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Society Under Total Surveillance in White Christmas, a Black Mirror Episode

  • Subject: Life
  • Category: Holidays
  • Essay Topic: Christmas
  • Pages: 5
  • Words: 2186
  • Published: 17 October 2018
  • Downloads: 45
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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Media Models in Black Mirror
  3. Meda Models/Themes in Society
  4. Conclusion


The film Black Mirror begins with two men Matt and Joe who are living at a remote station in the middle of the snow filled wilderness. To pass some time, they tell each other about their lives. Matt is preparing Christmas dinner and talk to Joe about what brought him to the remote station in the middle of nowhere, which is something they have never talked about since they moved there, five years ago. Joe is hesitant to answer, so Matt answers his own question first explaining why he came. Matt describes his real profession in a flashback. Technology had created a tiny chip, also referred to as a “cookie”, which can temporarily implanted into someone’s brain to create a copy of someone’s consciousness. These chips can be removed and used in an egg shaped device to run as a personal assistant to the original person. Matt helps accommodate a wealthy women named Greta. Matt provides her with a virtual body, a white room, and a computer desk to carry out her tasks. When she refuses to cooperate, he alters her “cookie”, making her experience six months of boredom and isolation, which in reality is just a few seconds. Her cookie becomes catatonic and finally had the will to break. In the present day, Joe doe snot like Matt’s career, in which later Matt observes Joe is a good person. After joe gets a little drunk, Joe finally tells Matt his story about how his girlfriend’s father never likes him and explains his situation. Joe had a serious relationship with a girl named Beth, but they broke up because Joe was an alcoholic. One day they were having dinner with their friends Time and Gita, but Joe got drunk and Beth was mad. After dinner Joe finds a pregnancy test in the trash, and thinks he will be a dad. Beth does not want the child and plans to have an abortion. Joe gets drunk and angry at Beth because he thinks she is being selfish and guilty of harming their unborn baby. Beth places a Z-Eye “block” on Joe,which means she cannot hear or see him, and leaves him the next day, unable to hear his apology because of his block. He finds out Beth left her job from his friends Tim and Gita. He writes her letters for months, but gets no replies. He knows she spends christmas with her father who lives near him, so he spends the next few months watching her and sees her pregnancy stages when she is at her father’s house. When she finally has the baby, he cannot she the child because the block extended to the child, but he can only see the silhouette. He finally makes out it is a girl, but then finds out it is not his. He finds this out because he found out Beth had died from a tragic train accident, which then had the block removed so he could now see his child. He discovers his child is asian, which he nor Beth has those features. He later figures out she was having an affair with his friend Tim, who is asian. He gets so angry he sneaks into the father’s house and bashes Beth’s father’s head, which ended up killing him and quickly leaves the cabin. This episode of Black Mirror comments on the themes of the medium is the message, in particular how the Z-eye sends the social message of a society under total surveillance, and temes.

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Media Models in Black Mirror

The media models in Black Mirror “White Christmas”, we have identified in this film is the models of the spectacle and the hyperreal. The media model of the spectacle describes a technological and cultural shift with representation of lived experiences. The spectacle by Guy Debord is explained in the words, “in societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.” The media model of the hyperreal is a world of reproduction. It also is the simulation or representation of reality. The hyperreal distorts the reality that we know or sometimes does not even depict anything with a real existence at all.

The model of the spectacle gives many examples from the film. The spectacle is any kind of compelling visual display. The main spectacle that portrays our daily reality is the kind that comes through our screens. Black Mirror uses screens a lot using phones, tv, or even a mirror. In “White Christmas”, the Z-eye is the screen of their eye. Although a Z-eye would be considered part of the hyperreal, the things it can do could be part of a spectacle. In the beginning of the film, there was a flashback where Matt is shown to be a dating coach to single men to help them seduce women. Matt uses the Z-eye to see and hear what his clients witness and provide instructions to them. His latest client is shy and socially awkward, Harry, whom Matt has instructed to enter an office Christmas party without being invited. Matt, along with several other single men sharing in Harry’s video stream, identify Jennifer as a quiet, “attractive outsider” from her social media profile. Matt guides Harry to starting a conversation with her. Matt controlling harry through a screen, is an example of the spectacle. In the powerpoint, the example about how the movie Rocky everyone loved. Sylvester Stallone, playing Rocky in the movie, is known as the actual Rocky because of the film. The real Rocky has no credit for what he did in real life, but Sylvester Stallone got all of his credit. Matt doing all the work for Harry is almost the same as the Rocky example. Harry is getting all the credit for Matt’s work. Also in the powerpoint, an example for the spectacle is the television. It says that television is the “single most powerful force shaping our cultural discourse and how we view the world”. Harry is viewing the world with the help of Matt inside of his head from the Z-eye.

There are many examples of the model hyperreal as well, in the Black Mirror episode “White Christmas”. The Z-eye is an irremovable augmented reality device implanted in one’s eyes granting them access to the internet to see and hear people. It enables the idea of blocking, not just social media, but the entire person, so they become an invisible, scrambled shadow to you and vice versa. An example of the Z-eye from the film is when Beth blocked Joe so she could not see him or hear him and he could not see or hear her. Beth had also blocked out the child she had from Joe, who he thought was his own daughter. With the Z-eye she was able to do what she wanted and he could not undo anything she did. So far the nearest thing we have in our world today is Google. The idea of blocking things out is believable, but not with something implanted into one’s head. The example of the invisible cloak comes to mind, from Harry Potter. Another example from the film is the “cookie”. The “cookie” is the concept of downloading and extracting an exact replica of yourself in digital form to act as your slave. An example of the cookie from the film is when Greta, a rich demanding woman, rejects a breakfast in bed that a clinic serves her because the toast is toasted a little more than she likes. The anesthetist told Greta to count backwards from ten as Greta is sedated. As she counts, she feels an out of body experience and is shown to be a tiny chip that is placed in a portable electronic device. The device was returned to her home, where her consciousness is greeted by Matt. He explains what she actually is, which is a digital copy of her consciousness called a “cookie”. In the powerpoint, it talks about the map over taking the territory. It also says media is the territory, the “reality”. Matt is able to take over people’s lives by the cookie using a replica to have as a slave. This also explains how the Z-eye can be used as a map for taking over a territory. An example the powerpoint gives is about football stadiums and the big screens used as a high def map for the map that is the territory. Harry’s visual map is Matt’s big screen to help direct him.

Meda Models/Themes in Society

Moreover, “White Christmas” has a lot to say about the role of media in society now and in the future. One theme of the episode that explores this is topic is that the medium is the message. In this case, the medium being used is the cookie and the message is concerning a society under total surveillance. In a world where technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, “White Christmas” speaks to the fears some may have over the future of privacy. With the introduction of the cookie into society, anybody’s deepest, darkest secrets can be revealed through the hyperreal copy of themselves, also known as the cookie. Additionally, the powerpoint references the harm being done to privacy when discussing George Orwell’s science fiction book 1984. Published in 1948, the book likens the widespread use of television to that of the Panopticon, which is also featured in the powerpoint. The Panopticon is an architectural design by Jeremy Bentham in the late 1700s. In his design, Bentham created the most “efficient” prison, in which a few prison guards are placed in the center of a circle lined with jail cells. In essence, the few are able to watch the many, who are under complete surveillance at all times due to the design of the Panopticon. The class textbook digs further into the idea of total surveillance in the future when the author writes about the correlation between decreasing privacy and the increasing role of social media in society. As society becomes more and more transparent with less time for self-reflection and solitude, a hive-mind is quite possibly being created. This hive-mind is being created through the Internet, a constant source of information and communication.

In addition, the episode also acknowledges the theme of temes. Along with genes and themes, there is a third replicator known as temes. The class textbook refers to temes as Susan Blackmore’s phrase used to define a type of meme which concerns the technological evolution and how technology continues to approve upon copies of itself. Since all media technology is mass-produced, this means that they are copied and replicated, similar to genes and memes. For instance, according to the class powerpoint, the television is a teme of the radio and camera, a combination of both’s abilities and therefore a further advanced version of the two devices. In another example, large computers of the mid-twentieth century transitioned from personal desktop computers to laptops to what is now considered smartphones and tablets. In “White Christmas”, the Z-eyes are a teme, an improved-upon copy of a computer. As a computer was a device used to access the Internet in order to attain information, the Z-eyes are a more advanced, more portable edition of a computer. In fact, they are computer’s combined with the convenience of contact lenses, being able to access the Internet at all times. Additionally, the Z-eyes possess the brutal spectacle of being able to “block” another person from their wearer’s life, a fact which contributes to the cautionary approach of temes that the writers of “White Christmas” take. The class powerpoint presents three current phases of the Internet in its teme evolution. The second phase of the internet is the worldwide web, improving upon its’ previous teme by connecting not only other computers, but also information and the windows on computers. Social media is the third phase, and Black Mirror presents the Z-eyes as a distant, future phase, in which the Internet and phone have converged.

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To conclude, the Black Mirror episode, “White Christmas” presents an eerie future in which society and its people are under total surveillance, through the ubiquitousness of technology, more specifically the Z-eyes and cookie. The attitude that “White Christmas” takes towards the future is epitomized in the scene in which one of the episode’s main characters, Matt, acknowledges in conversation to Joe that while the augmented reality of Z-eyes is a major benefit for everyone, certain aspects of that progress have led to the scary prospect of being visibly and vocally blocked by another human. This episode explicitly indicates the truth that there are pros and cons to technological progression, perhaps the most prominent con being the increasing loss of privacy. In a society that is becoming ever more threatened by surveillance, as evidenced through multiple government leaks over the years, the reality presented in “White Christmas” is haunting. While the idea of cookies may sound torturous and a trespass on every individual’s right to privacy, it is certainly reminiscent of the government’s elusive tapping of phones or laptops.

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