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Utopia Fantasia in the “Black Mirror” TV Show Essay

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Updated: Dec 9th, 2020

Introduction

Traditionally, utopia has been characterised by the vision of an ideal society devoid of suffering and anguish (Townsend 24; Jameson 18). Philosophers have described this society by giving varied accounts of how the future should be (Townsend 28; Jameson 33). In other words, the proportion of fact to fantasy varies depending on who is asked. However, most researchers who describe utopia strive to advocate for certain universal ideals like justice, fairness, democracy, sharing earthly goods, and equality of the sexes (Petito and Mavelli 81; Utopianism – A Very Short Introduction 1).

Many people buy into Utopia because life has many challenges. For example, the average human being has several undesirable qualities. Some of them are simple, such as being a nuisance; however, in other cases, they border on outright evil, such as killing someone else. When realism is employed in utopian arguments, people who advocate for the concept express naivety because it is physically impossible to support the utopian view. Nonetheless, its ideals have enabled many people to take action and improve their lives. For example, early immigrants who came to America from different parts of the world were driven by utopian thoughts of fairness and equality.

Utopian ideals led to the development of the utopian theory. More is one of the first researchers to explore the concept in traditional media and stated that it is admired by several people around the world because they want an opportunity to escape from a reality characterised by undesirable elements (2). Therefore, people often watch several works of art because they draw from the experiences (Tower, Utopianism – A Very Short Introduction 76). The utopian theory has been linked to the gratification theory. Their relationship is supported by the fact that both of them draw on the agreement that human beings consume works of media to escape reality (Gündüz 1; Orwell 26). Furthermore, proponents of both theories acknowledge the stress and turmoil that characterise human life or reality (Gündüz 1; Orwell 26; Tower “The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited” 1). Nonetheless, the utopian theory describes a mediated world which attracts people because of its disassociation from reality (Voltaire 26).

This paper demonstrates that the traditional concept of utopia has been replaced by a broadened version of the idea that encapsulates people’s desire to be accepted and perfected. This view is presented through an analysis of the television show, Black Mirror. It represents this evolution and depicts a society that has moved away from yearning for collective progress to pursuing individualised definitions of the same. Stated differently, this paper demonstrates how the concept of utopia has evolved from the quest for a virtuous and free life to the desire for people’s approval from the lens of an individualised life. The evidence appears below.

A Departure from Collectivism

The concept of utopia originated from a view of an ideal world that does not exist (Le Corbusier 77). According to Adams, the term later evolved to define a society that does not merge or align with the realities of human nature (147). Those who held this opinion said such a society was difficult to realise because it simply could not exist (Le Corbusier 37). Based on More’s book, Utopia emerges as a useful tool to invent the future and to imagine how a world in the Internet age would look like (17). By using the concept this way, people (or artistic works, such as the Black Mirror) are not only referring to a period of great human development but also suggesting new meanings to the concept. Instead of referring to the 500-year-old concept as an imagined world that is non-existent, the Black Mirror employs concept to help human beings transcend their contemporary dreams and look for new ways to navigate the uncertainty of modern times.

The television series is an interesting British analogy of the concept of utopia and how it has evolved over the years to define how the future may look like. The evolution of the utopian concept is partly manifested from the wild popularity of similar shows on televisions, which demonstrated a transition from an “interesting” society to a world dominated by social media and smartphones. Each episode of the Black Mirror is different, but they collectively express varied storylines carried by different protagonists. Similarly, a different theme is highlighted in each episode.

The Black Mirror does not focus on the positive aspects of life as would be expected of a typical utopian work of art because there is not much intrigue in it. Instead, most of the topics discussed are investigated from cynical or pessimistic points of view. However, there is little doubt that the show represents different aspects of our lives. Indeed, it is based on how people live their lives today. The storyline is also designed to show people how they could be living in the future if they are not careful or thoughtful in how they structure their lives.

By investigating how to combine scepticism with imagination, the Black Mirror redefines people’s perceptions of time. People’s realities and identities are also redefined in the same way. In other words, the alternative perspectives of reality presented in the show not only provide us with an opportunity to escape from our current problems but also a leeway to confront future challenges. Therefore, by taking our dreams seriously, we could borrow from the Black Mirror and confront future challenges that would affect our societies. This analysis sets the stage for the departure from collectivist views which characterised early views of utopia.

Role of Science in Forming Individualised Beliefs

A common theme in the evolution of utopian thought through the show, Black Mirror, is the growing prominence of science in defining the future. Although some observers may argue that the show is about the discipline, especially based on its focus on science fiction, it is not really about the field, but more about how it affects human lives. Science is evident through an understanding of how technology has evolved and affected human life. More importantly, the show depicts how technology could mutate, advance, and decline in ways that were never previously conceived. Here, it is interesting to note that technology changes, but human beings remain the same. In other words, people are the only constant variable in the conception of utopia. Their feelings, courage, fears and other emotions do not change because they define how they have conceived the concept of utopia throughout the years.

The involvement of science and technology in the conception of utopian thought is also described in how media and technology are changing the society. The cynicism and pessimism through which the Black Mirror presents the future draws our attention to the fact that the two elements of science rarely have a positive impact on human society. This is why the Black Mirror could be associated with an anthologised version of science fiction. Particularly, the series draws our attention to how the society relates to science, media, and technology. More importantly, from this understanding, people are able to understand the powerful influence of technology on human life in this sense because it allows them to create an identity for themselves. However, this identity is a form of prison in itself because it does not have space for empathy and truth. In other words, reality has been presented as an element that needs to be hidden to help people “get ahead” in life. This view of utopia demonstrates the shift from collective virtues to individualised ones. More importantly, it is a true reflection of human society in the 21st century.

In the first two episodes of the Black Mirror; most depictions of “reality” are borrowed from our collective behaviour as human beings in the 21st century. Concisely, the storylines extrapolate how the future could look like, bearing in mind the influences of media and technology in human life. Understandably, it is open for all to see the bleak future that the show portrays if people continue to neglect or ignore what is beautiful or pure about the nature of human collective consciousness. Based on this analysis, the television show is a dark reflection of human nature in a world of rapid technological development. More importantly, it gives us an opportunity to evaluate these dark scenarios through our emotional filters.

The link between science and utopia is not a new one. In other words, the Black Mirror expresses what other researchers, such as Havens, have said about the role of technology in shaping people’s understanding of utopia (243). Such researchers have always used technology to explain an imaginable future, which is characterised by peak human efficiency and robotic behaviour. Conversely, this representation suggests that technology would help to promote utopian living standards (McIntosh 327). For example, some researchers have argued that technological utopia could affect human nature and conditions (Petito and Mavelli 81). This view is advanced by the Black Mirror which shows that human nature has evolved with the advancement of technology. The aspiration for a “picture perfect life” is one of the ways through which human nature has changed because people are more concerned about the superficial aspects of living as opposed to the virtuous aspects of human life, which informed previous conceptions of utopian thought. Researchers have alluded to this transformation through texts that suggested that human behaviour, such as sleeping, eating and reproduction will change, within the limits of technology (Whitley 48).

There is an alternative way in which technology could be used to influence human life by striking a balance between what is possible (technologically) and the improvement of human life. This philosophy recognises that the failure to define the borders of human beings and technology could be detrimental to people’s progress. The use of new technology in developing better houses or cars is one example of how societies could use science to better human lives (in a good way). The view of the same concept through the Black Mirror, which shows how people could become detrimental to themselves by relying excessively on technology, has been supported by researchers, such as John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen, who say that technology deprives human beings of the autonomy they need to make collective decisions or to live life in a communal way (Gündüz 1). Stemming from this concern, they say that the industrial structures which tie human societies together need to be broken down for true freedom to be achieved.

Gaining an Individualised Identity

In the past, the utopian theory was marked by a spirited attempt by human societies to live in a just and fair society (Fourny 43). People yearned for the space to associate freely and to express their opinions without being victimised. Ideal societies were presented as those which offered their citizens an opportunity to live equitably and justly (Le Corbusier 10). However, according to the show Black Mirror, this notion of idealism has changed and been replaced by a quest by human beings to live a “picture-perfect” life, without any regard for whether it is helpful to other people, or not. The concept of utopia has evolved from a collective philosophy to an individualistic one. However, it is unfortunate that the evolution is coming at a huge cost to human cohesion and wellness because people are willing to trample on other people’s feelings and rights to get to the top. The sadistic portrayal of human life, as witnessed in the television series, Black Mirror, depicts this fact and it shows the extents that human beings could go to get to the top.

According to Black Mirror, people showcase their lived experiences through social media and by doing so, they gain an identity. Guided by this framework, people act as characters in the social arena of technological progress. The Internet is gaining increased prominence in this scene and in people’s lives in ways that overcome traditional forms of media. What people do on social media, regardless of its ramifications on the society is inherent in their nature. Indeed, issues like identity expression and experimentation are ingrained human traits that are exercised through social media as a communication platform. This space gives them an opportunity to present themselves to other people in ways that only they deem fit. Possibly, social media allows them to influence how other people would perceive them.

Comparative Analysis of the Ideal Theory and the Black Mirror

A comparative analysis of the ideal theory and the Black Mirror reveals that there are significant similarities between the two. One of them is that they both envision some improved version of human society (Claeys 71). Secondly, neither of the two strive to explicate the ideal or improved version of the society from the world. Additionally, they both attach some specific value to their imagined worlds. On one hand, the Black Mirror outlines an efficient society controlled by technology and human effectiveness, while the utopian theory conceives a world that is just and fair for all (Claeys 91). A key understanding that emerges from this analysis is that both representations of utopia provide a guiding framework for promoting human progress (Manuel 79).

Critics of the utopian theory could also be the same ones analysing the television show, Black Mirror, because their areas of contention are similar. For example, it could be argued that the two are unreachable fantasies (Ruitinga). Nonetheless, both the show and the theory present the view that the transition to an ideal world requires the conception of how it would look like in the first place (Marx and Engels 54). Nonetheless, there are varied opinions regarding the extent that the utopian theory and the Black Mirror overlap bearing in mind the fact that the show does not provide an explicit discussion of the relationship with the object.

Based on the above discussions, Black Mirror portrays a different understanding of utopia in the sense that it delimits the traditional comprehension of the same idea from conceptions of justice to a broader understanding of the factors affecting human existence, such as happiness, morality and freedom. Therefore, the evolution of the utopian concept provides an opportunity to apply it to other fields of analysis besides justice and fairness, which have been synonymously associated with it (Findlen 243). Broadly, this analysis shows that the conception of ideal theory had been a narrow one. The Black Mirror presents an alternative view where more could be done by the society to use utopia as a concept that achieves more than an ideal society. Stated differently, the views presented by the television show are a conceptual clarification of the concept. Here, what emerges from the past and present understanding of utopia is that they fully comply with conditions of social justice. The fulfilment of these conditions in the television show depicts it as largely utopian. The presentation of the same concept in inverse (dystopia) through the portrayal of a dark society, “ravaged” by technology also shows the other side of the concept. This is what emerges as a conceptual clarity of the idea because it allows people to see two sides of the same concept.

The Black Mirror depicts how a work of art, which has entertainment value could be used to describe utopian views. However, this is not a new analysis because entertainment (as a concept) is deemed by some people as being utopian in nature because it explains how some virtues of human life could be organised to create a better life for all (Adams 147). The integration of utopia in entertainment is also implicit because it depicts how the concept could provide an escape for people away from their realities. In other words, it helps conceive the idea of something better than the realities of daily living. Therefore, the utopian theory postulates that the consumption of media is akin to providing the people with a utopian solution to their lives. A key finding in the depiction of the concept of utopianism in the Black Mirror is the discontent with the world as it is. It is a symbolic depiction of an imagined environment that shields its inhabitants from the negative traits associated with realism.

Conclusion

The Black Mirror presents an interesting view of utopia because it shows how the world could look like in the next few years if people are clumsy and do not pay attention to the role of science and technology in influencing their daily operations. Particularly, it draws our attention to people’s need to pursue five-star ratings as seen in different episodes where characters were chasing near-perfect “Instagrammable” moments. The central idea behind this utopian view of the world is that people are busy chasing these perfect moments at the expense of honest interactions. Therefore, “reality” is suppressed through the television show because people would rather focus on the good or near perfect view of the world as opposed to the realities of it. The Black Mirror is a perfect outcrop of this world. Through this depiction of the human society, it establishes a departure from the traditional concept of utopia which was characterised by a world that was pristinely designed and with a lot of dreamy features like well-manicured lawns and beautiful colours. Instead, this idea has been substituted with another one of individualised goals where everyone is trying to get high ratings or approval from their peers.

Based on the television show Black Mirror, the future conception of utopia could see a convergence between media, education and the arts. The evolution of the Internet culture could be the pivot point from which such changes are to be witnessed. The need to share knowledge and work together is also at the centre of this reinvention because the Internet provides a platform to do this. Nonetheless, by implementing this idea, it is possible to see how people could be scared of new realities as envisaged in the television show. Although it shows the darkest side of our existence and its interaction with technology, it fails to explain that the future is shaped through interconnectivity, which is a positive attribute. However, with increased interconnectedness come complexity, uncertainty, and serendipity.

Broadly, the blend of science fiction, drama, and black comedy in the Black Mirror leaves no doubt as to how intelligently produced the television show was. Its originality and entertainment value breaks the monotony of how academicians depict the utopian theory because it eliminates the seriousness of the analysis, but still maintains the factuality needed in understanding how the concept has evolved over the years. The shift from a collective ideology of an ideal life to an individualised one is undeniable throughout the series and technology plays a central role in making this happen.

Works Cited

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