The Shallow Reflection of Black Mirror

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I don’t know why I keep watching Black Mirror. It’s a well-produced show with unique story ideas that attracts ace talent for some fantastic performances. But nearly every episode has been a wholly unpleasant viewing experience.

Black Mirror is an episodic anthology series that, in the vein of shows like the Twilight Zone, tells a different story each episode, each taking place in a slightly different version of the near future. It explores repercussions of technologies that we’re not far from developing today and what effect they may have on our relationships, our culture and the way we experience ourselves and the world. In particular, it’s preoccupied with the evolution of social media, and the dark turns it can take us on.

Let me say first, I am all about the integration of humanity and technology in stories. I’ve been into cyberpunk since before I knew what it was called. I love robots, artificial intelligence, people who aren’t really people, cybernetics, cyborgs, if your show’s got it, I’ll watch it. But with all of Black Mirror’s speculative abilities, it says very little about man and technology. It’s mostly about man and how awful we can be, and when we’re given the opportunity through technology, we’ll become, well, even more awful.

Jealousy. Longing. Isolation. These are the recurring themes that run through Black Mirror, and I find myself reminded of the patronizing think pieces about “selfies” and “the Me Generation” that have been printed in the past couple of years. Implants that allow you to record your entire life, software where you can block someone in the real world, a pickup artist coach who literally watches his student’s attempt to get a date through his own eyes – all of these are exaggerations of social media and our culture today. And like the claims that Facebook is isolating us from each other, and Instagram is allowing us to portray a false version of ourselves, Black Mirror seems to insist that the furthering of these technologies will only drive us further apart, and into a hole of ethical decay.

(Spoilers ahead)

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So.

This blog has not been updated in three years. In those three years, Hannibal ended, we got a Star Wars movie with a female lead, and I discovered pro-wrestling. And didn’t write enough, at all. I think it’s time to change that.

So, arriving with 2016 will be some new posts. As always, we’ll be talking gender and sex in movies, TV and books. I’ve got something brewing on Black Mirror, and hopefully will put something together about women in wrestling that I’ve been dying to write.

And of course, I’m open to ideas

See you in 2016.

What Hannibal Can Teach Us About Abuse

Television in recent years has excelled in portraying strong emotional bonds between men. From Supernatural to Sherlock, White Collar to Person of Interest, TV is the land of the bromance. It’s a not new thing exactly, most stories from the dawn of time have revolved around men and their relationships with each other, though usually they were based on families or conflict. TV recently has been digging deep into not just friendships, but intimacy in platonic bonds, and now venturing into codependency and dysfunction.

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And it seems it’s come to a glorious head in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, a beautiful and indulgent adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter books. The first season explores the depth of Hannibal Lecter’s evil through his relationship with FBI investigator Will Graham, a troubled man who uses his heightened empathy to put himself in the shoes of serial killers in order to catch them. Will spends so much time getting in bed with psychopaths, that he never sees the one that is closest to him, or realizes what he’s doing to him. Not in time, anyway.

(Spoilers under the cut for Hannibal and Will’s story arch, but spoilers for the actual overarching plot are minimal)

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A Killer Roundup

Would anyone hold it against if I turned this blog into one about serial killer shows? So much good material! I mean, come on, when you have stories about people that kill people, it’s usually because they have problems with sex and/or women. So I’ve decided to do a little roundup. Maybe it’ll be a regular thing.

The Following

Let’s start with a show we’ve discussed before, which ended it first season this week with a bang, and plenty of commentary on literature and story tropes. As the season was reaching its close, the formerly suave and menacing Joe Carroll was dissolving into a sniveling villain, desperate to have his perfect narrative. Unfortunately, he relies on tired clichés to do this, and the show’s hero, Ryan Hardy, and Claire, Carroll’s ex-wife, are not afraid to call him out on it.

Carroll faces a dilemma in his grand epic when he feels he no longer can understand Hardy’s motivation. He needs to jump start his narrative, and so he relies when of the oldest tricks in the book. Fridge stuffing. By killing Claire, who Hardy loves, Carroll believes Hardy will be “reborn.” This, of course, is a clever way to disguise the fact that Carroll’s efforts to make Claire love him again have extravagantly soured, culminating in her stabbing him. Even Claire can see through it. “It’s tired,” she says. Likewise, Hardy later tells him, “I am so bored of you.”

The Following lost a lot of steam as the season progressed, the complex world of killers vs killers went from intriguing and scary, to kind of ridiculous. However, this is one of the few things that show does right. It takes a metatextual approach to illuminating the depth of its characters. By presenting Joe Carroll’s quest as stereotypical, it reveals the true flaccidity of his conviction and villainy.

Unfortunately, there is an actual event of fridge-stuffing within the episode. Agent Parker, who so far has been a great, powerful female character, is killed when she’s buried alive by Carroll’s followers. The whole sequence frustrated me immensely. I thought it was unnecessary, and I hated the fact that a great character was turned into a device for Hardy to get the next clue in the puzzle. Not to mention, she was in a pine box and not even buried that deep. Kick with both legs, girl.

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The Following: Killers in Love

In case you didn’t know, Fox’s newest crime serial (yes, there is yet another show out there looking to steal your soul) has been tearing up Monday nights since January, and it’s well worth the investment. It is about the pursuit of convicted serial killer Joe Carroll and the collection of psychopaths and wannabes that have evolved around him. He calls them his friends. The FBI calls them a cult. They are united by their devotion to Carroll, who they believe has given purpose and guidance to their lives. Their goal so far is unclear, other than seriously distorting classical literature and driving Kevin Bacon’s character, Ryan Hardy, out of his mind.

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The Following is about a lot of things. It’s about violence and victimization, about conspiracy and paranoia. I think principally, though, it’s about love. Between the killers and the heroes, there lies an intricate web of intimate bonds and tentative alliances. Faithful friends, loyal followers, and the unbridled passion of sworn enemies. The show seems to be asking how much can you trust the person next to you, and how much stronger are the bonds between people who know each other’s darkest secrets? In the process, The Following is bucking the common heteronormative ties that most shows focus on, and instead developing a web of relationships that are both sincere and pretty scary.

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Sex and Destruction in Shatter Me

I’ve written a little bit previously about Young Adult literature. It’s a ripe field for the pickings, with its mainstream appeal as well as a litany of problematic story elements. It also can be really addictive. Most of the genre is leaning towards science fiction/fantasy at the moment, centering on young women in impossible situations, with fast-moving plots and titillating romances. The YA market has become one of my favorite indulgences.

Enter Shatter Me, written by youthful and beautiful new author Tahereh Mafi, one of the most anticipated releases of last year, already with two sequels (the novella Destroy Me, and the second part in the planned trilogy Unravel Me which dropped last week), and the movie rights sold before the first book’s release. It is the story of a 17-year-old girl named Juliette Ferrars with an uncontrollable and isolating ability – she can kill with a touch. To make matters worse, Juliette lives in a world that has depleted its resources and poisoned its atmosphere, leaving it open for an organization called The Reestablishment to come in and take control and hoard what’s left. When the novel opens, Juliette has been imprisoned in some sick hell house version of a mental institution for close to a year, barely clinging to her identity, wishing for freedom and love.

Shatter Me is the type of YA fantasy that is light on world building and high on emotion and elaborate prose. It’s not perfect, to say the least. What I found fascinating about the novel though was its implications about sexuality.

What’s immediate striking to me is how the novel as a real sense of sexuality and sensuality. A personality, shall we say. However, there is also a theme of dominance and violence that colors this, and creates a character that is both heavily defined by her sexuality and by actions put upon her. As she learns to connect with people for the first time in her life, Juliette is repeatedly defined as an object, seen as something others can use and act upon, even in a relationship that supposed to healthy and loving. Through the story elements as well as the dialogue and prose, a picture is painted of a sexual landscape fed by power struggles and destructive passions. It’s also an important aspect of the novel, as this is a story about a young woman who can either create or destroy with a touch.

(Spoilers for Shatter Me and Destroy Me under the cut)

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The Americans: Spy vs Rape

As I no longer have American Horror Story to satisfy my need for gritty camp on a late Wednesday night, I decided to watch the premiere of FX’s new original, The Americans, a drama-thriller set in the 1980s about two Soviet spies disguised as regular American suburbanites. Or, actually, I recorded it and watching Friday night because FX has way too many commercials to sit through an hour and half episode of something I’ve never watched before.

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The pilot was decent, providing an intriguing portrait of the two main characters, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), who have been living as husband and wife for nearly twenty years. There was also some great action scenes and a fabulous soundtrack.

I just wish it hadn’t been centered around rape.

(Spoilers, and descriptions of sexual assault under the cut)

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