Black Mirror debuted at the beginning of the decade, lauded as a herald of uncanny visions: a future, five minutes from now. Writer Charlie Brooker seemed to have a preternatural knack for predicting fallouts from dilemmas just around the corner – so close, we could taste them. His more recent forays into dystopia have been criticised on the one hand for failing to invoke this jarring recognisability, and excused on the other by arguments that their ‘real world’ counterparts are too bananas to riff on – i.e., what happens to close-to-the-bone sci fi when bones get too close? When reality is stranger than fiction? Well, I’ve got a thought – and so did Jacques Derrida. Bear with us.
Derrida had an idea about the future. He subdivided it into two genres, as per a convenient distinction flagged by the French fondness for complicated tenses – le futur and l’avenir. ‘[Le futur] is that which – tomorrow, later, next century – will be. There is a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable.’ Fair enough. ‘But there is a future, l’avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me, that is the real future. That which is totally unpredictable. The Other who comes without my being able to anticipate their arrival.’ Picking up the baton, I’d say that Black Mirror’s first few series were operating on Derrida’s first definition: on a future we could see ahead of us, unfolding as predictably as anything which hasn’t happened yet can do. Reference points – rating systems (Uber, Instagram) in ‘Nose Dive’, downloadable versions of deceased loved ones (the Cloud, the Turing Test) in ‘Be Right Back’, lenses which record our every move (Google Glasses) in ‘The Entire History of You’ – leant touchstones to the anxieties dramatized in each episode. We knew what Brooker was talking about, in a very concrete sense – these early parts of Black Mirror’s canon functioned almost like dramatisations of panicky think-pieces by tech journalists and ethics professors confronted with one supposed pinnacle after another of human ingenuity. What I mean is, we were already worried by what we could see on the horizon – and Brooker’s writing, for several years, leant that apprehension a very direct voice. In its latest incarnations, Black Mirror has shed its preoccupation with relatability like an old coat. In its latest incarnations, it is most interested in the most unpredictable of all factors: people.