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Beyond Black Mirror: Fifteen Million

Merits Side Two


Welcome to our weekly video series Sight Unsound where filmmaker
and writer Ted Wilkes offers his own alternative theories on film,
television and pop culture.

If you werent terrified of the future last week, you certainly will be this
time as we present the second part of Sight Unsounds analysis on Charlie
Brookers Black Mirror episode Fifteen Million Merits.

And for those who prefer a long-read, the full text from the video is copied
below. If you havent watched the first part of the visual essay, click here:
Beyond Black Mirror: Fifteen Million Merits.

The only way out

The only way out of the drudgery of cycling for a living is to be successful
on the talent show Hot Shots. A singing show similar to The X-
Factor. This element of the episode depicts societies hunger for fame and
the importance that we place upon those who have achieved it.

Its interesting to note that it is impossible to reach out of the drudgery


through hard work alone. It is that the work simply supports your chance
to be noticed as a talent and only those judged worthy enough are
allowed to reach the higher echelons of the society. It mimics the current
trend for professions like: reality TV star, singer, or Youtuber regularly
topping the list of professions that young people pick as their most
desired job when they grow up. Were in a world where its these
occupations that garner many more accolades and have a higher
perceived status than others do.

When Abi sings for the judges the world seems to stop, transcending the
totalitarian technocracy. It appears that everyone in their respective pods
is listening to her, transfixed by the beauty of her voice. Her words are
wholesome and gentle, promising a better life for all. Innocent and tender
they are at complete odds with the system. Ideas that she cannot possibly
have discovered in the world that she inhabits, but ones that speak
directly to her and the rest of the populous. Shes an instant hit.

However, its not her voice that the judges are interested in and they offer
her the opportunity to become a Wraitbabe on the pornography channel.
Drunk on the compliance drink she was given and seemingly ecstatic to
be free of her previous life she agrees, while the audience never feels that
she fully understands the ramifications of her decisions. She is now
destined to become a hyper-sexualised object that the crowd will be able
to consume free of guilt as they are told that this is acceptable for them to
do so.

Its this point in the episode where Brooker is at his most radical, bringing
to the forefront of the narrative his views on the culture of the starlet and
how the industry corrupts them by either forcing them to become sexual
objects, or making them feel that they need to in order to succeed.

What is worth noting is that when Abi accepts the judges offer and the
crowd are on their feet applauding, we see the female judge shed a single
tear which she quickly wipes away. This could be read one of two ways.
Either shes genuinely moved by this young woman and her talent of
being beautiful. Or it could be a tear of sympathy, realizing the future
torments that she has subjected her to by allowing this to happen. Maybe
its even one of empathy, having been placed in a similar position to her
previously, which allowed her to have the life she does now, but at a great
personal cost.

Fade to black

After his awakening to the truth of the system in losing Abi, Bing sets
himself off on the final part of his mission. Forgoing all of the comforts
of this world (such as refusing food and declining to skip adverts) and
working on his bike day and night he is able to earn the fifteen million
credits needed for him to return to Hot Shots and confront the panel of
judges.
Once he has gained the required sum he heads to audition himself and is
able to convince the handler backstage that he has already taken his
compliance drink, showing us that he has an understanding of the
system; realizing the tricks that it plays on those unfortunate enough not
to see through its charade.

When he is finally on the stage he holds the shard of screen against his
neck and forces those present to listen to him.

All you see is not people, just fodder fake fodder!

Here Brooker is projecting his own protests against society: all we know
anymore is fake, and the only kinds of dreams we have are those of
consumption. He goes on to suggest that we are becoming too numb for
anything free and real and beautiful to exist. Abi could have been valued
for her singing, but she was forced to be sexualized as this would make
the most of her talents for those who control the machinery of fame. Bing
tells the judges:

When you find any wonder whatsoever you dole it out in meager
portions, where its augmented and packaged and pumped through ten
thousand pre-assigned filters, till its nothing more than a meaningless
series of lights, while we ride, day-in and day-out. Going where? Powering
what? All tiny cells and tiny screens and bigger cells and bigger screens

The public should now be awake, they should understand the


fruitlessness of their ventures and feel the shame that should accompany
their compliance in such a system. It seems that the ingredients for
revolution could be in the air.

However, the establishment is able to play its trump card. The judges offer
Bing a place within its fold, absorbing him into its own infrastructure so
that he may be controlled, and his message mediated. Bing accepts. What
other choice does he have? The crowd cheers.

Brooker admits that he wished to end all Black Mirror episodes on a


devastating note, similar to those of The Twilight Zone. This is the case at
the close of Fifteen Million Merits where Bing discovers a new life away
from the drudgery of constant cycling for credits and now resides in a
much nicer dwelling thanks to his new found fame as a privileged member
of the commentariat.

After he finishes his broadcast for the day, Bing lovingly places the shard
back into a black box. Ensuing that it is locked away so as not to be
directed at all things all the time and only brought out for special
occasions. It would be dangerous for the establishment should he fully
actualise this resentment and decide to return to the revolutionary figure
he once could have been.

However, in so carefully guarding it he acknowledges that this is the site


of his power the reason that he now is able to enjoy the life that he does.
Potentially this is a moment where Brooker admits the source of his own
success and the pride/twinge of guilt that he feels about it. He, just like
Bing, has had his own voice co-opted by the establishment, even within
Black Mirror, as a product that is brought and sold. Simply enjoyable,
escapist entertainment that we want to consume.

In the final frames Bing steps towards a view over a dense green forest
and looks out over it. This could be read in two ways. Firstly, it could echo
the previous references to Logans Run. In stepping out of the systems of
control Bing finally reveals to us that the world outside the pod is still
normal. There was no cataclysmic event that brought the world to its
knees which forced it to become what it is. Rather it slipped into these
ways through choice, or with only a small amount of persuasion.

However, another reading could be that Bing is not looking at the outside
world through a window, but is still viewing everything through a screen.
Its just that the one that he has now is far grander. He is still controlled,
but is allowed to experience things away from normalcy because of the
privileged position that he occupies.

Then the picture cuts to black, and there we are watching only our
reflection in yet another screen. A cold and horrifying experience.

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Beyond Black Mirror: 'Fifteen


Million Merits' - Side Two
The second part of our analysis on
the Black Mirror episode Fifteen
Million Merits.