“Fifteen Million Merits” Kicks My Ass

“We spin truth into entertainment. Even the most authentic crave the spotlight. A tool for good becomes a tool for selfish gain” #BlackMirror (Ep. 2).

I’m currently watching a show called Black Mirror. It is a British dark satire mainly written by Charlie Brooker, who I have come to believe is my new idol in creating realistic fiction that reveals the human condition. The way I see it (“it” might already be explored by critics or analysts or the creators), a black mirror is literally a TV screen, but is more importantly a symbol for a person’s own darkness; we are obsessed with image and often distance or project ourselves instead of see ourselves.

The second episode, “Fifteen Million Merits,” is especially interesting to me. Here is a small recap with spoilers: In this reality, people are consumed by their social media image. People care more about racking up merits in order to upgrade their online avatars than interacting with others beyond a screen. Our protagonist eventually forms a crush on a singer and offers her his points so she can audition for an entertainment show. Although she is talented, the hosts hackle her into becoming a porn star. Our protagonist, enraged by the show’s corruption, decides to audition but with a shard of glass at his neck and a grave message about the system. The judges offer him his own show, and he accepts.

The strengths and downfalls of the human condition are the same now as they were before social media. Before, we existed in two worlds: the interior and exterior. It’s a challenge to differentiate between your own perception of the Self and how you present the Self in order to gain a certain perception from others. Then, once we establish our perceptions, do we continuously enforce them in order to convince everyone else or mostly ourselves? Is that confusing? It sure is. I think it’s always both — in fact, the term self-concept in psychology goes much further into detail on this.

I believe we dealt with this split in existence before social media, but media presents a platform for tearing apart our existence in a brand new way. The Self and the Representation of the Self now exist in multiple places at once. My online presence is separate from my literal existence. When I’m sleeping, people are interacting with me by commenting on posts and whatnot. Many of us are obsessed with documenting life in order to post it to social media. This is interesting to me, since we are so keen on quick information and instant gratification, that waiting for an upload and comments to roll in is more exciting than sharing the experience in real time. I believe this is true for the majority of people living in a modern society.

Great literary fiction or creative nonfiction works on several levels to reveal universal truths. A person sitting isolated in their room while their avatar mingles in an auditorium portrays how our real self is painted over and distorted by an image — a facade. We could say the same for how we dress or alter our bodies. A tool for good that bends into a tool for selfish gain conveys our passions — our truths — don’t stand a chance against mass exposure and popularity. We’re not often willing to remain nameless in a bud — we seek credit for our work, and we are inevitably swayed to alter or exploit our work for exposure.

These are just a couple of ways “Fifteen Million Merits” echoes our own lives.

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