Black Mirror-themed Cybernews podcast #01: what it tells us about modern society

The highly anticipated Black Mirror Series 6 is hitting Netflix on June 15th, and we’ve got an exciting surprise for all you fans out there. Introducing a special, limited edition Cybernews podcast, dedicated exclusively to diving deep into the mind-bending series.

The Black Mirror dystopia that first captured our imaginations 12 years ago has now become an integral part of our lives. At least, that's what it feels like, with all the mind-boggling stories we cover here at Cybernews. From communicating with the deceased to experiencing virtual reality crimes, AI-powered glasses for dating, remote-controlled adult toys, and even remote kisses — our world has become a tapestry of fascinating technologies straight out of a Black Mirror episode.

Gearing up for the new season, we’re kicking off our first podcast by dedicating a solid hour to reminisce about the mesmerizing world of Black Mirror. Damien Black, Gintaras Radauskas, and myself embark on a thought-provoking journey through the series. We explore the parallels between the Black Mirror dystopia and our modern day reality. We dissect the profound impact of technology on our society, discussing both the negative aspects and the occasional glimmers of positivity.

We’ll be coming back with fresh podcast episodes after the premiere.

White Bear, S2E2: crime and punishment

A woman wakes up with amnesia and finds herself relentlessly pursued by hunters, while the onlooking crowd, instead of offering aid, chooses to capture her ordeal on film. As the story unfolds, it is revealed that she was an accomplice in a child's murder, and now she must endure a punishment akin to Groundhog Day: every day, she is hunted down, filmed, and subjected to torment, mirroring the suffering she inflicted on the young girl she killed.

What struck me the most was the active participation of the crowd in this twisted form of punishment. Rather than giving a helping hand, they opted to document her suffering through their devices.

Witnessing someone's pain through the lens of a screen seemed to transform it into a form of entertainment — a guilty pleasure that both shocks and captivates us. It's unsettling to realize that we rarely shy away from consuming images of suffering, such as those from the conflict in Ukraine. In fact, I daresay that many of us would eagerly watch Vladimir Putin endure excruciating torture on an endless loop, eagerly capturing every moment with our cameras.

Behind the safety of our screens, we assume the role of spectators to others' agony, much like the protagonist in White Bear. But does this mean all hope is lost? I firmly believe that the system depicted in the episode is not an eternal machine. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale presents a dystopian society devoid of hope, yet in Testaments the author demonstrates that even in the darkest of times, a flicker of light can be found and harnessed for rebellion.

White Christmas, a Black Mirror special between seasons 2 and 3: more like black Christmas

This happens to be one of Gintaras's most cherished episodes, although he insists he enjoyed them all. The episode comprises three distinct narratives, each delving into its own darkness.

"It should have been called Black Christmas because it was incredibly dark," Gintaras remarked.

In one of the stories, a character finds himself completely cut off from society, with no means of communication or contact with any other human being. Why? Well, it turns out that his peculiar hobby of using advanced implants, more sophisticated than ChatGPT-enabled dating glasses, to assist young men in seducing women leads to the death of one of his clients.

“To me, it just spoke all about the cancel culture that's going on on social media, you know, whereas they can do it in real life. And I do think it's still a step up from where we are now. Yeah, it still sends the odd shiver down my spine,” Damien believes.

Another narrative follows Greta, whom Gintaras perceives as a reflection of our consumer-driven society. Greta's subconsciousness is duplicated and confined within a device known as a "Cookie" — a small, egg-shaped device where her digital clone is forced to reside. Trapped in this existence, the sentient clone becomes nothing more than a slave to the human Greta.

“She is treated barbarically. It made me question the most fundamental basis of morality. What makes us human? Aren't our intellectual capabilities and above all, our consciousness that distinguish us from other animals?” Gintaras asks.

USS Callister, S4E1: creating of a tyrant

The episode follows tech genius Robert Daly who, despite co-founding a popular virtual reality game, lacks recognition. To channel his emotions, Robert simulates a Star Trek-like experience within the game, tapping into his colleagues’ DNA to create their sentient digital clones for the game.

“The guy — played by Jesse Plemons, who many of you will know from Breaking Bad — is ruthless. (...) He's a bit of an a**hole, quite frankly. (...) But I really felt for Jesse Plemons' character. That episode serves as a cautionary tale. You know, the classic do unto others as you'd have done unto you. Don't brutalize people, don't bully them. Give them the respect that they deserve,” Damien said.

The episode simply screamed to us about the chain of suffering. For example, if you want to know why a kid is beating his dog, it might be because he’s screamed at by his mother, who is being beaten by the father who, in turn, gets mistreated at work.

“You can end up magnifying it. So you can end up doing, what Jesse Plemons, his character does. Do you end up doing ten times worse to people, albeit in a duplicated alternate reality? For me, again, that's Charlie Brooker's humanism, you know, really shining through there,” Damien said.

Apart from these three episodes, we also discuss Playtest, San Junipero, and Rachel, Jack, and Ashley too. I do have my reservations about the show since it was canceled on Channel4 and moved to Netflix. I’m afraid the series is going to be as upbeat as Rachel, Jack, and Ashley too, trading in its original dark soul to reach a wider audience.

However, Damien holds a contrasting view, believing that in our current dystopian age, we need these stories to embrace a more uplifting tone — a beacon of hope amidst the darkness we live and breathe in.