Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits

Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits

By the time you read this I will be thousands of miles away Down Under, in the land of Oz. I’ll be back in a few weeks, so I’ve figured out a clever way [the internet, not me] to write this in advance and have is post itself at a scheduled date. The next article will be posted on Sunday 15th of July, when I’m back in good ole Britannia. This is how organised I am, ladies and gentleman – but it also makes me feel likbe I’m a spy with really cool gadgets.

15 Million Merits‘ was my personal favourite of the ‘Black Mirror‘ series written by Charlie Brooker, and [this episode] his wife Konnie Huq. Following last fortnight’s article on ‘The National Anthem‘, the first episode in the series, we delve into this next dystopian offering.

In ’15 Million Merits’ we are presented with a civilisation where the bulk of the populace [apart from celebrities] live underground in tiny box rooms covered with a ceiling and walls full of TV screens. Everyday the individuals are let out of their rooms to go to a communal ‘gym’ where they spend all day on a bike machine, building up ‘merits’. These merits can be spent on customising their ‘dopple’ [a virtual avatar representation or themselves – or them as they wish to be, also referring to ‘dopplegangers’ or malevolent doubles] with clothes, accessories &c., paying for food and necessities like soap and toothpaste. 

A genius piece of satirical film depicting a banal virtual version of ‘life’

People appear to have lost the ability to communicate in an engaging and meaningful way. The communal canteen and toilets, as well as the ‘gym’, are devoid of anything vibrant and everything is cold and symmetrical. Even the individuals must dress in unflattering grey tracksuits. The food is given to them from a vending machine with virtual representations as part of the interface with inane messages like ‘Those who liked ‘Apples’ also liked ‘Oranges’. I loved this little touch because it struck a chord with the social networking generation, myself included. People repeat conversation loops that they have seen on their screens or heard from others and this has been filtered through generations and over usage that all communication is polluted by the lack of original thought and ignorance. 

Adverts pop up on TV screens that are present everywhere from the bathroom to the individual rooms and the person must watch them or incur a fine of merits. If they try to look away or block it out a high pitched noise and blank screen bombards them until they do. This can be anything from ads for new ‘dopple’ accessories to porn, and merits can be used to purchase full length porn films known as ‘Wraith Babes’ and produced by a crude businessman, Wraith himself.

Obese people are ridiculed by game shoes and made to work as cleaners for the others, teaching them to re-enforce this discrimination, and the only solace of hope for people is ‘Hot Shot’ an X-Factor-esque talent show. This is birlliantly ironic as Konnie Huq had a brief stint presenting the ‘Xtra Factor’.   
The fee for entering is 15 million merits, which is equivalent to about a year of work on the bikes without spending on anything extravagent. 

Our protgaonist, Bing, has inherited over 15 million merits and has the luxury of skipping adverts. He overhears Abi singing in the toilets, Irma Thomas’ ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is’, which she had  been passed through her family for generations. This moment inspired a campaigned to get the single to Christmas Number One as a real world flip off to ‘The X Factor’:

Bing encourages Abi to enter ‘Hot Shot’ and donates the entry fee of 15 million merits to her. Their relationship is childishly romantic, pure and true despite them not having the means to communicate anything real from their stunted vocabulary, their is an affinity and understanding between them. 

Contestants must wait for weeks before the judges see them, drink ‘compliance’ supposedly to calm their nerves but really to make them cooperative with the judges, and perform to Judge Hope [modelled on Simon Cowell], Judge Charity and Judge Wraith [yes, of Wraith Babes] as well as to ‘dopples’ of every other member of the population who can jeer or encourage from their real world locations via ‘dopple’. 

After Abi performs, the judges ridicule her and tell her the market for singers is ‘saturated’. They view her as an attractive cash cow and Wraith makes her the offer of becoming a high profile porn actress, and because Abi is confused, pressurised and drugged with ‘compliance’, she agrees. Bing is devastated and never sees her again. When he is forced to watch Abi perform on ‘Wraith Babes’ [he cannot skip it because he has no more merits], he smashes the screen in rage and vows to earn enough merits to enter the show himself, broken piece of glass from the TV screen hidden but ready.

When Bing does get seen, he brandishes the weapon and threatens to kill himself whilst he gives a heart-rendering speech of pent up and confused emotions and sentiment describing the isolation, confinement and pointlessness of their existence and lamenting Abi’s corruption. The judges give Bing his own TV show where he gives his fellow populace the bitter truth of their lives, but this becomes a gimmick with Bing’s piece of glass becoming a ‘dopple’ accessory and Abi going on to be a prolific and popular porn actress.

Hilariously, it was shown right after the X Factor Final – I don’t think Brooker could have planned it better

I showed this episode to a few of my friends who didn’t find it as hard-hitting as I did. It was poignant at times but also showed a stifled rage and restlessness that relates to this age. The kind of bitter future Brooker and Huq conjure up here is not so very far away. Whilst it builds on images from older dystopias, I thought ’15 Million Mirrors’ was so memorable because it is so eerily accurate, not having to take aspects of our culture very far to get glimpses of a society like this one. The talent show machine was represented in an accusatory but not viciously damning way, only morphing their reality slightly to create a projection of what we could become.

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