replication (upon replication) of a subject without being able to find the concrete beginning; similarity, likeness. In postmodern theory it refers to a copy or simulation of an item, event, or idea for which the original referent (the reality or real thing) does not exist.
- synecdoche: a rhetorical device that uses a term that refers to a part of something to mean the entirety of something. For instance, people used to say “nice threads” when referring to somethings clothing or outfit. Or people might say “the White House” when referring to the entire Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
- hyperreality: More real than real!?! Or, as White Zombie would say, “More Human than Human.” The idea of “hyperreality” is often associated with a viewer (an audience in general) believing the media-generated simulation is real or more real than an actual event, personality, condition, or, ultimately, an experience.
- foreshadow—to hint or present a situation that will be clarified or expanded upon later in a story.
- irony—(although there are various definitions) actively working against one’s stated or assumed goals; to destabilize oneself by actions contrary to one’s professed worldview.
- sarcasm—stating one thing but meaning another (usually obvious) thing opposite of the statement.
Below is an excerpt from an interview I did with a video gamer. Notice how “real” immersive video games feel to Brent during his experience as a helicopter gunner while playing Battlefield Vietnam (Electronic Arts). (Toscano, p. 17, 2011)
Brent’s penchant for first-person shooters suggests that he enjoys embodying the avatar’s persona: As the helicopter “gunner” in Battlefield Vietnam (Electronic Arts), Brent is in an Army attack chopper firing on the Vietcong listening to Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”—two popular songs from the Vietnam Era. Brent was never in Vietnam, but the music and his sense of attacking the VC from a software-engineered helicopter helps him better incorporate the soldier’s persona from representations he has seen in films such as Platoon (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), popular war movies he watches. The video game is a synecdoche of experience and a simulacrum at best. Unlike real war, Brent’s only risk is temporary eye strain and not serious injury or death—he is engaged in a fictional world. Juul (2005) points out that “games project fictional worlds through a variety of different means, but the fictional worlds are imagined by the player, and the player fills in any gaps in the fictional world” (p. 121). What makes the video game a figured world is that the world of the helicopter gunner is simulated via the video game’s programming and accepted by gamers who enter the “text” for this virtual experience. Like Brent’s situation above regarding what it feels like to be in Vietnam, a gamer’s interpretations come from other sources—culture. Video games (and gamers) are products of the culture(s) from which they come, and we can read the culture—its values, fears, and “history”—in video games.
Black Mirror: “Fifteen Million Merits”
Instead of direct quotes, I want to draw your attention to particular instances in the episode. Notice all the screens the characters interact with, and try to think about where they are. Is there an outside somewhere? Also, notice how the characters indulge in the fake, hyperreality of the screens, which is something Bing is upset about at the end.
- Notice the screens around Bing’s room when he wakes up. There’s an animated rooster crowing.* What technologies do you use to wake, fall asleep, stay asleep, etc.?
*If you’ve ever been to Key West, FL, you’ll find roosters and chickens all over the island. The roosters crow throughout the day and not just at dawn.
- The first contestant song we hear on “Hot Shot,” the reality singing/talent show is “I Have a Dream,” which is an ABBA song. Think of this as representing the fact we assume we can live in our own world with our own soundtrack.
- The exercise bikes they ride are metaphors for monotonous work that we have to do to make money. Think about the phrases people associate with work: “the daily grind,” “9-to-5,” “going the extra mile,” etc. Some jobs are great, and some jobs, well, it’s a paycheck.
- Along the line of hyperreality, many stationary exercise bikes now provide videos that allow users to follow the road.
- Dustin, the dirt bag who rides next to Bing loves those shows that humiliate people. TruTV seems to exist only to broadcast such shows.
- There’s a social comment here that could be we (not everyone of us) are comfortable with our situation when we see others in worse situations.
- Also, think about the people you know who find a way to complain EVERY TIME they go out to eat. Dustin denigrates the workers in yellow suits for distracting him for a second while watching his shows.
- He even relishes in the video game that allows players to mow down the zombie-like workers in yellow suits. Relate this to what players can do in video games today.
- The episode comments on advertising, specifically, our over saturation of advertising. In this future, your default is to watch, and you have to pay to skip ahead.
- An interpretation of the default being opt-in relates to the fact that we’re born into society; we don’t choose to enter. Our default is we’re opted into the culture.
- When Bing first talks to Abi (in the restroom…I guess this future doesn’t have an HB2-type law), he’s bombarded by an advertisement for porn: “Hey regular user..”
- It seems that the ads cater to your feelings, so, as his body responds to being attracted to Abi, an ad pops up to meet his needs.
- The episode ends with Bing’s rant against consumerism. He believes we blindly consumer worthless products.
- Bing tells Abi we buy “stuff…goofy things we purchase.”
- Ever been to a tourist shop in Myrtle Beach? If so, you know the worthless thing people sell and make tons of money on.
- When Bing goes on, he bypasses having to drink Cuppliance, the beverage that makes contestants conform to the judges’ and the show’s norms. The others have to drink the Kool Aid.
- Bing’s rant is that the system has commodified everything–even rebellion. The irony is that the judges turn his rebellion into a commodity and give him a show to host. With the extra merits, Bing gets to live in a more spacious room with a bigger screen to help create the illusion he’s viewing nature.
- Even Bing’s Shard is commodified because one can outfit an avatar with it…for a price!
The conclusion is bleak. One interpretation is that we need to make more money to buy bigger and better illusions. Commodities are comforts we can indulge in. Check out the Zombies and Consumption Satire page if you’re interested in that connection.
A Note on Beauty
The next show from The Twilight Zone is “Eye of the Beholder” and comments on cultural standards of beauty. “Fifteen Million Merits” also has this comment. Abi gets selected to get on the show first because she’s deemed prettier than some of the others who have been there longer. No matter how entrenched the bureaucracy, you can get ahead if you’re pretty.
- Most of the characters create avatars that display conventionally attractive characteristics.
- It’s possible to interpret Bing’s attraction to Abi as just another iteration of the boy-falls-in-love-with-pretty-girl narrative. After all, Abi conveys conventional beautiful characteristics and conforms to white female standards. Of course, media predominantly use conventionally attractive actors…even when commenting on how culture shouldn’t make us conform to limited ideals of beauty.
- Another interpretation is that Abi makes Bing feel something. He pretty much goes through the motions until he sees her. She’s something real to him, and it’s a welcomed change from the fake he accesses through technology.
- Abi sings well, but she’s not wanted for her singing; instead the judges want her to be a sex worker.
- Notice that even the female judge, Charity, supports the other judges’ desire for her to do porn. She claims “some of us girls might watch you.”
- However, Charity does shed a tear, signaling she feels bad for pushing Abi that way, but, what can she do? She must conform to the business model that appeals to the male gaze.
- If you’ve seen A Handmaid’s Tale, you’ll know Aunt Lydia, who’s reprehensible because she helps the patriarchy condition women for a life of servitude.
In the end, Abi turns into an interchangeable sex worker, demeaned by a faceless man on “Wraith Babes.” Her personality is gone; in fact, Charity tells her she won’t feel any shame because “We medicate against that.” Compare that to Rikki’s sex work in The House of Blue Lights in “Burning Chrome.”
Make sure you turn your Essay #1 Final in on Canvas before 11:00 pm.
I have you watching TV Shows and a film this week. On Thursday, I’ve scheduled Isaac Asimov’s “Bicentennial Man,” which will carry over to next week (our last week). You also have your draft of Essay #2 Due next Monday, 6/15. Don’t forget to do your posts by Friday, June 12th.
Remember, this is a 5-week summer class, so we have a very quick turnaround time for assignments. Stay on top of your work, so you don’t get behind.
Toscano, Aaron. “Enacting Culture in Gaming: A Video Gamer’s Literacy Experiences and Practices.” Current Issues in Education, vol. 14, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1-30.