Black Mirror is a British television series, created by Charlie Brooker, which debuted in 2011. Shortly after Netflix picked up the critically acclaimed show (season four premieres on Netflix today), it became one of the most talked about sci-fi franchises in recent memory. Inspired by The Twilight Zone, Brooker has described Black Mirror as having the unique combination of “satire, technology, absurdity, and a pinch of surprise.”
Reviewers have observed how the show exists “between delight and discomfort” and is “equal parts wonder and horror.” Indeed, Black Mirror does a masterful job displaying in disturbing detail the ways technology is shaping society. And while it is very dark and not for casual consumption, Black Mirror is engaging and compelling because it hits close to home and hints at where home may be headed soon.
‘Black Mirror’ is engaging and compelling because it hits close to home and hints at where home may be headed soon.
Dark Side of Technology
Technological advancement promises to bring dreams to life, but Black Mirror vividly shows that these dreams can become nightmares. Technology is more neutral than it is evil, but it is incredibly powerful. Just as money is neutral and powerful (the love of it, after all, is “a root of all kinds of evils,” 1 Tim. 6:10), so is technology. Both money and technology have a direct line to our desires—good or bad—and can be a highway to bless or curse.
But Black Mirror isn’t just about technology. It uses technology as a thematic backdrop but also to “mirror” back the realities of today’s society in a larger sense.
“Each episode has a different case, a different setting, even a different reality,” Brooker said. “But they’re all about the way we live now—and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”
The title Black Mirror keys us in to how to watch the show. When our devices power off, our screens become literal black mirrors in which we can see ourselves. As powerful as technology becomes, its greatest power is in how it reflects who we are and what we choose to do. As Brooker says, “It is not a technological problem we have; it’s a human one.”
As powerful as technology becomes, its greatest power is in how it reflects who we are and what we choose to do.
Indeed, the villain is not technology; it is never technology. The problem is a human problem, because it is a sin problem. Technology is merely an accomplice. The villain is always human. The dark side of technology in Black Mirror is only an extension of the darkness within ourselves.
As much as Black Mirror speaks directly about modern society, it is also about the near future, society “in 10 minutes’ time.”
Most episodes end bleakly: with isolation, depressing epiphanies, families torn apart, slavery, imprisonment, blackmail, adultery, death, and murder (season three’s “San Junipero” is the lone exception). In some ways, Black Mirror is like the Book of Judges set in the near future, with downward spirals of sin that stem less from external than internal sources. The ominous refrain in Judges—“everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25)—could also serve as an ominous summary of today’s indiscriminate embrace of technology. At a time when many of us greet technological innovation with near-religious devotion (the latest Apple or Tesla product, for example), perhaps we ought to exercise more caution.
Black Mirror reminds us that technology reveals who we are, but it also changes us. We carry these devices in our hands, but sometimes we are the ones being shaped and molded. If we are not careful, technology can overstimulate us, isolate us, enslave us, and cause us to drift not only away from other people but also away from God. Technology can crowd out silence in our lives. It can distract us from caring for the people right in front of us. It can dehumanize others and ourselves. It can create unhealthy dependencies. It can become an idol that takes the place of God. It can make us forget who God called us to be and what God has called us to do.
Technology reveals who we are, but it also changes us. We carry these devices in our hands, but sometimes we are the ones being shaped and molded.
We may want to believe Black Mirror is far removed from reality, but these episodes bring sobering clarity to who we are now—and what we might one day be.
Technology Outpacing Theology
The dystopian universe in each Black Mirror episode gives Brooker the freedom to explore difficult topics. Few networks would pick up a show centered on racism. But if racism is presented “in a metaphorical, quasi-fictional world,” then suddenly it is disarming.
Black Mirror tackles politics, capitalism, social media, propaganda, war, artificial intelligence, criminal justice, privacy, virtual reality, immortality, and everything in between. In each standalone episode, difficult moral questions are posed to the characters—and inevitably to us viewers. Technology may be neutral, but the issues it surfaces are not.
As a youth pastor I know how quickly out of touch I can be. The questions my students are asking and facing—often raised by new technologies—are relentless and rapid-fire. But my students are ill-equipped to process these new questions. That’s why we must be careful that technology doesn’t outpace our theology. In a technologically evolving society, we must not blindly consume but wisely wrestle. I am thankful for authors who provide resources to equip Christians to navigate through these moral, spiritual, and technological questions.
In a technologically evolving society, we must not blindly consume but wisely wrestle.
Hard questions are best handled not individually, but in community. We need other pastors, theologians, politicians, teachers, students, athletes, artists, corporations, and TV shows to help us figure it all out. We cannot anticipate every scenario or foresee every negative consequence we will face, but Black Mirror gives us food for thought.
Technology as a Help and a Horror
As horrible and wonderful as it can be, Tim Keller reminds us that “technology is commanded to the human race by the Bible.” God calls humanity to subdue the earth in Genesis 1, and he gives technology as a means to fulfill his command.
Technology has done wonders in the world. The wheel and the automobile gave us mobility. The printing press and the internet gave us accessible education. Smartphones and social media gave us tools to connect. Technology has blessed us to be more effective, efficient, productive, and influential.
We should continue to use technology—computers, projectors, websites, videos, podcasts, social media, apps, and whatever else still to come—in order to love the church and reach the lost. But as we use technology, may we not be ignorant of its potential horrors.
Black Mirror is not a show to binge watch, if you choose to watch it at all. Rather, it’s a show to slowly digest, pondering not only what it displays about a near-future world, but what it mirrors back about us.
Editors’ note: Some episodes of Black Mirror contain explicit content (language, violence, and nudity) and mature themes. Viewer caution and discernment advised.
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