And other things we learned from the show's Vulture Festival panel
As technology’s impact on society intensifies, Black Mirror — a British science fiction anthology series created by Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones — comes the closest to understanding the absurdities and tragedies of our internet-inudated world. Brooker and Joy stopped by the Vulture Festival in New York City on Sunday for a panel conversation with New York magazine writer Andrew Sullivan about how they create the show’s wild story lines and what a Donald Trump episode would entail. Here are some of the highlights.
What season 1’s “The National Anthem” would look like with Trump
As longtime fans of the show know, Black Mirror starts off with a bang: The first episode of season 1, titled “The National Anthem,” features a story line in which the British Prime Minister (Rory Kinnear) is manipulated into having sex with a pig live on camera — which is crazy enough, but Brooker thinks a Donald Trump version of the episode would be even more ridiculous.
“If that was Trump, he’d say, ‘Show me the pig! I’m gonna make that pig come!’” Brooker joked. “And then, as it was happening, he’d be shouting, ‘This isn’t happening! This never happened and you all know it didn’t happen!’”
How Nigel Farage influenced “The Waldo Moment”
Perhaps one of the reasons Black Mirror feels prescient is that some episodes were based on real-life people and political trends. For example, Brooker said that “The Waldo Moment,” the season 2 episode in which a cartoon bear created to mock politicians ends up running for office, was inspired by his observations of the rise of a new kind of British politician — a trend that eventually made its way to the U.S. with game-changing results.
“There was a great deal of anger in the U.K. at the time at established politicians,” Brooker said. “They seemed like an alien species that no one could relate to anymore. So the politicians that started gaining traction were these cartoonish buffoons like Boris Johnson, who was sort of the proto-Trump, and Nigel Farage, that f—. It felt like people just wanted authenticity, even if it was ugly authenticity, and that’s what that episode was about. It’s an unusual episode, probably should have been its own miniseries. Now it seems quite prescient.”
How Twitter is like a video game
The title of Black Mirror refers to a blank screen (and Brooker noted in response to an audience question that the choice was originally inspired by listening to the Arcade Fire song of the same name) and over the course of three seasons, it has tackled screen-related activities like texting and social media — and Brooker has an interesting perspective on one of the more popular social media platforms: To him, Twitter is basically a video game. Let him explain.
“Twitter is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game where you play as a character based on yourself in order to win ‘points,’ in the form of retweets and likes,” Brooker said. “It is based on you, and it is you, but at the same time you know it’s an amplified version of you. So you can’t say, ‘I saw this movie, it was pretty good’; you have to say, ‘It was f—ing awesome!’ or, “It was dumb s—.’ Nobody says ‘meh’ anymore. It’s encouraging us to perform our personalities on a mass level.”
How they create each new world
Each new installment of Black Mirror is like its own world — in fact, Brooker and Jones consistently referred to the show’s episodes as “movies” over the course of their discussion. Therefore, it takes a lot of effort to pull each one together. Jones described the division of labor among the show’s creators: “Charlie comes up with the preposterous scenarios and then gets terribly worried. My job is to reassure him that it’s not gonna happen, and then challenge him into depicting what would it look like and what would it feel like? Then I’ll stop crying, and we’ll start to make it. It’s back and forth.” She also added that they focus on coming up with technology that “feels like something you’d embrace in the real world. Otherwise it’s not an interesting area to explore and it’s not believable.”
A secret optimist
Since most Black Mirror episodes take place in dystopia-like environments and often end badly for their main characters, the show can seem pessimistic or even borderline-nihilistic about the future. As Brooker joked, “I know the show sometimes feels like it was written by the Unabomber.” But contrary to that impression, Brooker revealed himself to be a bit of an optimist about technology and society: “I don’t hate technology. We’re only just starting to comprehend the sociological impact of social media. It’s altering our discourse, but I don’t think it should go away! Wow, suddenly I’m an optimist. I think it’s a generational thing. It’ll take the next generation who have grown up with this stuff to sort it out.” Brooker even found a way to be optimistic about the Trump presidency: “Imagine how good it will feel when it’s over. Like taking your shoes off after a long day at work, or finally taking a s— after a long flight. The stuff dreams are made of.”