Star Trek and The Twilight Zone fed off each other as groundbreaking science fiction storytelling in the 1960s. But how accessible is the (mostly) dystopian Black Mirror, “The Twilight Zone for the digital age,” for Star Trek fans?
One of the purposes of science fiction is to help people wrap their heads around new technologies. When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, what many regard as the first science fiction novel, she was responding to scientific ideas introduced in the Enlightenment (notably “galvanism”). When the Japanese film industry started producing kaiju films, they were dealing with the traumas of the atomic bomb.
In the 1960s, Star Trek was part of America’s way of capturing the spirit of the space race: if we could get go to the moon by 1969, think of how far we could go in a couple hundred years. Indeed, as William Shatner frequently points out, the success of Star Trek and funding for space travel were interconnected. (One of my personal theories is that Gene based Kirk at least in part on an idealized version of JFK.)
Black Mirror, a dystopian sci-fi anthology series, aims to help people wrap their heads around what the Internet could become: “Twilight Zone meets the digital age.” And recently Netflix dropped the third season.
Hallmark installments of the first two seasons, which appeared on British TV’s channel 4, basically take one aspect of current technology – smart phones, social media – and crank them up to their illogical, but plausible, extreme. One episode, “15 Million Credits,” is a horrific future where everyone is trapped inside the cross between a smart phone game and a reality TV talent show.
One of the new episodes, “Nosedive,” takes the Instagram-ification of life past the point of living. Star Trek alum Alice Eve co-stars as the queen of this world of anti-social social media.
Another episode, “San Junipero,” features a cameo by another Star Trek star: Ricardo Montalban in the form of one of his 1980s Chrysler commercials.
I don’t want to spoil anything more about the new season, for those who may be interested but haven’t seen it yet, but most of the episodes don’t have particularly happy endings. Many have said they make you want to throw your phone out the window – and I must admit the more times I check my phone a day the more I feel “assimilated.”
Now with terms like “horrific future” and “dystopian,” the series doesn’t sound particularly Star Trek-y. But advancement in computer technology in the last 50 years has vastly outstripped that of transportation: since we haven’t even sent a person past the moon, who’s to say when we’ll get to the stars? Meanwhile, you can do more with the phone in your pocket (or in your hand while you’re reading this) than Spock ever could with his tricorder. So the stories we tell now need to reflect this reality.
For fans of science fiction, Black Mirror is worth checking out – certainly at least the episodes I’ve listed in this article.
And let’s use all this new computer power on space travel. F’crying out loud. First Contact Day is less than 37 years away.