Tonight saw the airing of Charlie Brooker’s new 3 part mini-series Black Mirror on Channel 4. The first episode, entitled ‘The National Anthem’ was plugged as a twisted parable for the Twitter generation. As understatements go, this was a fairly big one.
For those of you who didn’t see it, the plot of the first episode concerns the kidnapping of a popular princess, who is ransomed. The hostage-taker’s only demand is that the incumbent Prime Minister has sex with a pig live on television. The premise is shocking, disgusting and horrifying. And as it turned out, utterly, utterly gripping. I cannot remember the last time I sat through an hour of such enthralling television, watching with almost-baited-breath. In typical Brooker fashion, the programme was steeped in satire (although perhaps lacking his normal, cheerful outlook on things) – the princess figure a clear parody marriage of ‘Kate and Wills’, an aping of the lengths investigative journalists are willing to go to get a tip off (featuring a cameo from the corruption of Whitehall) and the ‘helmet-cam’ live-feed seem to be a clear tip of the hat to the search for Bin Laden. Coupled with this was a very clear portrayal of the ‘hive mind’ of the internet and the ways in which news/ current events are communicated rapidly, even before many of the news networks have time to broadcast it. With this, Brooker paints a truly bleak extreme of the current generation of internet users. Despite the bleakness of the situation, it is often difficult to prevent yourself from laughing at how horrific the circumstances are.
Along side the satire though, was an almost chill-inducing insight into the strains a traumatic, high pressure circumstances puts on the human psyche and on personal relationships. While the situation put forward by Brooker here is outlandish to the point of being far-fetched; the psychology of his characters was grounded and human. The result of this was 40 minutes of material that was brilliant. The revelation at the end, as well as proving this wasn’t merely an exercise in shock factor, added an interesting comment on the morbid curiosity of humanity – one which gains further credence with the scenes that follow the beginning of the credits. These additional scenes draw a line under the satirisation of the short-lived memory of the internet-age and add a poignancy to Brooker’s story-telling. With next week’s installed seemingly mocking the institution of the talent show (and being billed on Channel 4 as being on after the X Factor), I, for one, am fascinated with how that will play out.