A friend who knows film inside and out recommend Black Mirror to me, and although I’m only two episodes in I’m hooked. The series condemns our culture about as much as I think any video production does or can. I won’t describe it to you, because I’m guessing that there is a fairly limited audience for this kind of chicanery, but wow, as we noted in a text exchange, the series glorifies in just how much our culture is willing to debase itself (and we’re willing to debase ourselves) for fame and/or glory.
The easy narrative about this series, though, is the one I described. Certainly, mocking us for our noted taste for watching humiliation and mocking those weaker than us is not hard to do. That’s not what strikes me about this series though, at least not mainly. What I find most interesting is just how much time the camera spends watching us watch us, or at least watch the action on the screen. That action in at least the first two episodes doesn’t feature stars (at least of the sort we usually associate with films, as the American Idol stand-ins are who we think they are), and the camera watches us watching in ways that are humbling and honest and realistic and also argue that perhaps we don’t necessarily want the train wreck that is our television watching. Camera shot after camera shot pans across various audiences, watching some nasty stuff, and folks are fascinated but horrified and disgusted (and act as if they can’t turn away).
I wonder if these first two episodes say as much about the gradual accumulation of training that brings us to the point where we think these types of texts are what we deserve. Why do folks watch reality tv shows like Survivor and American Idol anyway? My guess is that the heyday of those types of shows is gone, but the everyone-can-be a-star theme that they promote can’t be one that we actually buy (or bought) – and even though the shows featured mocking bad performances, those mocked sometimes became the object of fan affection as well. William Hung, anyone?
I know that I’m in Bourdieu’s territory here, and that I’m being ridiculously idealistic (a quick Google search of ‘worst American Idol auditions’ got over 21 million hits). But there’s a reason why in my mind the most poignant moments of these first two episodes are the ones in which audiences at pubs and offices and hospitals are horrified at having to watch the Prime Minister fulfill the kidnapper’s demands, and the naive and unguarded reactions to Abi’s and Bing’s performances point to the connections we (have been trained to) feel with those on the screen.