This is a review of another episode from ‘Black Mirror’ called ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ by Ankini Banerjee (nicknamed X by her friends) of Class X (2017). Read this to get a glimpse of the scary future.
In the modern world, screens have become our best friends. We blindly trust them, we count on them to cheer us up when we are lonely, we can’t spend a single day without them. And slowly, without realising it, we are becoming dangerously dependent on them. Yet, in future there might come a time when we long to escape from the very same screens, but it will be too late to do so. That time, screens will be all around us and we will be forced to look at them, and we will find this equivalent to torture. In this episode of Black Mirror, we look at such a world.
Bing, our main character, is one of the millions of people who pedal on bikes for several hours a day in order to generate electricity. By doing so, they earn ‘merits’, which is equivalent to money. Everybody lives in box-like rooms where all four walls are screens. In these screens, people are always watching stupid comedy shows, porn, or a reality show called ‘Hot Shot’. All they look at is screens. Nobody gets to see anything real. Even food is grown in Petri dishes.
Bing falls for a girl, Abi, who he hears singing in a toilet. Determined to spend his merits on something real, he says he will gift her a ticket to Hot Shot. One of the best scenes of this episode is when Abi tells him to spend his millions in buying something for himself, he says, “It’s stuff, it’s confetti. You’ve got something real.” In the end, he ends up spending all his 15 million merits on the ticket.
Abi goes to Hot Shot to become a singer but, manipulated by the judges, she becomes a porn star. Watching her on the porn advertisements becomes a torture for Bing. He can’t even skip them because he doesn’t have enough merits to do so. If he closes his eyes the screen detects it and continuously tells him to ‘resume viewing’. This is a frightening scenario. It’s like when you are playing Temple Run on your smartphone and you don’t get to click that tiny cross at the corner of the ad because you don’t have enough coins. Bing’s situation is similar, but even scarier because you could have chosen not to look at your screen. He cannot.
Frustrated by how fake everything is, Bing decides to go to Hot Shot, where he will get to speak his mind in front of a huge crowd. He works day and night and earns back his 15 million in just a few months.
The greatest part of this episode is Bing’s speech in Hot Shot. He holds a shard of glass near his throat, which he threatens to slit if they don’t listen to what he has to say. All his emotions; his frustration, his anger, his exasperation is poured out in the speech. He talks about how fake everything is. People, like things, are processed. Their whole lives have become a lie. Even their goals, their dreams are fake. “The peak of our dreams is a new app for our Dopple, which doesn’t exist,” he says, “We buy shit that’s not even there.” People have become so engulfed in the fake system that they can’t even see how fake it is. “Show us something real and free and beautiful. You couldn’t. It’d break us.”
Bing’s speech was the only authentic performance among millions of meaningless ones. But one man against the entire system never succeeds. As he said, people had lost the ability to take in anything real. They failed to relate to anything that he had said. The judges just treated him as another of their “fake fodders”, a way for them to make money. The audience just cheered for him without understanding how real his emotions had been. Everybody treated his speech as just another “performance”. The only one who realised the falseness of the system and tried to protest against it was made into another “product”, augmented, packaged and sold until all his authenticity had been squeezed out.