Nosedive: Black Mirror, Can It Happen?

Before we determine whether the events in Nosedive can happen, let’s look back to when this episode was released: October 21, 2016. 

2016 was the year our smartphones completely took over our lives. The rise of Pokemon Go during the summer was a key piece of evidence. In a matter of weeks, people worldwide were wandering around staring at their phones. Some even ventured into dangerous neighborhoods and private priorities to catch them all and ended up losing their lives. 

Disappearing videos were also growing in popularity. Snapchat had a big year in 2016, with one in five Americans engaging with the platform. Gaining adoption from an older audience, Snapchat proved that ephemeral content was not only for kids. 

Across the Internet, the rabbit holes for obscure, hateful, and extreme content dropped deeper and deeper, creating echo chambers for conspiracy theories. While we were suspicious that algorithms and foreign influence might be involved, we didn’t know Facebook and Cambridge Analytica were using data harvested from the social network to fuel political unrest leading to Donald Trump becoming president and the UK leaving the European Union. 

In 2016, the physical world had many problems: political tensions, soaring debt, school shootings, and Samsung phone explosions. Technology companies were making our attention span shorter and our insatiable hunger for attention more vital. And while we may not be able to afford a house in the physical world, at least we could find comfort in a digital one… But slowly that realm was corroding. And there was no rewind button—no eject—we had fallen too deep.  

As we longed for a simpler time, our nostalgia was left exposed. And money-hungry executives happily used it against us by selling uninspired remakes and clothing with old logos. 

That was where the zeitgeist was in 2016. Technology was pushing us forward while we were looking back longingly. We wanted to be heroes and victims. Masters and influencers. Stars and black holes. And with that, let’s look at Black Mirror season 3, episode 1: Nosedive. 

In this post, I will explore three themes of the episode and discuss whether such events or concepts have taken place in some form in the last few years and if they haven’t, whether or not they’re still plausible. 

Without further ado, let’s jump into it. 

Social Credit Score

In the world of Nosedive, the residents don’t live such different lives from ours. Their hopes and desires are much the same. And we too need to be approved in order to get them. In order to buy a house, start a business, get into a college, or find a job we need to have our credits evaluated. 

The story follows a young professional, Lacie, who wants to purchase her own property. But to do so, she needs to increase her rating—which is directly linked to her socioeconomic status—from 4.2 to 4.5. 

I remember watching this episode in 2016 and feeling uneasy about the idea of reviewing people. Since then, I’ve signed up for apps such as Uber and Airbnb, so the concept of giving someone a score on a device has all gotten familiar even though it’s still uncomfortable. If it meets expectations, I’m giving it a 5-star. I don’t want to be a critic for everything I do.

Most consumers have a credit score, an objective number that predicts credit risk and informed financial institutions to lend them money or not. A credit score takes account of indisputable aspects of our financial habits, such as how regularly we pay off our bills, how many accounts we own, and how much available credit we use. For example, you’d need a credit score of 680 or over to get a mortgage. 

Additionally, there are academic scores, which most of us had suffered through when embarking on our educational pursuits. The grade point average determines whether we qualify for one institution over another. For example, you’ll need a GPA of 4.18 or over to get into Harvard. 

However, the eeriest real-life scenario relating to this episode is the Social Credit Score that may or may not be implemented in China. 

In 2013, the government of Rongcheng, China, a city with half a million people, implemented a social credit score. Each person began with a rating of 1,000 to start, and good and bad deeds would lower or increase that number. 

During this experiment, citizens lost points for spreading harmful information, with one citizen losing 950 points in three weeks for distributing letters online about a medical dispute. Of course, the government decides what’s considered harmful. That’s the main argument for the social credit score: it’s to help enforce existing laws. But when the laws can be twisted, social credit scores become scary and Orwellian. The authorities no longer need to listen to criticism—because criticism is harmful. 

Criticizing the government could theoretically lower your rating and rank you as someone who had gone to prison or been bankrupt. This penalization will disqualify you from getting a loan, buying a car, or even traveling abroad. Like in Nosedive, there isn’t a reliable appeal process either. Lacie could beg the authority at the airport all she wants, but whatever the law feels is necessary, it does.

The whole system falls apart when the power goes to those with no qualms about abusing the ratings. That is why any good review platform will have impartial moderators. Otherwise, those with a higher rank can create loyalists by rewarding good behaviors while oppressing those they deem threats or disobedient.

Boosting Social Status

Social media has given us another obsession with numbers: the amount of likes, follows, and comments. We put a numerical value on everything we do. These metrics can give us a hit of dopamine or bum us out, but they can also now greatly influence our income. You don’t even need to be an influencer. Amazon sellers need good reviews, and podcasters need five stars. It’s too competitive. There is just no way to survive without it. And because of that vulnerability, the power can be abused. 

One of my favorite parts in this episode was when Lacie goes to this analytics consultant, and he walks her through all her data. As a marketer, this is all too relatable. How many times have I charted the result of a successful campaign? Or reviewed why a piece of content didn’t appeal to an audience? 

In this social media world, we all have to be personal brands. We treat ourselves like a business. Like a restaurant on Yelp or an app in the App Store, we need to monitor our influence, measure our performance, and increase our exposure. We need a communication team, a public relations team, and a growth team. If we miss a beat, we can expose ourselves to bad press. We need to know which side to stand on, like when Lacie had to pick sides between coworkers. To avoid being ostracized—or, as we say these days, getting canceled—she needs to join the mob. 

We are an investment, a stock trending up and down. Overall we want to go up. We want to stay relevant and increase in value. Marketing is important because it’s how businesses gain positive exposure and present their offerings to the world. When everyone is a content creator, getting married is a media production, a big marketing campaign. Weddings are like the Oscars or the Olympics. It’s where you can really increase your reach and up your score. 

While Naomi carefully curated her wedding to maintain her rank, Lacie wanted to leverage the wedding to boost her score. The stakes increased since the wedding would include many high-rated individuals whose scores were inherently worth more. By interacting with them at such a grand event, she’d get the spike in ratings she needed to reach her goals. 

When people are only measured by their scores, we get a homogenized world where every action is driven by numbers. This is a dangerous way of living. It creates a constant sense of discontentment. There is always a higher number, and we will always want more. We’d want to upgrade everything. Nothing is ever enough. Not our home. Not our followers. Not our friends. Not our lovers. Not our jobs. We will be stuck on what experts call the hedonic treadmill, where whatever happiness we get from money, accolade, or status would feel nice at first but won’t ever be enough. Eventually, we will return to our default level, wanting more. 

Faking It

Another theme of this episode was how Lacie had to be constantly on. She had to present herself in a certain way because the world was a stage. From the posts she published on social media to her interactions with service people, she had to maintain a pleasant persona. 

At the start of the pandemic, everyone was locked down, and the only way to see our friends and work was through video calls. Every day we had to sit in front of a camera and put on a show. Being so disconnected from body language, social cues, and physical energy, we needed to channel Meryl Streep so that our viewers—our friends, families, clients, and coworkers—would perceive how we were feeling. Not everyone wants to be an “influencer,” but our ability to perform for the camera is critical if we want to succeed in this new game. 

When it comes to increasing a score, it is very much a game. And games are strategic. There is nothing authentic about someone trying to win a game. You don’t reveal your plan to your enemies. Every interaction becomes a move upon a chessboard. This idea was nicely illustrated when Naomi announced that she didn’t invite Lacie because of the kindness of her heart. She didn’t consider her a true friend but rather a deliberate play to earn sympathy points. 

We are living in a Photoshopped magazine cover where everything is carefully composed. That’s why seeing our features superimposed into advertising is so dangerous. We are easily manipulated. And few approaches are more effective than appealing to our ego, creating urgency, and evoking our fear of missing out, aka FOMO. 

Once we can envision the status we desire, it’s terrifying to lose it. This marketing approach is not so different from trying on clothes, test driving a car, or using 3D AR software to furnish a room. By engaging with it, we’re more likely to purchase. It’s the visualization that drove Lacie to extremes. The holographic images of her beautiful new kitchen with a lover at her side became her north star or a vision board. 

While we always want more, we also fear losing what we have. That’s why nostalgia is so powerful. Nostalgia can bring us back to an even ground, a simpler time. When we were children we were all equals, the closest we were to authentic, or so it seemed. 

The homely Mr. Rags was a representation of the innocent days before the betrayal, before the days when points mattered. Nostalgia reminds us of a time when we were ourselves, not whatever number represents us now: the ratings, the funds in our bank, or the number of friends at our party. 

Wise words constantly remind us to have empathy for others because we don’t know what someone else is going through. However, when we see someone desperately trying to regain footing in front of a crowd—like a celebrity caught in hot water—we can say, “Wow. Glad that’s not me up there”—and enjoy the show.

In an unempathetic world, where everyone is keeping scores the same way Google keeps track of everything we search, we will guard how we truly feel, live in incognito mode, and fake it. 

During these past several years, I, like Lacie, just wanted to express my anger, sadness, and frustration. I wanted to be a child and scream. However, as an adult, screaming is not allowed. I cannot scream outside because I’d get arrested. I cannot scream in my home because the neighbors would freak out. There are only a few places for us urbanites to go to express these emotions. We can escape from the city and find a place of our own. Or we could join a protest and start a riot.  

Nosedive encapsulates what Black Mirror is all about. A dark reflection of our current existence. Watching this episode feels as satisfying as peeling off a layer of sunburnt skin. The fun is over, the damage is done, we recovered, we are still alive, and even though we know the consequences when the next sunny day comes, we still go outside again to play the game. 

So the question remains, can the events in Nosedive happen? My friend, count all the numbers associated with your life. All the followers you have, all the scores the government and financial institutions designate, and all the hours you spend pursuing your virtual goals. At any point, those numbers can drop to zero. And it’ll be devastating.

The event of this episode is happening. Now, how can we stop it from taking over every facet of our lives? How can we still express our feelings without damaging our reputation? How do we be ourselves without exposing our vulnerabilities? I offer no solution except this, besides all the scores the world keeps, maintain an inner scorecard. You get to rate yourself as well. Give yourself a good score. Why not? 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

White Christmas: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we discuss White Christmas, let’s take a trip back to the past, all the way to when this episode was first released: December 16, 2014. 

In 2014, with over 70% of all internet using Facebook, it was the most popular social media platform. However, it was also reaching its peak as other platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Pinterest saw significant growth in the past few years.  

On May 15, 2014, Google Glass and its $1,500 price tag were introduced to the world. With cost and privacy regulations in question, the consumer market simply wasn’t ready for such a “cool” piece of technology. 

On November 6, 2014, the first generation of the Amazon Echo was released. This voice-activated device was anticipated to change how we interact with our homes and all the technology in them, and not merely be a glorified speaker system. 

2014 was the year Kanye West and Kim Kardashian married. The wedding cost $12 million, which included a Bespoke Calacatta Vaticano marble table worth $478,000 for the reception

In October, comedian Hannibal Burress called out Bill Cosby on stage for not only being smug but also being a rapist. That act opened the door for a slew of victims to accuse Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them. 

8 months earlier, 15-year-old, Breck Bednar was murdered by 18-year-old, Lewis Daynes, a boy he met playing online video games. Breck’s family claimed he was a victim of grooming — how his personality changed over the last few months — before he traveled to Daynes’ flat. There he was stabbed in the neck, and the photos of his death were shared in a gaming group on social media. 

In 2014, abortion was a key issue in American politics. Republicans began to shift their focus from implementing outright bans to attacking the resources. These initiatives include limiting health coverage for abortions and driving clinics out of business. 

Now that we recall the state of the world during Christmas 2014, we can start our discussion on Black Mirror, episode 4 of season 2: White Christmas. 

How did this episode age? Are the themes still relevant? Have any of the predictions come true? And if they haven’t, are they still plausible?

Let’s find out. 

Bad Conversations 

White Christmas is an anthology within an anthology: three separate tales loosely tied together with one central storyline. In the first, we hear Matt’s story about his former role as an online consultant, who used a live streaming technology called Z-Eyes that allowed him to see and hear everything his client was experiencing. 

On this night, he followed the POV of an insecure man named Harry as he searched for a date at a work party. Matt’s advice to Harry reminded me of The Game by Neil Strauss (Amazon) and the techniques that pick-up artists would use to seduce women. One approach was to pay attention to the less attractive individual or the person you’re not as interested in. In doing so, you appear more appealing to your “target,” thus making it easier for you to seduce them later. Published in 2005, The Game is still regarded as a reliable resource for 17-year-old bros and the desperately hopeful. 

Only in 2019, did the rise of the term “toxic masculinity” reach the mainstream, and cis-gendered straight men had to relearn proper etiquette, including the need to stop negging and gaslighting women. Rather than manipulation and dominance, this new education was focused on respect.

In 2017, Alyssa Milano shared a tweet encouraging all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to post “Me Too” as their status on social media, in an effort to end the stigma and silence. This act led to The Me Too Movement, which raised awareness of sexual assault and brought down powerful offenders: Harvey Weinstein, R Kelly, Kevin Spacey, and many others. 

However, while the waves were crashing around all the rapists and our beloved idols were getting canceled, a few incidents made us question the severity of each individual accusation. Every case is unique, and therefore, the level of outrage and condemnation must be determined after we hear both sides of the story and carefully assess the evidence. The allegation around Aziz Ansari is a good example.

In a blog post titled, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life”, posted on Babe.net, a woman with the alias “Grace” allegedly went on a date with the actor from Parks and Rec. During the course of the night, she felt forced into having sex. According to Ansari, it was all consensual, and there wasn’t much to prove otherwise. 

This incident fueled debate: while many women could relate to what Grace had gone through — interacting with a man who was only in tune with his own desires — many also wondered if attempting to destroy someone publically was the proper way to respond to an uncomfortable date.  

With the change in the technological landscape, dating was evolving as well. In a way, it was becoming dangerous: more automated, addicting, and riskier. In the summer of 2018, Danueal Drayton used Tinder to lure Samantha Stewart on a date to the race track and eventually to her apartment, where he sexually assaulted and then strangled her to death. After his arrest, the authorities linked Drayton to at least 6 other murders, where he also used the dating platform to prey on women expecting to find love. 

One core theme of this episode is the challenge we have with communication. While it’s not easy speaking from our hearts — or with our minds — we are called to raise our voices more than ever these days. Whether trying to seduce, convince, or condemn, we must speak up. But how will these new methods of communication change the things we say and the way we say it?

A Copy of You for You

The second act in this episode follows Matt as he describes his former role as a technician that instructs digital clones called “cookies”. Like having presets for every household technology, these digital copies are designed to help the original humans live more convenient lives by understanding them without any instructions. Gone are the days of machine learning; your clone already knows. 

However, this episode brings up some old philosophical questions: what is consciousness, and what does it means to be alive? When our minds are replicated and transferred into strings of code, does that constitute creating life? Do the “cookies” have a say in how they should live? 

The Internet of Things is a concept that describes physical objects with the ability to connect and exchange data via sensors, enabling them to gather information from a network and provide a wide range of services. The Internet of Things has already revolutionized the commercial, healthcare, and transportation industries. 

For wealthy consumers, one area that has benefited from the Internet of Things is recurring tasks like grocery shopping. Samsung recently released the Family Hub refrigerators that recognize when you’re running low on an item and order it for you before you are out. Imagine all the arguments you’ve had in the past about dinner; wouldn’t it be great if all your appliances knew what you were craving and ordered it for you?

Currently, all the data collected are stored in a network and require the devices to pull it out when necessary. But what if the network is just a clone of you? 

There are two major steps to the process known as mind transfer, where we reproduce the contents of our brains onto computers. That’s turning 86 billion neurons interconnected by 100 trillion synapses into code. 

The first challenge is building an artificial brain that can simulate neurons, and the second is to scan the brain, measure all the neurons and how they are connected, and then copy the patterns to the aforementioned artificial brain. 

The first step is achievable today. We have built artificial neurons connected through synapses before; tools like Siri and self-driving cars already operate on this system, but Siri does not have 86 billion neurons. In fact, Siri only has an IQ of 23.9, which is well below a human toddler. 

The second step in mind transfer is still decades, if not centuries away. The ability to extract the contents of someone’s brain without possibly killing them is not currently available. Unlike software like Siri, our brains have amazing plasticity. 

Consider the cocktail party effect where you enter a noisy party: everything sounds chaotic, and then after a moment, your brain rewires to focus on individual voices and sounds. This plasticity is where voice-activated technology still has trouble. How many times has Siri registered the wrong sounds? How many times has Siri not understood the context of our request? 

I found this segment of the episode fascinating and relevant today. How do you punish someone with infinite time? How do you motivate someone who has a slave to operate everything? What kind of heaven will we create with convenience? What kind of inescapable hell are we constructing? Much like how religion can motivate us to be kind, can this alternate reality motivate us to be better humans? Or would it lead us to corruption, cruelty, and hunger to control what we can? Us.

Blocking and Confessing

A major conflict in the episode is Joe’s argument with his fiancee, Beth, regarding her pregnancy. While at first Joe was excited to be a father, Beth insisted that she wanted an abortion. 

The two go back and forth, and eventually, Beth blocks him, turning him into a grey, static distortion, unable for him to see or hear her. Estranged, Joe discovered that Beth had gone ahead with her pregnancy and ended up giving birth to a baby girl. But because he was still blocked, he couldn’t see Beth or the baby. 

After spying on the family for a few years, Joe learned that Beth had died in a train accident. Her death lifted the block, and Joe attempted to reconnect with his child — only to find out that she was Asian and Beth had an affair. 

Enraged, Joe killed Beth’s father, leading to the little girl dying in the snow. In a twist ending, we learn that Matt had been manipulating Joe so that he would confess to his crime; and that all this time, Joe was a digital clone, a cookie. 

The right to have an abortion is a political fault line in America, splitting Republicans and Democrats. While it may seem like society was moving towards respect and understanding, the unwavering force of the religious rallied on and on, preaching morality while overlooking women’s rights. Persistent and relentless, the conservatives knocked a progressive future two steps back on June 2022, when the Supreme Court of America overturned Roe v Wade, a landmark case that had set precedence since 1973. 

This push and shove showed how fragile our rights actually are. As of summer 2022, abortion is now illegal in 11 states, including Texas, Tennessee, and Idaho. These laws mean any person who gets an abortion or helps someone get an abortion could be criminally charged and face jail time. The loss of the right to choose puts the lens on other brittle regulations including same-sex marriages and contraceptives. 

As soon as a child is involved in a couple’s dispute, the complexity increases tenfold, often extending the length of the conflict and leaving one party at the mercy of another, whether by withholding the right to see their child or financial repercussions. 

Take, for example, the ongoing Brangelina saga. In September 2016, Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt after two years of marriage, alleging that Pitt had assaulted her. They have six children together. As of the fall of 2022, the custody battle continues as Jolie demands sole custody, while Pitt is unwilling to give up the fight. 

The rise in social media has also led to an increase in abuse. In a study conducted by Pew Research Center, 41% of US adults have experienced online harassment, and half of those groups have experienced more severe behaviors. 

Since its inception, social media platforms have been figuring out how to effectively ban users that violate their terms. Hate speech, bullying, and threats are as hard to eliminate as cockroaches; when they remove one account, two more take its place. 

Twitter has been a prime example of a platform struggling to balance freedom of speech and the toxicity of a branch of users. From shadow-banning an individual to flat-out blocking the whole account, Twitter experimented with many forms of moderation. But the questions persist: What does it even mean to block someone? Does it block them from seeing your content? You from seeing their content? Can they not send you messages but still see your account? Does limiting amplification mean the same thing as censoring? 

A few high-profile blocks have included Donald Trump, Kanye West, and the misogynistic kickboxer, Andrew Tate. But since Elon Musk took over Twitter in the fall of 2022, those bans have been lifted, and all three returned to the platform in varying degrees. As of December, Kanye West is the only one to be banned again for his anti-Semitic comments.

Should you ever find yourself in a scenario where someone accuses you of doing wrong, you may discover that evidence doesn’t truly matter and that it all comes down to your confession. The world is always looking for a scapegoat. That is why you see police officers forcing people to make false confessions through tactics such as those Matt used on Joe, including isolation and wearing the subject down through lies, intimidation, and trust-building stories. 

While fingerprints and DNA have been reliable evidence in trials, our digital footprint may be more damning. One day when our minds are transferred onto computers, we might not only need to protect our physical beings but also our separate digital entities. 

In 2020, weeks before the US presidential election, the New York Post reported that a laptop allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son, Hunter contained emails with evidence of corruption. As of spring 2022, the details of the computer’s content are still unclear. But consider this, what if Hunter Biden’s computer could speak on its behalf? What if Hunter Biden’s computer was actually a clone of Hunter Biden? 

Black Mirror episodes are already loaded with many concepts to discuss, but this one was definitely a stocking full of mind-bending ideas. The twist and turns this episode takes us on is still a fun ride. With references to prior episodes, these easter eggs and callbacks make it feel that all of Black Mirror is taking place in one universe. 

As we approach this holiday season, coming close to the end of a pandemic, and emerging from nearly three years of trauma, White Christmas is as comforting as looking at an old album of friends and families. While we may often recall details through rose-tinted glasses, we also remember the arguments we had back then are very much the same ones we are having now. Like days and years in a cookie, time will pass, the world will change, but the holiday season will still feel the same. Cold. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

The Waldo Moment: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we discuss The Waldo Moment, let’s take a trip back, about a decade ago, to when this episode was first released: February 25, 2013. 

On January 21, 2013, the United States inaugurated Barack Obama for his second term as President. In March, China appointed to power Xi Jinping, who was set to turn the page and regain a sense of national greatest. 

Donald Trump was only speculating about running for the 2016 election. And in the coming weeks, The Apprentice season 13 would air on NBC. 

A year prior, Sasha Baron Cohen released his political satire The Dictator. And in 2013, the first Netflix hit, House of Cards proved original series created by streaming services could succeed. Kevin Spacey wasn’t canceled yet for sexual assault but rather acclaimed for his role as the power-hungry Frank Underwood. 

Jon Stewart was reaching the end of his tenure as the host of the Daily Show. In June 2013, he stepped away from the desk to direct a political drama, Rosewater, allowing John Oliver to fill in for a couple of months.

In January 2013, the first video episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience were uploaded onto YouTube. These videos would get hundred of thousand to a million of views regularly. 

While it may have felt like it was all fun and games, someone was bound to get hurt. The Kony 2012 online campaign fooled many. Cyberbullying became ever more prominent in the news, including the story of Amanda Todd’s death in October 2012. Eight months earlier, Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting by vigilante George Zimmerman, fueled tribalism and demonstrated the ineffectiveness of social media as a communication tool. 

The flowery utopia we were hoping for was wilting. The joke was over. The systems were breaking, and no one was capable of fixing them. According to the political online magazine AlterNet, 1.4 million Americans voted for Jesus Christ as the president in the 2012 write-in ballot to show their displeasure for both Obama and Mitt Romney. 

So that’s where we were in February of 2013. A simpler time, when we have only started to divide, forced to pick between two unsatisfactory options on all levels. With all that said, let’s get into our discussion of Black Mirror episode 3 of season 2: The Waldo Moment. 

Did this episode age well? Are the themes still relevant? Did any of the predictions come to fruition, and if not, is it still plausible? 

Let’s find out. 

The Jester King

The Waldo Moment follows Jamie, a comedian who plays Waldo, an animated blue bear that makes vulgar jokes on television. Set during a political campaign, his opportunistic producer, Jack, convinces him to run as a member of parliament under the guise of Waldo. This episode mirrors modern political satire and its power to reflect important talking points in an approachable way, while being implicit in sparking its own misinformation. 

Satire can be used to raise awareness without the drabness of journalism and public records, and it’s an effective method to criticize factors in a society without applying the full weight of the problem. In another word, satire is the sugar that helps the medicine go down. 

Many young people of my generation got news from comedians as opposed to reporters. There was often more truth in the comedy, and that’s what made The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report so influential. 

Recently, satire and the freedom of speech in these realms have been under attack. With the rise of fake news, including the Russian-backed stories shared all over Facebook during the 2016 election, the role of satirical publications was placed under the microscope. A rising concern occurred when various third parties began citing The Onion as a real news source, including such gems as “Kim Jong-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012″ and “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex.” 

On January 2015, two Islamic terrorists stormed into the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people and injured 11 for publishing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. 

Our trust in politicians and the press were decreasing, and we wondered if we could reign in satire without limiting freedom of speech. And that’s what makes The Waldo Moment so interesting. This episode shows that given the right circumstances a joke can take a life of its own. 

Comedians running for government is not a new concept even during this episode’s time. In 2007, Stephen Colbert, playing the role of his well-intentioned, poorly-informed character, ran for office during the 2008 Presidential Election. Although Colbert ended up dropping out, the Facebook group “1,000,000 Strong for Stephen T Colbert” surpassed its one million member mark in less than ten days, making it the fastest-growing Facebook group in the site’s history. Did Colbert ever intend on becoming President or was it all for the show? 

Comedy and politics share a lot in common; they’re show businesses. While both may seem like it’s a one-person performance, there are many behind the scene pulling the strings. The figurehead ends up being the puppet that protects the party. 

Jamie can make Waldo say whatever he wants because the blue cartoon bear protects him. Characters and personas can create invisible shields. A politician can protect himself as long as he plays himself up as a character that’s defending a group of people or an ideology. 

Donald Trump did that during his first impeachment, which incidentally involved an allegation that he withheld military aid from Ukraine, attempting to influence them to investigate Joe Biden. Of course, we are now familiar with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. So in that exchange, we had Trump, a former reality television star in negotiation with Zelensky, a former comedic actor. 

See the wild ride we’ve been on this past decade? You’d think we’ve learned our lesson, but no. Voting an animated blue bear to a leadership role seems plausible, and the scary thing is that it might not even be the worst option. 

Democracy is a Joke

A key marker in this episode was when candidate Liam Munroe explained why he wanted to run for the position. He answered that he wanted to make the world a fairer place, and that’s the role of a politician. 

This brings up the question, why do people want to run for office? While they might say all the right things in front of the voters, we can sometimes see their underlying reasons. 

In 2011, during the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Barack Obama gave a speech commenting on the “birther” movement, a conspiracy theory where Donald Trump, along with other Republicans, demanded to see the President’s birth certificate to prove he was actually born in America. In a mic-drop moment on stage, Obama roasted Trump, bringing all the influential people in the room together with laughter. 

Trump’s anger likely fueled his campaign in 2016, and the rest is history. 

While a grudge can be one reason to run for government, another reason is for fame and notoriety. Munroe’s competitor, Gwendolyn Harris was using the campaign as a “stepping stone” to build her showreel. 

This is a common practice in politics these days. Running for the government doesn’t need to pay off in having a seat in the House, because public appearances, keynote speeches, and book deals can make up for that investment over time. Not all the numbers are disclosed, but according to a report by Insider, members of the US Congress earned $1.8 million in 2020 from book advances and royalties, with at least 26 members earning a large amount in their side projects. 

We can often feel cynical looking at the democratic process. Gerrymandering, the electoral college, and other nonsensical procedures can make one feel like their votes don’t matter. 

Trash votes have long been a protest against a dysfunctional system. This act of wasting votes can take form in two ways. It can be a high-profile celebrity running to steal votes from a challenging party, like in 2020 when Kanye “Ye” West ran for president as an independent. What caused suspicion was that he was getting support from former Republican Party operatives. Who knows what Ye’s real reason for running was? But if nothing more, it distracted us from real talking points and swayed a few undecided voters to waste their votes for a laugh. 

The other way is by spoiling their votes right in the ballot or not filling it out at all. In a primary election in Finland and Sweden, Donald Duck earned a significant amount of votes. In Ukraine, the Internet Party nominated Darth Vadar. In the 2017 French presidential election, 4 million blank or spoiled ballots and 12 million abstentions won Emmanuel Macron the position. Protest or absenteeism in voting are symptoms of dissatisfaction with the political system. When society sees a rise in this, they must question their candidates and their processes. 

The responsibility of a politician is to make the world a fairer place. That’s a tough order. And we no longer believe that is something our leaderships are capable of, not with the system in place at least. While it may be scary, many are choosing instead to tear it all down. In 2019, Joaquin Phoenix played Joker, a character that encapsulated that feeling. It makes us all feel like clowns when, in reality, it’s the ones in power that are jokes. 

The Vote for Violence 

At the end of the episode, Jamie abandons his role as Waldo. As he doesn’t own the right to the character, his boss, Jack ends up taking over. When Jamie tries to destroy what he’d built, under Jack’s control, Waldo incites the public to attack Jamie. This type of violence occurs again when Munroe wins and Waldo tells the crowd to riot and strike Munroe. 

This call to violence brings back recent memories, most notably the January 6 incident on Capitol Hill. On the day Joe Biden’s presidency was to be certified, in an attempt to overturn the election, more than 2000 Trump supporters broke into the Capitol Building. The result was five deaths and a black eye for democracy visible around the world. 

This event was not spontaneous. For a few months, Trump stoked his loyalists, sowing mistrust, and giving permission to prepare an insurrection. 

Politicians have the power to embolden people, giving them a sense of righteousness and a feeling of immunity if they take action into their own hands. Much like how people listened to Waldo, people listened to Trump. All they needed was a symbol to band together on. 

But this amplification of violence is not only available to politicians anymore. Misinformation and validation for hate can come from anyone who has a platform. Take, for example, the criticism against Joe Rogan these past few years. With the largest podcast in the world, millions of people hear his words. That’s why when he questions vaccination or repeats conspiracy theories, even with a frame of innocent curiosity, he divides people. Despite claiming, on multiple occasions, that he’s not a doctor and he’s a “fucking moron”, his words can rouse other morons to act dangerously. 

A repercussive example was on July 14, 2022. On his podcast, Rogan joked about shooting homeless people in LA. The joke itself wasn’t particularly funny, but what was most surprising was that it came during a time of crisis. In 2020, over half a million Americans were unhoused. While we can all defend a joke in a society where everyone is of sound mind, we, unfortunately, live in a world where all a crazy person needs is a spark to unleash violence on others. Therefore, we, like Rogan, must examine whether there is a relation between crimes around us and what high-profile individuals say. 

Six days after Rogan’s joke about homeless people, I woke up to an emergency alert on my phone. The message warned me that a shooter killed three homeless people in my neighboring city of Langley, BC. Whether Rogan’s words had any influence we will never know for the suspect was shot dead by the police, but the fact remains. 

Recently, the news has been about “Ye” and his antisemitic comments on social media. When one of the loudest voices of our generation starts spewing hate, the world notices. Many condemned the message, while some flew banners on the Los Angeles freeway saying, “Kanye is right about the Jews”.

Violence does not begin with gas chambers. That’s where the story ends. Violence begins with hate speech and blame aimed at a group of people. Whether we are trying to bring down a government or clear out vermins, violence has always been effective. But what happens after? What happens when a government is overthrown and the so-called vermins are gone? 

At the end of The Waldo Moment, we find Jamie homeless in an Orwellian world ruled by Waldo. Out of all the episodes I have rewatched so far, this episode felt real, almost cutting too close to home. 

The ridiculous theater of politics is more ineffective than ever. Any attempt to improve it creates more risks of having it crumble completely. In many ways, we are already living with the consequences portrayed in the conclusion of The Waldo Moment. Many are already worshiping a cartoon character and will act violently if called upon. 

So how did this episode age? Like the previous political episode, The National Anthem, what seemed to have been preposterous a decade ago had already come true. That is why when watching this episode, we can only laugh and shake our heads. How innocent it must have felt for the Black Mirror creators when conceiving this concept. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

White Bear: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we discuss White Bear, let’s rewind to when this episode was first released: February 18, 2013. 

Four months earlier, Apple introduced the iPhone 5, the thinnest, lightest iPhone ever built. This new model has a stunning 4-inch retina display, a necessary upgrade as we were watching more HD videos on our phones. 

In 2012, social media took a leap from being a place to share text-based posts to a place to share graphics, videos, and other image-based content. Instagram hits 50 million monthly active users, and the short-form video-sharing platform, Vine was acquired by Twitter. 

With more bandwidth than we knew how to use, we posted some of the most unhinged content during that period. By 2012, user-generated live video streaming service, Justin.tv rebranded as Twitch and reached 20 million visitors, well on its way to becoming one of the most popular websites on the Internet.  

Conversations about cults and extremists were bubbling under the surface of our consciousness. In 2012, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, told the fictionalized story of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. This movie demonstrated the process similar to the “Auditing” used by Scientologists, where a cult leader breaks down their followers. In the movie the exercise is referred to by a rather mechanical term “Processing”. 

On Dec 14, 2012, 26 people were killed in The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, marking the deadliest mass shooting at an elementary school in US history. 

Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, 2012 had the second lowest number of death sentences with 78, representing a 75% decline since 1996 when there were 315. 

Now that we’re refreshed on the bleak months leading up to the release, let’s jump into Black Mirror, episode 2 of season 2: White Bear. 

Did this episode age well? Are the themes still relevant? Has any of the predictions in this episode come true as of 2022? And if it hasn’t, is it still plausible? 

Let’s find out. 

Memory and the Need to Film

The episode opens with Victoria waking up without any memory, greeted by a symbol on the television screen, pills scattered on the ground, and her wrists bandaged. As she explores the environment, she starts piecing together her reality, reminding us of our mental fragility and how our inability to recognize our surroundings can leave us vulnerable. 

As she explores, she discovers that people are filming her every movement, stealing her privacy, and exposing her even more. Only when a masked man started hunting her down in front of all the spectators did she finally reach her lowest point: an animal. 

Today, we’re obsessed with filming everything we do. Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, and many other options allow us to share an unlimited amount of content: dramatic stunts to sex trafficking to calls for justice. The range of content we create goes from mundane to messed up. 

In 2019, the first of two mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand was streamed on Facebook Live for 17 minutes by the shooter. In 2021, a portion of the shooting in Boulder, Colorado was available to YouTube viewers. 

The ability to film everything is a double-edged sword, a weapon to harm, harass, and exploit while also being a tool to expose cruelty and corruption. This brings to mind the death of George Floyd. On May 25, 2020, a teenager, Darnella Frazier filmed police officer Derek Chauvin with his knees on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. If Frazier didn’t upload the video to social media, there might never have been justice for Floyd or fire to ignite the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The repercussion of filming violence and reliving traumatic moments may lead to us being desensitized to the horrors and with a sickening feeling of involvement. How do we wash the sin off of us for helplessly watching a person die? We cannot step through the screens, so like a prisoner, we are held captive. 

Hope, Symbols, and Cults

The red herring in White Bear is that the symbol caused the population to become consumed by their devices, so much so that they can’t stop dangerous people from taking over. 

Today we’re suffocating under all the information and attempting to break out of our passive state. In doing so, we act dramatically, sometimes following others that can lead us astray. 

Jem may be telling Victoria that she needs to destroy the transmitter to save everyone, but in fact, she’s playing a character and guiding her through a tortuous punishment. This heroic quest is also how cults manipulate new followers, how adults can lure children, and how psychopaths can acquire accomplices. As the group starts to form around an idea, like a multi-level marketing scheme, we no longer need to think for ourselves. We follow a symbol and a dogmatic belief. 

Whether pressured to commit crimes or to gather and condemn, we are influenced by those around us. In 2022, mob mentality is stronger than ever. Take a look at all the riots and collective rage in the world, physical and virtual, from Capitol Hill to Twitter. 

The murder in White Bear was inspired by the Moors murders in the 1960s, however, the satanic sacrifice reminded me a lot of the disappearance of Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow in 2019. Lori Vallow, the mother of the two children, is currently being charged with first-degree murder, in addition to desertion and nonsupport of her dependent children. Manipulated by a man obsessed with certain apocalyptic beliefs named Chad Daybell, Vallow was brainwashed to think that she was saving the world from “dark spirits”, her own children, in preparation for a doomsday.

In this episode, the white bear symbolizes the hope of recovering the little girl and the justification for Victoria’s punishment. This point brings to mind all the symbols that have opposing purposes. The Swastika was highjacked from Asian scripture, and the OK sign turned into a white power salute. Today tech companies are becoming symbols of free speech and oppression. Communities online are forming around ideologies that start with hope and evolve into hostility.  

More than ever, we must be conscious of how our desires are manipulated, how symbols are twisted, and how groupthink and mob mentality drives us down a path of destruction.

The Morality of Punishment

At the end of the episode, we discover that Victoria and her fiance had abducted a young girl, crucified her, and filmed it all in progress. After their arrest, her fiance committed suicide in prison, and Victoria was sentenced to daily psychological punishment where she had to face the same cruelty and humiliation that her victim had experienced. 

Does this sentence match our modern theories of punishment? Does it act as a deterrent? Is it retributive? Does it reform the prisoner? 

There is a belief that the punishment should fit the crime, but in the modern day, we often find that the judicial system is inconsistent. Some punishments are too harsh, while some are too lax, with criminals going through a lengthy legal process to only serve a short sentence and return to society. But shouldn’t the goal be to have them return and act as model citizens? How can we know if punishment is ever fully served? 

In North America, an eye-for-an-eye punishment is no longer believed to be effective, as it could cause an endless chain of victims. Yet, all types of punishment are affected by the force of momentum. The more death sentences we give, the more we would continue giving. In a world where execution is the optimal choice, we see all criminals are irredeemably evil. 

A common misnomer is that the death penalty is the cheaper option. It’s understandable, after all, we just kill them. We don’t have to pay to feed and house them for years. But a single death penalty trial can cost millions — or even billions — of government dollars. Once that is understood, then perhaps the immersive Justice Park experience is not that crazy of an idea. After all, since so much taxpayer money is already wasted trying to understand the moral thing to do, maybe charging admission can help relieve the budget. 

When something upsetting happens, the court of public opinion is quick to suggest the worst form of punishment. We relish it. Given the chance, we’d treat criminals like animals because, to many, they are worse than animals. 

Every few years, trophy hunting would spark a debate online. In 2015, American dentist and recreational game hunter, Walter J. Palmer, paid $50,000 to go to Zimbabwe and kill a lion. That lion was named Cecil. This killing went viral and fueled outrage among animal rights activists. The Internet aimed to destroy Palmer, vandalizing his home and sending death threats, claiming they wanted to turn him into a trophy. 

The popularity of Tiger King in 2020 reminded us of our curiosity for dangerous animals. How far away are we from putting dangerous people into an interactive environment for us to feel the rush of fear and superiority? Perhaps we would never go that far? Or if we do, we would be able to justify it just like how we’ve justified all the other shitty things we’ve done in the past. Feeling the temperature, we may be one violent mob away. What hot-button issue will push us over the edge? 

Cults catch us at our moments of weakness and vulnerability, often at a transition when the world is uncertain. They lead with hope and opportunity, and they make us feel righteous. We see the leader as our savior like how Baxter is celebrated for conducting torture. 

So I ask again, can the events of White Bear happen? While logistical and technological advancement needs to take place first, I believe our human psyche is already starving for it. We are seeking someone to blame all our problems on, we are looking for a way to express our rage, and countless events have made us view each other as less than humans.

White Bear was an episode that I didn’t think much about the first time I watched it, but this time, after all the turmoil that happened in the world, and with awareness of the twist at the end, I appreciated the simple theme: Beware of what you film or you might become a part of the show.

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

Fifteen Million Merits: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we get into Fifteen Million Merits, let’s first flashback to the year the episode was released. 2011. 

In 2011, eCommerce entered its adolescents with $194.3 billion in worldwide sales, compared to $4.9 trillion in 2021. Amazon only had 56,200 full-time employees globally compared to the 1,608,000 as of 2022. 

Metaverse and cryptocurrency, however, were way in their infancy. At the start of 2011, BitCoin was on par with the US dollar for the first time. Ten years later, at its highest point, one BitCoin was worth $64,400 USD. 

The metaverse was still science fiction, as the main reference to the concept in 2011 was the novel Ready Player One. 

American Idol was entering its 10th season, and the hit singing competition show was fading out of relevance and facing stiffer competition as The Voice was released that year. 

In 2011, YouTube allowed everyone the ability to monetize their videos with ads and had no worries about the impending ad-pocalypse.

The exercise equipment company, Peloton didn’t exist yet. And the latest Internet trends were planking and first-world problem memes. 

Now that we’re refreshed on the state of the world in 2011, we can get into Black Mirror episode two of season one: Fifteen Million Merits. 

Did the episode age well? Are the themes still relevant? Did any predictions in the show come true? If not, is it still plausible? Let’s find out.

The Absurdity of Making Money 

Making money and powering the society that we live in is an endless cycle. Fifteen Million Merits begins with the workers engaged in this absurd way of life. Surrounded by screens, whether he’s working, relaxing, or seeking pleasure, the protagonist, Bing questions his purpose. Wealthy because of an inheritance from his late brother, he recognizes all the traps in his fake reality.

Games, pornography, and unhealthy food, these vices still lure us now. App developers, game makers, content creators, and marketers have learned to abuse our addiction to the screens. Whenever we make an online purchase, we must resist being upsold by an algorithm that understands what we want. Every day we pay for our subscriptions to skip ads, putting a price on our impatience. 

What’s the point of staying in shape, practicing art, and earning money when nothing is real? Money means freedom, but what do you buy to get this freedom? 

Bing didn’t care about his merits until he met Abi. He convinces her to enter the Hot Shot competition and buys the expensive ticket for her to enter. He finally feels he has invested in something worthwhile. And even though he subsequently loses her to the corrupt world of adult entertainment, he saves up to have his own time with the judges. He now has something to say. 

Today we are hustling, making money, and growing followers to impress some invisible judges, but what’s the end goal? Who are we doing this for? Are we helping people? Are we sharing an important message? 

When Bing returns to the stage and confronts the judges. He blames them for taking the only real thing he had. Everything else was fake fodder. This is a reminder today, as we spend money dressing up avatars on the Internet to take a moment and question why people want us to do this. Who is benefiting from this? And is there a reason for this distraction? 

The powerful will try to relate with us; they will use our needs, desires, fears, and even disobedience against us. There is always a carrot dangling in front of our faces, whether it’s money, followers, or approval, but the question remains: Where is this carrot guiding us? 

A New Version of Reality

Many have already taken a step into the virtual world by creating avatars on social media, in the metaverse, or on other digital platforms. 

When we create an avatar, we brand ourselves. We’re no longer a number on the screen. We get to be goofy characters or have funny names. While we can choose how we appear, we still can’t control how the world perceives us. 

Perhaps the approach is not to be so different. We should still look like ourselves and hold onto what we know is real. If we are riding a bike, we shouldn’t be so detached; we should make the experience feel as authentic as possible. 

Digital exercises can perhaps keep us tethered to reality while acting like a bridge into the virtual world. We’ve seen major innovations in this industry over the past decade, from the early days of Wii Sports to pricy home workout equipment today, such as a Tonal fitness mirror or Peloton bike. 

While exercising will always require our bodies, many activities will not, and those are the ones that will bring us deeper into virtual reality. Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert in 2020 drew over 12 million gamers. It’s not unusual for people now to go to live events exclusively in the digital world. 

Fully immersive virtual reality is becoming a norm. To connect the physical world with the virtual one, we will likely start with self-contained rooms where people can interact with screens around them, similar to the characters’ rooms. Arcade-style VR games are popping up all over big cities. Other entertainment and community venues, from art galleries to restaurants, are adding immersive experiences to their offerings. Take, for example, the Silicon Valley restaurant, iChina, and its futuristic dining experience. 

We fear the virtual world would make us less human, but, as humans, we often try to escape our dreary reality. 

When Bing is convincing Abi to audition for Hot Shot, she speaks of how cheesy reality can be and how wanting more is cheesy. Ignorance is bliss, and those in power want to keep us happy and distracted. We can’t help feeling a little jealous of the guy enjoying all the idiotic shows while riding his bike beside Bing. He successfully escaped reality and found contentment. In a way, it must be nice to live without that existential dread.

Today we are more conflicted than ever. We question the reality of the news, money, and even people thanks to deepfakes. How is all this dulling our senses? At this time, it’s the virtual world that seems cheesy. Spending too much time there is not typical. But since Facebook changed its name to Meta, a crazy amount of money has been dumped into metaverse technology. And while the technology is still finding its footing, we wonder which company will come out in front? When will remote workers be forced to adopt this tool? If that happens, will we be able to go back, or will we find ourselves too reliant on the virtual world, questioning the value of the physical one? What will become of us when our avatars are the ones having all the experiences? 

The Lure of Fame

In a world where competition is stiff, we tell ourselves a story: we can do it. We are special. We are dedicated. Others have done it in the past, so why not us? Others have saved up, starved, and taken a chance on themselves, and we can do it too. But there’s a concept called survivorship bias, where we only hear success stories. How many have failed and never got a chance to warn others before their voices were drowned out? 

Like art, podcasting, publishing, athletics, and many other pursuits, the world of Fifteen Million Merits is ultra-competitive. Gatekeepers control everything on the screens, giving them full command of the culture. 

When a trend hits its saturation point, the gatekeepers drive up another. After all, there isn’t room for everyone to be a star in the same genre. We see much the same today in the TikTok generation, where everyone feels they can be famous. The reality is that there is only so much room for dancers and singers. If you’re not on the top tier, you’ll need to find a niche or a gimmick. 

In Abi’s naive and vulnerable state, drugged with compliance and feeling the rush of attention, she gets caught up, manipulated, and then agrees to do things she didn’t intend. No one is immune to those pressures and temptations, especially not after all they’ve fought, risked, and spent getting to that spot. 

The encouragement of the world can come from a sinister place. Consider all the Internet influencers who started as gamers, models, actors, or fitness coaches, who then opened an OnlyFans account to leverage a fanbase willing to pay for more. No shame, but know that some choices cannot be reversed and shouldn’t be made with hasty thinking. 

The number 15 in the title is so appropriate. The saying is that, in life, everyone will get 15 minutes of fame. How we capitalize on those 15 minutes will define us. In an age where attention is gold, and everyone is rushing to go viral and become famous in an instant, we all have the opportunity to grow a fanbase and leverage our uniqueness into bigger careers. That is if we don’t run out of time, have others copy us, fail to innovate, and fade into obscurity first. 

In the final act, Bing gives a dark and hilarious performance, turning his suicidal persona into a motivational speaker. Holding himself hostage allowed him to stand out and his unconventional approach made it marketable. He gets attention. He gets to escape his current reality and enter a new one. But is it all worth it, or is it the continuation of an endless cycle? 

Fifteen Million Merits’s satirical depiction of how we are trying to escape our current reality and the Sisyphean grind of capitalism is extremely relevant today. More and more jobs are starting to feel meaningless. The rise of quit quitting in 2022, shows us that our relationship with success and money has changed significantly. 

The idea that one person can stand out among millions is as absurd as humans pedaling to distract themselves from the bars of their cages. However, it also speaks to the power of the collective. While one person biking can barely power a lightbulb, a group biking will be able to power a community. Whether you’re unique or not, it doesn’t really matter. The reality is that we have to work together.

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

The National Anthem: Black Mirror, Did It Age Well?

Before we can talk about The National Anthem, let’s flashback to when this episode was first released, December 4, 2011. Things were a little bit different back then…

Politically, the West was feeling strong. Barack Obama was still president. Britain was still a part of the EU. Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi have just been eliminated from the global chessboard. However, the American government was entrenched in the Wikileaks scandal, and the seeds of mistrust were sprouting. 

2011 was also a year of celebration. Prince William and Kate Middleton got married and the Royal Wedding was viewed by 72 million people on YouTube.

Many big social media platforms were going public or were in the process of it in 2011. Rebecca Black’s “Friday” went viral, and we saw how quickly fame can happen and how the world can relish in a person’s humiliation. 

For those already in the spotlight, social media revealed a lot, Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal and Charlie Sheen’s #Winning meltdown proved that once the news leaked, there was nowhere to hide. Public shaming became ever more prevalent.

Yes, it was a big transition year, full of optimism, suspicion, and schadenfreude. 

Now that we recall the climate of 2011, let’s jump into Black Mirror (episode one of season one): The National Anthem.

How has this episode aged? Are the themes still relevant? Did any predictions in the show come true? If not, is it still plausible? Let’s find out.

Social Media and the Spread of News

When the Prime Minster, Michael Callow first discovered the kidnapping and demands, his instinct was to stop the news from spreading by putting a D-notice, a request to broadcasters to hold publishing a piece of news for national security reasons. While a measure like that would have worked in a simpler time, it might not work in a social media age. 

Quickly, we see Callow turning into a dictator in an effort to protect himself from embarrassment. While there was pressure to find the princess, he was more concerned with having intercourse with a pig on national television. 

It’s been said that journalism is what keeps a democracy honest and functioning. When a ruler prevents the information from being released to the public, one must wonder how far he will go to tell his version. Today, we see leaders hiding news, censoring social media, and locking up people who speak up. 

If the public never knew the princess was kidnapped, and that there was an ultimatum, then there wouldn’t be any pressure on the Prime Minister to act. Keep the public ignorant, and he keeps the power. We see this all over the world, all the time, from China to the United States. The conflict between government and journalism is a good thing. Trouble starts when both sides are forced to agree with each other completely. 

Our Relationship with Politicians

Now that the news leaked, Michael Callow needs to confront this new form of terrorism. One specifically targetting him. Because this terrorist wasn’t endangering a large population of people, the public as the mass of influence, motivated by self-preservation, can be easily manipulated. 

His wife tells him that they were already picturing it. It’s already happening in their minds. If he allows the princess to be murdered, it would be on his hands. He was so worried about his own shame that he didn’t even acknowledge his wife’s. Even if he could control the public’s opinion, he could never repair his partner’s impression of him in those dire moments. Failing to rise up, regardless of the outcome, he was already ruined.

The boss is the boss, and when shit hits the fan, we expect them to take responsibility. We want a leader who will make the right choices for the people, not just for themself. But rarely do politicians fall on the swords for others. And Callow is no different, even though he finds himself in a damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t scenario — sacrificing himself is the absolute last choice. 

When the kidnapper appeared to cut off the princess’s finger on television, the mood shifted to 86% believing that Callow should have intercourse with the pig. His last hope was to catch the kidnapper and save the princess himself. But, he failed miserably, demonstrating how the government and the press often cross each other up, resulting in friendly fire. 

Today, our political leaders fail us pretty consistently. That’s why in this episode, it’s almost surprising seeing the route that Callow took. In the end, he wasn’t tyrannical. He did the deed instead of amassing more power to defend himself or risk the princess. This leaves us with optimism, maybe there is some good once you peel away all the onion skins of politics. It might be a struggle, but perhaps given the right amount of time and information, they will come to the right conclusion. Yet, perhaps that’s what separates tv shows from reality.

Our Appetite for Humiliation 

If the world is a stage, we want to see the performers miss a line, fall, and completely embarrass themselves. Not much has changed, except now social media has amplified the shame, and everyone has an opinion. 

If you put yourself in the spotlight, you risk the wrath of the world. Name any politician, and you can find a scandal. From Justin Trudeau’s black face to the Finnish Prime Minster caught dancing at a party to Rudy Guliani in the Borat movie, we love seeing those in power in trouble. 

Perhaps no event is closer to the plot in The National Anthem than the David Cameron #piggate scandal in 2015. During the former Prime Minster’s time at Oxford, he allegedly placed his privates into the mouth of a dead pig. This scenario was so similar to the Black Mirror episode that the show’s creator, Charlie Brooker, had to make a statement saying that he knew nothing about the #piggate incident prior and that it was purely a coincidence.  

Politically, the world today is more divided than ever. We have dealt with far more traumatic events than the Prime Minister having sex with a pig. We live in a world where politicians have undoubtedly screwed us over. When this episode was first released, the plot of The Nation Anthem might have seemed laughable. But today, such an event would feel light. It’s not an invasion, a mishandling of a deadly virus, or the non-actions after a school shooting. 

The kidnapping of a princess isn’t so crazy either. Women go missing all the time, regardless of their status. From the death of heiress, Eliza Fletcher earlier in 2022 to Kim Kardashian being tied up and robbed in 2016 to the recent abduction fear of Holland’s Princess Catharina-Amalia, women getting kidnapped, bound, robbed, tortured, and murdered are still very much a reality. 

Overall, I feel The National Anthem stood the test of time, but the impact it once had is significantly dulled. Even though it was meant to be a parody of the TV show 24, it’s now an old joke, somewhat funny, but lacks the timeliness to have any effect. And with comedy, timing is everything. This episode barely fazed me this rewatch, perhaps I’m too desensitized to the bullshit of journalism, politics, and social media. 

This episode reminds us that the government we put so much of our faith in are people — simple people — and they are vulnerable. Like all vulnerable animals, they’ll protect themselves first. So it’s up to us to keep them accountable, regardless of who we are… medical workers, the bloke at the bar, or even their husbands and wives. 

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.