In the final days of 2017, Season Four of the critically acclaimed anthology series Black Mirror, dropped on Netflix.
Created by Charlie Brooker, the techno-dystopian vignettes explore the effects of new technologies on modern society. The name of the series is drawn from the experience of seeing oneself reflected back in a television, computer or phone screen; a metaphor for what technology ultimately tells us about ourselves.
Each episode functions as a philosophical, science-fiction conundrum, navigated by characters not unlike you or I. Season Four, more than those before it, puts forward the question of our humanity, and how it intersects with scientific advancements that we, in many ways, have no control over.
The final episode has unequivocally been the most talked about.
Black Museum features three technological horror stories, all memorialised in a bizarre museum on the side of the road.
Nish enters, and is offered a private tour by the museum’s curator Rolo Haynes.
It is the final exhibit that offers, in my opinion at least, a profound commentary on the pile-on in the age of social media.
A black convict, we learn, is the museum’s main attraction.
Years ago, he was found guilty of murdering a young woman. The evidence that he actually committed the crime, it turns out, is questionable.
LISTEN: It’s one of the most brutal yet satisfying endings, but what is Black Museum actually about? I talk about my theory on the latest episode of The Binge.
While he awaits his sentence in prison, the man is presented with an offer. He must hand his body over to science, and his family will receive a nice payout.
He signs the contract.
Ultimately, he is served the death penalty and killed in the electric chair.
But when he ‘dies’, his consciousness is preserved in a hologram which is transferred to the museum.
Visitors of the museum are able to ‘simulate’ putting the convict to death, pulling a lever which electrocutes him right before their eyes.
To the average person – the convict is nothing more than a hologram. They can see his pain, sure, but he sits behind a thick window of glass, removed from the world they occupy.
Before long, he is completely crippled. He lies in the foetal position, traumatised and in excruciating agony from the constant electrocutions. One person did not cause his demise. Thousands did. Every single time they pulled that lever.
And as I watched these scenes, I couldn't help but think about how they functioned as the perfect metaphor for the social media pile-on.
We put ideology before humanity, seeing someone as purely a 'convict' or a 'racist', instead of a flesh and blood human being.
We torment them. Repeating the same slurs that the individual is surely drowning in. We write things we would never say in person. We can see their little picture, on Twitter or Facebook, but just like the hologram of the convict, we do not perceive them to be 'real'. They're avatars, representative of something that makes us angry.
And so we inflict pain, over and over again. Pulling the lever, detached from the reality that they're writhing on the ground, desperately willing it to stop.
They beg us, but we are separated by a thick pane of glass.
The digital world is not the real world, we often rationalise. But it is.
And just as happens at the end of Black Museum, we could soon end up on the wrong side of that glass.
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