Dee Discusses: Black Mirror “The National Anthem”

Posted: September 19, 2015 by Dee in Black Mirror, Dee, General Media, Recaps, Television
Tags: , , , ,

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There are spoilers in this review. Duh!

The Mary Sue put up a post about recommendations for shows/books that someone should check out if they like Orphan Black. Naturally that immediately drew my attention, and their very first suggestion was Black Mirror. I’d never heard of it before, but all I saw was “The Twilight Zone for the modern era” and said SIGN ME UP. Because every episode is a contained world, I’m not doing titles by episode number, since they don’t work that way. Each one is a stand alone, and oh boy is that an exciting prospect. If the first episode is any indication, I’m going to be chomping at the bit for more soon. I don’t know much about Charlie Brooker who is the mind behind it, but I did hear they’re talking about doing an American version of it. Why Americanize something when this is so perfect the way it is?

“The National Anthem” is the first episode and it takes no prisoners. This is a brutal show. There are few times I’ve felt this uncomfortable watching TV, but that is part of its brilliance. I am very much a digital age girl, I love my tech, but everyone knows that there are bad things about the over abundance of tech and disenchantment in pop culture. The fact that we make movies with sex and swears in them have rated R, but violence is totally okay, is a problem in an overall way. This episode is about the culture that enjoys outrage, and enjoys the horror of obscure reality. We start with the Prime Minister of England Michael (Rory Kinnear) who is told that a very popular princess has been kidnapped. The ransomer says he will kill her unless Michael has sex with a pig on live television for everyone to watch. The situation they’d prefer to keep in control immediately spirals out of it when the video gets put on YouTube. It obviously gets shared everywhere and as quickly as they take videos down, more appear. Eventually the press turn on him, having at first promised not to report on it until the situation was handled, but it’s hot news. Hot news needs to be about who does it first and who has the juiciest things to report. Suddenly everyone’s talking about it and the entire world is aware of what’s happening.

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Honestly the saddest part of this is that there’s no surprises. I could have written out how this episode would go, and that’s not a criticism. It doesn’t matter that it’s predictable; it’s terrible that it’s predictable. Because with the sensationalism of this world, the next few stages can almost be seen in our current day. At first everyone is horrified and grossed out. They support him saying no to the terrorists. Unfortunately they try to trick the kidnapper with green screen and he delivers a finger. Public opinion changes and they now think he should do it to save her life. It’s important that the woman in question is a celebrity who is well beloved; I hardly think this reaction would happen from some anonymous nobody. That’s what this is about: the reality television culture. How this bizarre situation can seem artistic from a weird point of view. See the kidnapper is an artist and he’s creating this as a statement. What is that statement? That people would watch the Prime Minister having sex with a pig despite the fact it’s not consensual really on either side, and that they might even get some joy out of it. We certainly see people laughing and cheering in pubs, their eyes glued to the set. Only one person tries to turn it off when they increasingly get uncomfortable, but people keep it on. “It’s history,” he says. It’s an excuse. They’re all just desperate to see what is going to happen. Michael is their victim too.

Eventually the kidnapper hangs himself, but not after releasing the princess before the pig rape even happened. He knew that everyone would be watching the live broadcast instead. We see them a little later, the PM and his wife doing okay, the princess moving on, and it’s just become this weird news story. Oh remember that time a year ago when we all clamored excitedly to watch a man rape a pig because a woman was kidnapped? Yeah, that was odd, ha ha, oh well. This is vicious commentary and satire on current day. And I love it. It must be said that the acting in this is fantastic. Every part is played perfectly to the smallest extra. The growing tension really got me starting to squirm, as if I hoped so much they’d find a way to stop the act from happening. But I knew it was going to. A friend suggested I skip this episode and go to the second one instead, and I get why, because this is harsh to watch. It seems to be pointed right at our culture, the obsession with celebrity and our short attention spans, and the realism in the surrealism of this idea is the worst/best part.

This show isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is for people who enjoy satire, black comedy, and tense drama.

I need to go take a shower now. This episode makes me feel dirty. (Can’t wait until the next one.)

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