Because I’m riding 125-166 miles per week lately, I was thinking about sharing more of my stats cycling about town. Or some news about the City of Austin Healthy Streets program expanding and taking public comment. The St. John’s bike lane project and outer lane closures downtown on Congress Avenue making temporary bike lanes are noteworthy. There hasn’t been a bicyclist die in a car crash yet this year (that I know of), which is great. I could do something about saddle sores, how bike shops are still short on inventory, or a piece about another bicycle website here in A-town. There’s bicycle seat adjustment, more about my Garmin watch (their site crashed today), or any number of other bike-related news that you can use. But nah, I’m gonna write about TV. Because, coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic. There are plenty of dystopian future movies and shows, but one in particular seems exactly right for this moment in history in which we find ourselves.
Yes, I mean BLACK MIRROR on Netflix.
Because we’re living through pre-Rapture or end times or simply hell on earth, according to some people of certain religious persuasions, it seems like basically we’re just killing time until the coronavirus / COVID-19 kills us, or there’s a vaccine and it doesn’t. Long ago, Emperor Nero was said to have fiddled while Rome burned. A Dude has no fiddle, but he been biking daily through this pandemapocalypse. And after daily walks and bike rides and yoga and writing, I need some down time. Lately the self-isolation has been doin’ me head in a wee bit, so I’ve been watching me some telly.
The darker the better, right? Makes reality a bit more palatable. After the delicious devastation done by the divas in Westworld, I watched the art-imitates-life movie Contagion, because although made in 2011 (like the first series of BLACK MIRROR), it’s still and again quite relevant. I’d seen it before but was appreciating it again until it became too outlandish. The government was unable to get across it, but didn’t have any un-moored leaders completely devoid of any belief in science. A researcher injects herself with an untested vaccine. Just 23 million people die and four months later there’s a working vaccine. And quite unbelievably, Kate Winslet doesn’t get nekkid as a blue jay. Still a good flick you should (re-)watch.
I’ve seen other shows, like therapist gone rogue Gypsy with Naomi Watts (King Kong). Or Avenue 5, a sci-fi comedy with that House guy, Hugh Laurie, and also Katee Sackhoff (Babylon 5) trying to keep her crew alive aboard a spaceship on Another Life. I’m still keeping up with FBI team gone rogue(-ish) on Blindspot and the back-to-the-future time-jumping tale of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD in its last season. But nothing has scratched my itch for something dark and dystopian like BLACK MIRROR.
I know, I’m late to the party with this one, as I am with many shows. Too many of them and too little time. But now that coronavirus / COVID-19 has made making new TV and movies a challenge if not impossible for a while, we may have to live with what’s already out there. And this one is pretty far out. A British anthology — meaning each show stands alone with different actors (except a few) — it’s about a future not that far off from today. where technology, and people using it (or being used by it) go wrong. Horribly, fantastically, very wrong. Like, super bad.
It’s both scary and beautiful to watch. Like all good sci-fi it uses made-up things as a prism for human experience. In this case, technology, like those omnipresent screens all around us (thus the title.) From memory implants and super-soldier enemy enhancers, to using Artificial Intelligence to communicate with the dead, each show takes something going on today and extrapolates it to its (il)logical conclusion. There’s even one episode about a world where to create energy, prisoners must use stationary bicycles to create electricity and points to buy food. So see? It’s relevant to this mostly bike blog.
There’s great writing by Brooker and others, clever effects, beautiful cinematography and good casting (with guest spots from SHIELD’s Hayley Atwell and other stars more well-known to UK audiences, and Americans like Jon Hamm, Anthony Mackie, Byrce Dallas Howard, Topher Grace, Jesse Plemons and even Miley Cyrus). The show is meant, according to creator Charles Brooker:
“to highlight topics related to humanity’s relationship with technology, creating stories that feature ‘the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy..”Charlie Brooker: the dark side of our gadget addiction”. The Guardian. London, 12/1/2011 from Wikipedia
Inspired by and paying homage to shows like Twilight Zone and stories of Philip K. Dick “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” aka Blade Runner, the mood of each episode can change from horrorific to hilarious, humanism to harrowing. But what shocked me was that the first series came out in 2011. In some cases plot points seem prescient of events that have already come to pass; addiction to cell phones for one.
“…it exaggerated present-day technology and obsessions to subtle but infernal effect, a nightmare-before-Christmas reminder that to revere our digital gizmos is to become their pathetic slave.”–Mark Monahan, The Daily Telegraph
There are five series (seasons, in the US) plus a separate interactive movie, Bandersnatch, which was meant to have been part of season five.
I could go on but if you’ve seen the show, you know. If not, you might want to give it a try. Just be ready to cover your eyes in some parts. Or more likely to be reminded that as Marshall McLuhan wrote years ago in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in 1964 about television, “The medium is the message.” Sure, the coronavirus may be infecting millions of people and killing hundreds of thousands of us around the world, but as the Pogo comic strip told us years ago:
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”Pogo, comic by Walt Kelly
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