A Glimpse Into the Black Mirror
By Bryn Palmer
January 17, 2024
|I, like so many others, peek through the looking glass to avoid problems in my real life. But escapism comes with its own burdens…
I look through the Black Mirror.
Liam and his wife Ffion are at the reunion party when an unexpected guest arrives: Jonas, Ffion’s ex-lover. Sensing unresolved feelings and sexual tension between the two, Liam tries to uncover Ffion’s past relationship.
“Am I the father of our child?”
“Yes, of course,” Ffion answers, flabbergasted.
“Well then, what’s this?”
He projects footage using a memory implant— the Grain— onto the TV so his wife can sulk in the havoc he incited just hours prior.
Liam directs Jonas to wipe all footage of his past rendezvous with Ffion. Holding glass to his neck, Liam prepares himself to pierce his enemy’s skin should he not abide. As Jonas deletes his connection to Ffion, Liam catches a glimpse of Jonas's memory– a portrait of his wife’s affair.
He pauses the video.
“Show me your memories,” Liam demands of his wife.
Ffion scrambles to delete her recollection of her affair with Jonas, but it’s too late. Her infidelity ends her relationship with Liam, but their love lives on via treasured moments, from nurturing their son, chatty breakfasts together, and intimate times captured via the Grain. Liam considers destroying every remainder of his and Ffion’s time together, causing them to question whether it existed at all.
When I peer into the Black Mirror, I feel the weight of my own memories.
I remember the morning I was informed my grandmother left Earth’s realm and joined her Heavenly Father. Like Liam, I want to kill the dark memories without facing the real-life repercussions of repressing trauma.
The widely-consumed TV show Black Mirror presents modern parables, warning of the dangers of a future inextricably embedded in technology. When viewers gaze through the looking glass, they see an alternate reality that very closely aligns with that of the modern world, differing only in its extremities. These reflections enhance the euphoria of suspended disbelief.
Though the viewer knows the mirrored illusions are near impossible, they immerse themselves in the plot as a means of escaping the real world problems presented by technology. Real life is daunting, it coexists with unease and its history repeats itself. We seek refuge in the Mirror as it holds the elixir of these problems. Experiencing grief as a result of a recent death? Is augmented reality not palpable enough for you? Want to escape extreme physical or mental pain? Reach through the glass and behold technologies that solve virtually any anguish that life could present. Like a siren song, the Mirror compels us to explore its world even further.
The appeal of escapism has been relevant throughout history. There are written accounts of mythological worlds that emerged in sub-saharan Africa in the 1800s after centuries of oral traditions and more fictional realms established at the onset of the film industry. Fiction exists and prevails because people want to melt into lives they believe are more interesting than their own. Utopian settings remedy situations that remain unsolved in reality. Dystopian plots serve the opposite effect; they show that our situations could be worse, wrapping us in comparative relief.
So when the Black Mirror asks if I’m still watching, I must admit I am. I shamelessly choose to escape.
This time, I witness a redhead named Lacie maneuver through a world where social ratings dictate her material wealth. Success no longer comes from climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, her fate is left in the hands of her judgemental peers. High reverence will score her the finer things in life: luxurious apartments adorned with state-of-the-art amenities, lavish cars and, of course, fame. A poor rating, brought about by one too many unpleasant interactions, plummets the girl into poverty, and it's nearly impossible to recover from a tainted image. Seeking the former, she channels her inner Elle Woods, plastering a permanent smile on her face as she desperately strives to win the favor of her peers.
In Lacie’s world, money doesn’t make the world go round; social perception is the main currency. In the real world, where money is hard to come by but easy to spend, the idea of elevating your social status based on someone’s perception of you sounds appealing. While my characteristics of being sociable, funny and a supportive companion reward me with strong friendships and high esteem, in real life they don’t directly equate to power — a well-paying job, a strong network, a legacy. I escape through the mirror, where these qualities would make the world my oyster.
The glass shatters, however, where its reflection aligns with the modern world. Lacie’s world places social capital over financial capital. Instead of exerting effort in the workplace for material gain, you would now make yourself favorable to others. In our world, thanks to the internet, we have access to an infinite account of many people’s personal preferences. All we’d have to do to achieve our materialistic goals is act accordingly.
We already see these types of public relations gimmicks take shape in the form of influencers, whose fame can be just as expedited as their demise. A social media mogul can blow up for a certain type of content, capitalize on it through continued production and eventually move to LA on a six-figure salary. On the other hand, if people do not resonate with their content, or if their past is revealed and unveils deep character flaws, their follow count can descend and the money and fame that were once in abundance turn into a fleeting memory. Only those who are highly favored can rebound from this blunder with an army of stans who can excuse their terrible actions.
Similar to the premises of Black Mirror, nepotism guides class status in our own world. The rich keep their wealth, passing down funds throughout their families' generations and reserving jobs for others in their social circles. Opportunities come much farther and fewer for lower classes. They have to work twice as hard just to get their foot in the door and even then, nothing is guaranteed. Even still, the dystopia excites the introverts, pessimists and abominations of the world. They can relish in the comparative relief of knowing their current social status ranks above that of the ranking displayed in the alternate world.
Hypnotized by its splendor, I take my last few glances through the mirror.
Yorkie and Kelly evade the anguish their elderly years burden them with by reliving their youth in San Junipero.
Danny and Karl corporeally experience a video game instead of simply imagining themselves as digital avatars.
Amy and Frank relinquish their autonomy to choose a lover by letting a device – Coach – pick their “perfect match.”
I lean forward with the intention of joining their worlds, but as I get a deeper view into the glass, its cracks start to show. What if I want to leave San Junipero? What if the gaming console glitches, trapping me inside for all eternity? What happens if I catch the ick, but the device forces me to endure another six agonizing months in the relationship?
Now when I look into the mirror, the grandeur dissipates. No longer do I see an enhanced version of society where, at my discretion, the bliss of utopia can overshadow the doom of dystopia. Instead, my sweet escape is gone. The reflection looking back is me in my current, unaltered state.
With a faulty mirror, where can I run to? ■
Layout: Joy Delight Pesebre
Photographer: Annahita Escher
Videographer: Madison Payne
Stylists: Adeline Hale & Nikki Shah
HMUA: Anoushka Sharma, Meryl Jiang & Friday Espinosa
Models: Dylan Nguyen & Christine Nguyen