Entertainment & Arts

Black Mirror: Backlash against writer inspired episode

Black Mirror Image copyright Netflix
Image caption Kelly Macdonald, far right, is among the famous names starring in the new series

Black Mirror writer Charlie Brooker says his own experience of a public backlash influenced one of the latest episodes of the acclaimed series which deals with hatred on social media.

Brooker, a creator and main writer of the anthology series that explores anxiety and human relationships around technology, apologised in 2004 after writing a satirical article for The Guardian on George W Bush in which he wrote: "Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?". The line caused a public outcry.

"That experience definitely fed into that episode, which we call Hated in the Nation, as it deals with people getting trolled on Twitter," says Brooker.

"My own incident pre-dated Twitter, and my vilification was done by good old-fashioned email, but some of the characters in Hated in the Nation say things that I was experiencing at the time, and I also read a book for research that deals with people caught up in Twitter storms. The author hangs out with them and sees how devastated they are, often by the sheer volume of comments they receive. The whole thing is terrifying."

Compared to a modern Twilight Zone or Tales of the Unexpected, Black Mirror - using technology instead of the supernatural to unnerve - first aired on Channel 4 in 2011.

Brooker had previously worked on satirical comedy programmes, including Brass Eye and the 11 O' Clock Show.

Image copyright Netflix
Image caption Charlie Brooker is thought by many viewers to have predicted the political rise of Donald Trump in one Black Mirror episode

Because Black Mirror usually deals with a futuristic scenario, Brooker and his producer Annabel Jones have been accused of uncannily predicting the future - notably in 2013's The Waldo Moment, which documents a fake politician's unexpected rise to power.

"It certainly wasn't based on him, but now a lot of people have come up to me and said, 'that episode predicted Donald Trump,'" Brooker explains.

"The idea actually pre-dates 2011 when I was working on satirical comedy shows. I wanted to do an MP based on a Gorillaz character, and we thought, 'What if you had an ironic MP who ran for office in London's Shoreditch?'.

"It was inspired by figures like Boris Johnson and Ali G, and it was exploring the 'what if' scenario with a figurehead who was artificial, so that was a plus for many of the electorate, but he was also crude and unpleasant. However, we thought the episode would fall down as we said 'no one would ever vote for anything so witless and crude'. It wasn't a good comic character, deliberately so.

"I think the thing about the appeal of politicians like Boris and Trump is that they are entertainers, and they upend normality. Also, I think we are in a time when someone can be a legend at breakfast, detested by lunchtime and then loved again by dinner - society is that fickle and fast-moving."

Image copyright Netflix
Image caption Bryce Dallas Howard stars in one of the episodes which focuses on society's dependence on mobile phones

Each episode of Black Mirror runs for up to 90 minutes as a self-contained film. The current series, which will appear on the streaming site Netflix, features actors Bryce Dallas-Howard, Alice Eve, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Kelly MacDonald, as well as an episode directed by Atonement's Joe Wright.

"Bryce in particular is playing a character that really has totally lost it," says Brooker.

"The episode, Nosedive, is about how people can rate each other instantly using their phones, and she has lost all sense of self in her bid to gain likes. We're not so far away from it, are we? We rate our cab drivers, our hotels and our food - and I believe another app tried to rate encounters with people until there was a complete outcry.

"I don't read the news though and then think 'what's the angle?', I start with a 'what if' idea, and if it relates to something in the real world, so much the better.

"A couple of times we've got accidentally lucky. We did one episode on a woman who brings her dead boyfriend back as an Artificial Intelligence, and that's a service that now exists - apparently someone watched the show, and then went and created the technology. One of our new episodes features drone bees, and that is being worked on too because of fear of real bee colony collapse."

Image copyright Netflix
Image caption Gugu Mbatha-Raw (left) and Mackenzie Davis in Black Mirror which Charlie Brooker aims to keep "one step ahead of the real world"

"But I hope I'm not a prophet," he adds. "Because Black Mirror is really based upon my incessant worrying about everything. The thing that really keeps me awake at night, and has done since I was a child, is the thought of nuclear war. I really don't want to create an episode on that."

Brooker believes that technology is now moving so fast "that Black Mirror will struggle to keep up with it".

"The challenge is to keep one step ahead of the real world. So we won't do any shows about Brexit or the migrant crisis, but we are aware of all these things in the ether, and then the reality it creates will be part of new episodes."

While the writer says he mourns what he describes as "the debris of 2016, the year you couldn't even be a clown any more without it being creepy," he adds that he is "incredibly optimistic about technology".

"You wouldn't know if from the show, but I am. I think, by and large, the internet is a force for good. There may be a lot of toxicity online, but I think eventually humans will work out a code of conduct without the need for legislation.

"And I do believe that tech will solve more problems than it causes - a cure for cancer, in the future, for example. And I definitely haven't started worrying in the night about robots taking over. Yet."

All six episodes of Black Mirror's third season are on Netflix from 21 October.

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