Is Sending a Message Really Worth It?
This is the question I asked myself after I saw the infamous first episode of Black Mirror. It was…disturbing to say the least. Per Wikipedia, this is the description of the first episode.
British Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) faces a huge and shocking dilemma when Princess Susannah, Duchess of Beaumont (Lydia Wilson), a much-loved member of the Royal Family, is kidnapped. For her safe return, the Prime Minister must have live sexual intercourse with a pig on national television [at 4pm], as per a list of technical specifications designed to make it impossible to fake.
As you can imagine, this was not only a strange episode to watch but, admittedly, an interesting one. I watched the episode gripping my Lotso teddy and also my friend Arianna. I could barely stand to watch the horror unfold before me. The episode progresses steadily and Callow starts to feel the pressure as his colleagues show him videos of public opinion and he even gets a call from the Queen leaving the decision up to him. His wife practically begs him not to do what the kidnapper wants because people online are making fun of them. I, like anyone else watching I’m sure, hoped there was a way out for Mr. Callow. Maybe he wouldn’t have to succumb to the demands of the kidnapper and justice would be served.
As you can also imagine and see with a simple Google search, that did not happen. What has been affectionately deemed as the Pig Bang, Mr. Callow did meet the demands of the kidnapper much to the disgust and shock of the English citizens. Without his knowledge, the kidnapper releases the princess 30 minutes before the deadline. She, sedated and weak, collapses on a bridge and is found by two women. This information never gets back to Callow.
A year later, we see that Callow’s approval rating has gone up by three points, people believe him to be a hero. The “kidnapper” was actually an artist who killed himself the day of the “exhibit” so to speak and the princess is now pregnant. Yay, happy ending, right? Well, sort of. Everything appears to be alright on the surface but what we see behind closed doors is Callow’s marriage fall apart. What I interpreted from the look on Jane’s face was both anger and disgust. After having several passionate discussions over it, Arianna and I agreed Jane is disgusted.
Currently, it’s been about two weeks since I saw that last episode and I have not been able to get over it. To the point that I had to write an entire article about it. I have so many questions and issues starting with:
What exactly is the message here?
Based on what I have read from several analytical articles, the message can be a variety of things. An article from A.V. Club explains the ordeal this way, “When the PM begins his ordeal (which largely happens off-screen, but the build-up is almost impossible to bear), the audience can’t turn away. Someone tries to turn it off after an hour and is stopped — ‘this is history!’ her friend says… The intrigue comes not from who perpetrated the crime, but what happens because of it.” Another article from Grantland contains a different theory, “If the world is a mystery novel, we’re living in a society that increasingly wants to skip to the end, even if that’s not always the most enjoyable way to live. When Callow finally appears on the broadcast, we see a pub full of onlookers cheering anarchically, thrilled by the WTF-ness of the situation and the anticipation of seeing something unprecedented, no matter how gross.” There’s another nugget of truth in there and that is the thought “Information will always find its way to us, not because it ‘wants’ to, but because we signed up for it.” The audience sees that throughout the episode. But was that message really worth telling?
There have been so many opinion articles, quotes, comics, memes and countless other forms of media that have perpetuated the notion we’re all glued to our screens. So what? You can’t tell me this whole episode was pitched, written, filmed, acted out and so on for a message as simple as that. So if that’s not it, what is it?
In the universe of this specific episode, what was the real message?
Ihave been turning this thought over and over in my head because I genuinely can’t seem to find the answer. The real kidnapper was an artist trying to “create art” but what art did he really create? On the topic, Wikipedia says, “ It emerges that Turner Prize winner Carlton Bloom planned the events, intending to make an artistic point by showing events of significance slipped under the noses of the public and the government as they were ‘elsewhere, watching screens’, and not paying attention to the real world.” An interesting if not obvious point. According to artist Georges Braque, “Art is meant to disturb. Science reassures.” If this is true, then Bloom most certainly made art with his “statement.” But here’s the thing, a year later the general public didn’t know that the princess had been released 30 minutes prior to the four pm deadline. All the public saw was that Callow did what he had to do and now the princess is safe. So really no one even knew what the artist’s intentions were. So what message was really sent?
As Callow is acquiescing to Bloom’s demands, Bloom commits suicide in his workshop. It’s almost a passing thought compared to what everyone is really focusing on. When I saw that Bloom killed himself, I understood he was the kidnapper but I was also confused as to why he killed himself. Was it because he couldn’t face the consequences of the decision he made? Or could it have been that he had accomplished his magnum opus and now he thought his life was complete. Regardless of the reason, his suicide infuriated me. He planned all of that to make a “statement” for it to then be not only ignored but also abandoned by its creator. It begs the question, “what was the point of it all?” If there’s a message and no one is around to receive it or understand it, does that message truly matter?
What exactly is the moral? Or, more accurately, what is the point?
I ask this genuinely. What was the point of this episode? I expect there to be a type of lesson or something we can really gain from watching a story like this. According to Charlie Brooker, the shows creator, “ [Each episode is] all about the way we live now — and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” So that leads me to believe they’re cautionary tales of some sort. A glimpse into a possible future that we could be facing very soon. If that is the case, then what exactly were we meant to learn from “National Anthem?” Not to use technology so much? To be cautious of what type of information we’re putting out there and what we’re spreading? Well, duh. But is that it?
I struggled to find anything to cling onto when I was finished watching this particular episode. The way I see it is a man gets woken up from his bed and told he has to have sex with a pig to save a princess. This man has a wife he loves and who also loves him. He does his very best to find any other way not to do this horrific and illegal act. No matter his efforts and because of how quickly information travels, he is forced to do what everyone is telling him to do. If he would have said no to the demands after the “princess’s” finger gets cut off, his career would have gone down the toilet. He would have lived in infamy, he could have potentially lost his job and people would have hated him for it. To be frank, his wife probably would have hated him for it anyway. But instead he took one for the team and even though everything looks fine and dandy from the outside, his life is falling apart internally. What justice was there for him? If you have the world but lose what’s most important to you, does the rest really matter?
Is the message that everything sucks and there is no justice?
I really need to get this out. The way I would sum up this episode would be like this. Some random and talented artist decided that he wanted to send a message to everyone in his nation. To him, it was an incredibly important message that simply had to be told. How did he decide to accomplish this goal? He knew he needed to have someone the government deemed important; only then could his plan work. So he got her. Then he got the most powerful man to be the sacrificial goat for her. He tries his hardest to avoid this dreadful task and because of that, the world finds out and forces this man to complete an illegal act. Everyone thinks he’s a hero but his wife hates him. No one even understands that that’s the message, the artist kills himself, he ruined two lives and everyone lives on in oblivion. So………someone tell me. What was the point of all this?