‘Black Mirror’ Doesn’t Seem So Bad Next To Trump’s America (Commentary)

A world where everyone is forced to be nice because of social media-like ratings sounds a little better than one with literal Nazis

Last Updated: January 27, 2017 @ 12:55 PM

The first episode of the Netflix-backed third season of “Black Mirror,” “Nosedive,” imagines a world where everyone rates everyone, for everything.

Every single interaction you might have with another person is ranked and reviewed, as if you’re a walking restaurant on Yelp or a driver for Uber. You say hello to a coworker in the morning? Five stars. You’re polite when buying a bagel? Five stars. Everyone is constantly evaluating everyone else, and at the start of the episode, the world is bright, sunny, and above all, cheerful. At least on the surface.

The point, as it is in all episodes of “Black Mirror,” is that this is no world in which you would actually want to live. The technology that allows you to instantly know how anyone in the world “ranks,” and to rank them yourself, makes everyone a slave. Every interaction with another person becomes a performance, one angled at receiving the highest marks.

As Bryce Dallas Howard upends her life in the episode in an attempt to attend a swank wedding to increase her rating, we learn that above all, we lose the ability to speak our minds in this world. No one can say what they think. Everything is sanitized. It’s exactly the extreme world right-wingers decry when they rail against the boogeymen of “political correctness,” “safe spaces” and “thought police.”

Like all of “Black Mirror,” it’s a reflection of our world, but worse — technology, but too much. But when “Black Mirror” creator Charlie Brooker dreamed up the story for the episode, he probably didn’t expect it to drop on Netflix near the end of Donald Trump’s insult-laden presidential campaign.

Revisiting “Black Mirror” this week ahead of Trump’s inauguration, most of “Nosedive” actually sounds pretty nice.

At Least There are No Nazis

In the 10 days before the inauguration, the on-going saga of “I didn’t think he could get any worse” that is Donald Trump covered some ridiculous ground. First, Buzzfeed published an unverified memo documenting ways in which Russia had compromised Trump and his campaign. Trump responded by insulting Buzzfeed (as well as CNN, which also published a report on the memo) on Twitter and refusing to take their questions during his press conference.

It seemed like Trump had someone new to attack on Twitter every day of the week, including United States Rep. John Lewis, a Civil Rights leader Trump just happened to criticize during the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

And then there are the Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other garden-variety racists who’ve been emboldened by Trump’s election win. The Ku Klux Klan spent the month after the election planning a rally in North Carolina. The so-called “Alt-Right” has held rallies supporting Trump and resurrecting Nazi-era salutes and phrases. There’s not a lot of digging required on social networks like Twitter to expose anti-Semitism and racism against just about any group. Plenty of it is espoused in the name of Trump and the great America he promises. Look how totally excited former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke was on Friday during the inauguration.

The Mirror’s Not Black Enough

The world of “Nosedive” does, admittedly, suck. It’s that slippery slope of all the worst-case scenarios when societal rules run rampant — all the things the First Amendment hoped to prevent from coming to pass.

But it’s hard not to kind of like it, on the surface, given the last few months here in reality. Everyone in “Nosedive” judges you by your rating, and your rating is (at least at first) determined by how you treat other people. Maybe everyone’s forced to be nice in the episode, but that doesn’t change the fact they’re still nice. They don’t troll people online because it’s funny, or hack and spread personal documents of people they don’t agree with. Everyone’s on eggshells because of the risk of being judged a “bad person.” Everyone’s energy is spent on being polite and projecting positivity and being seen as good.

We live in a world where Democratic lawmakers are skipping the inauguration of the president because of how he has treated women, minorities, a Civil Rights hero, a Gold Star family, the media, protesters and his own party. One where everyone works really hard to be nice to each other doesn’t seem like a burgeoning hellscape. It seems like a refreshing change.

I wouldn’t want “Nosedive” to become our world. I wouldn’t want social media to consume us more than it has, and losing the ability to express ourselves for fear of instant shaming and reprisals does nobody any good. Brooker’s “political correctness run amok” vision is objectively one worth avoiding. But in that “Black Mirror” world, the incentive rests on being nice to one another. As Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, it’d be nice if our world had some expectation of being nice, too.