Cybernews podcast #05. Decoding Black Mirror: Mazey Day could have been a lot better

“Mazey Day,” wiping the dust off decades-old criticism of paparazzi ethics, was, at first, a snooze fest for me. But then Charlie Brooker brought a werewolf onboard.

Paparazzi feed off human flesh to this day, stalking celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker for days just to get the most unflattering shot possible. The critique that Brooker highlights with Mazey Day is far from new. Just remember the uproar the media faced in 1997 after the tragic death of Princess Diana, who was hounded literally to death by photographers.

At the beginning of the episode, paparazzi are portrayed as vultures with no respect for anything else but money.

Tune in to "Through a glass darkly: Black Mirror explained," our exclusive podcast where Cybernews writers dissect all of your favorite episodes.

Speaking of vultures, the episode reminded me of another decades-old story. In 1994, photojournalist Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer prize for his haunting picture of famine in Sudan. The picture, first purchased and published by The New York Times, depicts an exhausted starving child in the foreground, shadowed by a foreboding vulture in the background.

A couple of months later, the journalist died by suicide. Here’s an excerpt from the suicide note: "I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners..."

Carter was publicly pressured to reveal what happened to the child in the picture. It turns out the child was crawling towards a food center. Carter, instructed not to touch the children since they might be sick, watched for 20 minutes to see whether the vulture would go away, and only then, seeing it wasn’t backing down, scared it away.

To document or to intervene? Not an easy question to answer, at least for me, the morally confused journalist.

Mazey Day’s character Bo, a female paparazzi, is quite easy to relate to at first. She quits her job but gets back in the game for one final task – to find and photograph Mazey Day, an actor who disappeared from public view after a deadly road accident caused by her driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Photographers are promised a $30,000 reward for the first image of Mazey Day. How far would you go for such a hefty sum? What if you’re in debt?

In the end, four paparazzi turn up at the door of a rehab center, where Mazey Day is chained to the floor. Up until that moment, I still thought she was traumatized because she couldn’t bear the thought of killing a person. As it turns out, it’s not her drug or alcohol addiction that led her to the rehab – it’s the fact that she’s now a werewolf and needs to be contained during the full moon.

But Bo, the only paparazzi there who doesn’t take pictures of the shackled Mazey, doesn’t know that yet. So she tries to free her. Now, in this case, interfering didn’t help. It did the opposite, unleashing horror onto the town – a werewolf killing people in mere seconds. (Which is also why I found the episode frustrating – if you’re bringing something as amazing as a werewolf into the play, please, show more of that supernatural creature, let your audience take it in).

Now, it’s not exactly Carter’s situation, but made me wonder – are we always doing a favor by interfering? I’m not talking about paparazzis, who invade people’s privacy.

Being a journalist myself, I’ve taken quite a few photos and videos of car crashes throughout my career. Once, I photographed a person who had just been killed by a bus. I didn’t even think twice before snapping the picture and sending it to my colleagues in the newsroom. Only when I learned that it was someone I knew, the horror of the situation occurred to me. Yes, it might be our job, but it’s always a real person – someone’s mom, dad, son, friend – who we’re taking pictures of.

Only when we look at those “tragic” scenes – be it a starving child or a celebrity that doesn’t age well – through a lens, do we distance ourselves and convince ourselves that we have nothing to do with it.

This is a recurring idea throughout Brooker’s series. That we’re mere spectators to suffering, hiding behind shiny tech.

Bo is no better. In the end, Mazey Day asks Bo to just shoot her. Instead, Bo gives her a gun and takes a picture of naked Mazey in a pool of blood, having taken her own life.

She had doubts and a change of heart throughout the episode, but in the end, Brooker showed her for who she really is. Not paparazzi but a human, putting herself first.

More from Cybernews:

Decoding Black Mirror: Joan is Awful — and Netflix too?

Decoding Black Mirror: the Loch Henry monsters

Decoding Black Mirror: Beyond the Sea, where machines live better lives than people

How fictional is the Black Mirror dystopia?

Black Mirror-themed Cybernews podcast: what it tells us about modern society

Black Mirror creator experimented with ChatGPT

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