There’s something off about the buzzed-about episode of “Black Mirror”
At what point does satire become propaganda?
Simply put, satire is caustic criticism, whereas propaganda is the demonization of a target in order to push what the author views as “good.” The two can be hard to separate at times (especially since satire of propaganda is pretty popular), but it’s important to know what’s what.
Which brings me to “Black Mirror.”
For those unaware, “Black Mirror” is a miniseries on Netflix that focuses on technology culture and how it’s a reflection of humanity’s deepest flaws. The series is known for its staunch satire and its not-so-subtle approach. However, “Nosedive,” the first episode of the recently released third season, seems to have forgotten the first part.
“Nosedive” takes place in a dystopia where a five-star rating system has been implemented into reality. Every interaction you have is “rated” on a scale of 1-5 stars; high stars get several societal privileges, while low stars are ostracized and treated like criminals. Thus, it pays to be insufferably cheery and fake to get high ratings.
Credit where credit is due: the first 20-ish minutes of “Nosedive” are pretty on point. The main character, Lacie, has an obsession over her social score that is clearly meant to repulse, but it’s unclear how much of this is her and how much of it is her reaction to societal pressure. Unfortunately, the show brings all that to a screeching halt halfway through to proudly declare that Lacie is shallow and evil for selling her soul to the ratings devil and the only way that she can ever have “real conversation” is to reject all the shallow and evil social media.
That predictable and simplistic turn is only made worse by the fact that the presented arguments are not really groundbreaking. The “social media eats your soul” thing has been around forever and “Nosedive” doesn’t really add anything to the idea.
You could argue that including the author’s opinions about a better alternative doesn’t instantly make it propaganda and that pandering to an older audience comes with the territory, and you would be right. However, when you lose sight of your criticisms in order to spell out what the “good” choice is, the line between satire and propaganda begins to blur.
It’s basically impossible to explain how the episode goes off the rails without massive spoilers, so I’ll sum it up this way: The problem is that “Nosedive” seems to think that real conversation means speaking like a brutally honest jerk.
The rating system is in place to separate the anti-social jerks from the “sociable” people via a class system that financially incentivizes being friendly. The natural escalation of that is people “selling their souls” for likes to get either attention or a higher standard of living.
Every point I’ve made illustrates the episode’s most prominent flaw: It is the viewer’s job to decipher the satire in a work, not the characters’.
The whole punchline of a satirical dystopia is that the people in that dystopia think it’s normal. Take Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers.” The film, which deals with a futuristic war against giant bugs, calls out American propaganda for World War II and how the government made massive casualties sound glorious. However, the mobile infantrymen never stop to ponder the meaning of the bug war or recoil in horror at the massive body count, because that’s Tuesday in the Federation.
That’s where the thick line is drawn. “Starship Troopers” never breaks character. “Nosedive” does.
Still, I encourage you to seek out “Nosedive” (along with the rest of “Black Mirror” and “Starship Troopers”), if you haven’t already. At the end of the day, I’m not you and you’re not me. Most articles I’ve read about “Nosedive” praise it for calling out social media for the meaningless farm that it is, so my thoughts are clearly not universal.
Besides, what better way to stick it to “Nosedive” than linking this article to Facebook and telling everyone to form their own opinion about it?
(Top image is official publicity material from Netflix.)
TV Talk is a regular television column written by Robert Pulford, Current Staff.