Film philosophy: ‘Black Mirror’ questions what really matters

Drawing of someone using a phone with a cracked screen.
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

“Damn, Daniel.” If that phrase was passed among your high school or middle school, you may be part of the social media generation, otherwise known as Generation Z. 

While many factors have shaped the social media generation, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a more recent addition to the defining criteria of this generation. 

As a result of the pandemic, the online platforms already well-embedded into people’s lives became even more integrated as social media became one of the only methods of communication with friends and far-away family. With the entirety of the 2020-21 academic year being online for many schools, college students leaned heavily on Instagram, TikTok and other various platforms to connect with their classmates. 

However, the uptick in media usage has had some damaging results on mental health, such as low self-esteem and a host of similar challenges. Especially during the high-stress situation of strict quarantines, something that affected everyone to varying degrees, the escapism offered by social media became an even more attractive venture. However, in addition to the dangers posed to one’s own self-image, the way in which social media like Instagram or TikTok normalizes surface-based judgements from others’ posts is problematic.

We cannot use Instagram or other forms of social media to accurately assess one another. In Netflix’s famed show “Black Mirror,” the episode “Nosedive” explores elements of our society that resemble the problems with the value system we have based on fleeting and trivial features. 

The episode presents a dystopian society governed by one’s social status on a scale of one to five. The determination of one’s score is based on the culmination of every single interaction that individual has. After having some kind of interaction, whether that be buying a coffee or a conversation among work colleagues, each party rates the other person from one to five. 

The episode follows Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) as she desperately chases a higher status to enable her to afford a different apartment. However, playing the “numbers game” results in a series of unfortunate events that ultimately lowers her score and has her shunned from society. 

While the episode as a whole presents an obvious warning against the use of shallow, surface assessments as unofficial laws to guide society, the ending is unexpectedly optimistic. As punishment for her unruly actions at a wedding, she is completely expelled from society. An element of that included her eyes being stripped of the futuristic technology that had allowed her to see other peoples’ social statuses. 

Lacie’s first moments in a cell after her expulsion from society are peaceful. With the technology removed, she notices dust particles floating in the air. The particles are notably beautiful, a trivial element to her situation yet one of significant beauty. The scene seemingly amends part of the episode’s earlier message. 

While using fleeting, trivial elements, like a person’s appearance, is a problematic basis to derive value from, small trivial things are not unimportant. Lacie just chose the wrong small things to focus on.

Lack of control is difficult to face. Many challenges, such as a raging pandemic, may occur without apparent reason or solutions. However, some small things are fairly constant, such as the strange beauty of dust particles swirling in the air. 

More so, small tasks such as brushing your teeth or buying groceries are generally constant.  The end scene of “Nosedive,” as Lacie finally emotionally connects with a stranger, presents a hint of the episode’s solution to the seeming emptiness and unpredictability of life.

Seek connections that will make the small tasks enjoyable. With no promised impact or importance on the grand scale of the world, the delusional, grandiose notion of success often taught to us must be reconfigured to fit what we can control. 

Not all uncontrollable challenges have to be pandemic-sized, of course. Often it is the small unpredictables, such as how others view us, that cause undue stress. 

The pandemic has had profound effects on how we interact with each other and feel about ourselves, with social media possibly perpetuating detrimental behaviors. Accepting the lack of control over such volatile things as social status may be a beneficial step back into society.

Simone Bogedal PO ’24 is from Chester, New Jersey. She regularly consumes excessive amounts of coffee and is interested in applicable philosophy found in TV shows.

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