Response to "15 Million Merits"
Black Mirror is an extremely compelling show in general, with the episode “15 Million Merits” being no exception. Placed in a dystopian society, our protagonist, Bing, is compelled to ride a bike all day to earn merits – society’s form of currency. This currency is essential to earn any sort of autonomy, although I do use that word loosely. By autonomy, I mean the power to use as much toothpaste as you want, mute or skip an unwanted advertisement, or buy an apple. This world is a cyber prison, in the sense that there are monitors everywhere that provide the people with their only stimulation, whether it be a game show scolding fat people, an artificial bike ride in the setting of the user’s choice, porn, or an American Idol-like show. This last show seems to be the only way out of the repetitive biking lifestyle. Nothing in this world is authentic, not even the apples they eat, as they are grown in a Petri dish. The citizens use all their merits to buy accessories for their virtual doppelgangers, which scarily resemble the avatars used by today’s gaming systems.
Aside from the narrative, the show’s production communicates the society’s dystopian features. At many points throughout the show, Bing was miserably wearing a blank expression, yet happy music played in the background. There was no natural light, making it a generally dark world aside from the colorful ads on the monitors. The citizens all wore grey sweat-suits, and rode their bikes in a room with grey walls. The bland colors and lack of lighting conveyed an unhappy environment to say the least. The only ones who wore colors were the judges of the show, who were interpreted as the truly free, and the yellows, the fat lower class citizens who wore yellow scrubs and cleaned after the physically fit.
While the show’s production silently conveyed this society as dismal, it satirizes the modern day quite a bit. As soon as the first advertisement popped up, I immediately thought of YouTube and how I feel when an ad pops up. YouTube started off as a completely free service, yet has developed to the point that users have to pay for YouTube Red to avoid ads. Also, the singing show blatantly satirized American Idol by using a white male judge similar to Simon Cowell, a white female judge representing Paula Abdul, and a black male judge comparable to Randy Jackson. The show mocked the mindless audience as well, playing on the audience’s relationship with the judges. We see this relationship after Bing’s heartfelt speech; judge Hope twisted Bing’s words around and manipulated the audience from awe-struck, to compliant and cheery once again. Also, the quote “the most natural thing in there is grown in a Petri dish,” referring to the apple, mocks how our food industry is getting so involved with genetic engineering and moving away from what is natural.
While many similarities can be drawn between today and the dystopia in Black Mirror, can that mean that we will one day live like that? Possibly. I feel without a doubt that the avatars will be commonplace in the near future. People are growing more and more reliant on artificial acceptance, such as likes on Instagram, that I believe people would adopt customizable avatars so they can have acceptance without the real-life struggle. Also, as I mentioned before with YouTube, we already have to pay to skip advertisements, so why wouldn’t this extrapolate to the point seen in “15 Million Merits?” Although there is a push today to buy organic foods, the food industry in general is trying to produce food a quickly and cheaply as possible; is it so hard to believe that this may be from a Petri dish in the near future?
I may sound pessimistic, but alas I do have some hope for humanity. I refuse to think people would allow themselves to be confined in small rooms and have everything monitored and regulated. Although we are slaves to technology, we need our autonomy to use it, or else mankind would reject it. It is human nature to be explorative, and exploring is what we do on the Internet. The minute that is taken away from us, I believe we will reject technology. With this rejection, society would never be able to form into that seen in the show.
The best part of this society is that it encouraged exercise and eating healthy, but aside from that this is a blatant dystopia. I enjoyed this episode very much, and look forward to watching more episodes of Black Mirror.