We haven’t seen much about the popular dystopian science fiction anthology series “Black Mirror” since its most recent three-episode season aired last June 2019. Aside from the updated gadget-infused story of Hannah Montana and the interactive film that made everyone hesitate on choosing what cereal to have for breakfast, the series has not made any announcements about upcoming seasons or films.
In an interview on U.K.’s Radio Times, series creator Charlie Brooker reveals that he’s no longer working on season six because the whole world has already found themselves in a nightmarish and incredibly dark time in history.
In the interview, he continues by saying, “At the moment, I don’t know what stomach there would be for stories about societies falling apart, so I’m not working away on one of those. I’m sort of keen to revisit my comic skill set, so I’ve been writing scripts aimed at making myself laugh.”
News of these statements quickly spread through social media, with conspiracy theorists confirming that we are indeed living an episode of “Black Mirror,” with some even going so far as to say that the creators and God herself collaborated and made 2020 the biggest horrifying interactive media experience yet.
But this got me thinking—if the current state of the world is too bleak as Charlie Brooker says, why not explore bright, hopeful and happy sci-fi, instead?
Now before you clock me and go on and on about happy stories not selling and engaging audiences, think about how “Black Mirror” does happy. Didn’t you get all the good feelings in “San Junipero”? Wasn’t “Nosedive” liberating when the lead character finally got to be who she is? And wasn’t “Hang the DJ” the episode that made you believe in love again?
All these uplifting episodes had dark moments, as expected of every story, but heroes must rise up from dark times, after all. It doesn’t always have to end with murder, loss or banishment from society for audiences to like it. These episodes showed the disturbing ways that technology can negatively alter humanity, but they also showed the good sides of it—connectivity, self-expression, easy access to information and the ability of the human spirit to remain kind.
Of course, dystopian media can be incredibly effective in showing us the ugly truths we must fight against. On writing for the dystopian genre, author Ray Bradbury who wrote the classic work on censorship “Fahrenheit 451” says, “I wasn’t trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it.”
Master of dystopian work Margaret Atwood also describes many of her works as “anti-prediction.” In her book “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she says, “If a bleak future was described in detail, perhaps it won’t come to pass because people will know how things will be and how it got to that.”
The dystopian genre requires us to suspend our disbelief and exercise our imaginations in order to absorb and process the bleak future being presented—although rooted in reality, kids aged 12-18 don’t actually fight to the death in a televised reality show enjoyed by the rich and elite, right?
However, in a time of pandemic, media shutdowns, police violence and rampant corruption, dystopian stories barely require imagination and suspension of disbelief. They’re essentially just mirroring what’s happening right outside our homes. For the audience, this ceases to be fun and interesting—I mean no one thinks that the horrors of life make for good entertainment when said horrors are playing out in real-time.
Good dystopian stories give a society’s fears context and create cautionary tales about these fears being left to run amok. Many times, dystopian stories also give hope; whether it’s a full-blown revolution or a simple act of defiance, these stories say that dictatorships, elite classes or oppressive regimes can be defied and toppled over.
Uplifting dystopian stories that are exciting are also not just figments of the imagination. There are a lot of good media that goes beyond death, totalitarian governments, and disease-ravaged zombies. Solarpunk has been steadily gaining following as a cultural and lifestyle movement focused on solar power and bio-inspired design for the future. Hopepunk has also been finding its way to the modern lexicon as a genre that centers its narratives on optimism, kindness and friendship as a form of resistance. In recent years, hopepunk has risen as a counterpoint to grimdark, a genre that focuses only on dystopian themes like violence and despair.
In times like this, we turn to art and media as forms of entertainment, but more than that we look to them as inspirations for a better world. If “Black Mirror” show creators find the world too bleak then maybe it’s time for the show to venture into hopeful and insightful stories—if you don’t want to relive the world’s atrocities then maybe create a world that rises up and learns from these injustices and disasters. People (and I’m sure that I’m not just speaking for myself) would jump at any opportunity to witness a hopeful story.
It would sure be a reprieve from this real-life episode.
Screengrab from “Black Mirror: USS Callister”
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