Last night, the second episode of Charlie Brooker's second series of Black Mirror hit screens hard with a nightmarish vision of what we might become in the future... and let's face it, aren't actually that far away from being already. If you didn't watch last week's episode or the entire previous series then you must sort that situation out immediately. Black Mirror is some of the best TV you will ever see, filled with dark ideas, clever twists on our dependency on technology and both terror and very black humour.
This week is the first time I have chosen to write about Black Mirror because last night's episode has provoked me and left me with a bit of a sleepless night. The title White Bear I thought might be a silly/funny play on the words 'the white to bear arms', as in this f**king crazy notion that Americans must carry guns because it's their right or something. Actually White Bear was much more about our right to bear camera phones and film every tragedy, every victim and every sensational thing that happens anywhere near us.
All Black Mirror episodes work on creepy, weird 'what if?' scenarios involving some aspect of very modern technology and where it is taking us. White Bear had a young lady waking up, not knowing who she was and finding that everyone she encountered refuses to talk to her, instead just filming and taking photos of her on their camera phones. It's a creepy enough set up, like something out of a mild nightmare and then it turns quickly much darker when a range of masked figures start hunting her with an assortment of weaponry.
All the while, even as she runs, screams and is even tortured after capture, the general public keep filming, smiling and enjoying the spectacle. It is every bit as frightening as it sounds. No matter how much she cries for help, the audience keep watching, filming, relishing the terror and the desperation.
It is a terrifying and bleak look at what we have become and that is before the last act twist which takes things infinitely darker. I was constantly reminded of all the footage I have watched on YouTube of 9/11, tsunamis and even the hours of documentary footage I have seen in the past where you want to scream at the camera operator to put their camera down and help the people we see in dire straits on the screen.
All that footage of people filming the burning towers, the people jumping and being swept away by terrifying waves makes you wonder about the people filming. Did they feel so hopeless that they couldn't even conceive of doing something to help? Did they want to make money out of their sensational footage? Does watching this kind of terror through the lens of a camera make it easier to watch? Do you create a distance between yourself and the victims? Do we enjoy the spectacle of others' misfortunes? Do we have an overwhelming desire to document these things so that people in the future will be able to see how it went down? Do we have no sympathy for those we film?
The final act switches everything around, suggesting that the girl we have watched being chased endlessly is not as innocent as we first thought. But then the implications of our desire to watch, to film and to witness torture take on new meanings. It becomes even more harrowing and hard to watch. Like A Clockwork Orange, ideas about punishment and persecution become warped and difficult and our sympathies are twisted and disturbing.
Black Mirror: White Bear is an absolute must see. The second series of Black Mirror concludes next Monday at 10pm on UK TV so make sure you are sitting at your screen, ready for the onslaught.