'Black Mirror' Creator Dramatizes Our Worst Nightmares About Technology
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. If you've ever been a victim of malware, been shamed on Twitter, tried to secretly watch online pornography or just worried about the unintended consequences of the Internet, social media and artificial intelligence, well, the British series "Black Mirror" is for you. It's a dystopian anthology series inspired by shows like "The Twilight Zone," but set in the digital era.
My guest Charlie Brooker created "Black Mirror" and is the primary writer. The series originated on the BBC, and season three will be up on Netflix tomorrow. Brooker started his career in comedy and has done several shows on British TV satirizing the news and the media. Let's start with a scene from the new season of "Black Mirror." In this episode called "Hated In The Nation," a detective played by Kelly Macdonald and an I.T. specialist are investigating some unusual deaths that seem linked to a hashtag on Twitter that's targeting people for execution.
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FAYE MARSAY: (As Chloe Perrine) So each tweet have a sort of instruction video attached to it. There.
KELLY MACDONALD: (As Karin Parke) Game of consequences.
MARSAY: (As Chloe Perrine) It's like an unpopularity contest. Pick someone you don't like, and if enough other people choose the same name, then that's who gets targeted. Here. Watch.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Game of consequences. One - pick a target.
MACDONALD: (As Karin Parke) Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Two - post their name and photo with hashtag #deathto. Three - most popular targets will be eliminated after 5 p.m. each day. Four - game resets at midnight.
MACDONALD: (As Karin Parke) Someone's holding a public ballot bumping off the top person. Jesus. It's just mad.
MARSAY: (As Chloe Perrine) Yeah, and it's growing.
GROSS: Charlie Brooker, welcome to FRESH AIR.
CHARLIE BROOKER: Hello.
GROSS: So I imagine - I'm trying to imagine your writing process, and you being in front of your screen writing and thinking, how can I take trolling and Twitter lynch mobs to its ultimate extreme? (Laughter) What was your process like of coming up with that premise?
BROOKER: Well, it's not a million miles away from that. I suppose really, what I don't tend to do actually is kind of look at the news or look at technological developments and then try and think of a storyline based around those, generally. What happens is often I'll be in conversation with somebody often Annabel Jones, who's the co-showrunner on the show, and I'll - often I'm just thinking of what strikes me as a fairly delicious what-if idea, basically. And then if it - if there's some technological means by which I can see that event happening, I'll sort of latch onto that if that makes sense, so I tend to work it round that way. So in a way, I'm sort of - I tend to focus more on the - initially on the sort of more popcorn, what I see as the sort of popcorn, hooky sort of storytelling device rather than the real world sort of mirror to what I'm - to, you know, the subject of the episode. Generally, I'm a - I'm quite a paranoid and worried person.
GROSS: I wouldn't have known that from the series.
BROOKER: I mean, I can worry about anything. You know, I can pretty much - I could worry that I'm going to bleed to death, you know, from cutting my finger on a sandwich packet, you know, if I sort of open a sandwich. I could worry about pretty much anything you put in front of me, so I'm not actually sort of anti-technology. So it doesn't sort of come out of that. It's not like a fear of the future. It's a fear of everything.
BROOKER: Generally speaking, yeah.
GROSS: Is that supposed to be reassuring? (Laughter). It's not technology. It's everything that you're panicked about.
BROOKER: I think it's - well, I think it's therapeutic. I think it's - because you see in the U.K. I'm probably better known as a comedy writer - or certainly that's my background is in writing comedy. And I think it's a similar - it uses a similar muscle. Writing something like "Black Mirror" where you're examining worst case scenarios in a way isn't that different from thinking up sort of grotesque scenarios for comedy, you know, for sitcoms or sketches, really. And quite often when we're having the initial ideas and I'm sort of talking it through, I'm really laughing a lot (laughter). So there's a lot more, you know, it's not just written by some angry guy waving his fist at the App Store. You know, I'm generally laughing while I'm doing that.
GROSS: So getting back to the premise of the episode "Hated In The Nation" - so the premise is that there's this new Twitter attack plan where they're like - somebody who's singled out every day with a #deathto hashtag, and then they're going to be, you know, killed basically. They're...
BROOKER: In a grotesque way.
GROSS: In a grotesque way, which we won't give away. So what's the most extreme sort of Twitter-shaming or Twitter attack that you've been witness to, that you were thinking about when you were writing this?
BROOKER: Well, really, I mean, "Black Mirror" started in 2011. And I would say that probably around 2013, I was aware there was a general - I would say a change in mood online. I think more and more people became aware that social media was starting to feel like a more toxic space. And, I mean - quite a lot of incidents of people getting very, very angry about all kinds of things and attacking people.
GROSS: Have you ever been Twitter shamed or been the subject of a Twitter storm?
BROOKER: No, I haven't. I mean, I did in - back in 2004, I wrote a column for The Guardian newspaper in Britain. I'm anxious - I loathe to bring it up in a way, but I wrote a column where I had a - I ended it with a tasteless joke about George Bush - W. Bush. And it was a joke about sort of Lee Harvey Oswald, basically. It was a fairly clumsy joke, and it was an old joke, as well, one that I'd seen about Margaret Thatcher. But it kind of went viral, I guess you'd say. And The Guardian had to issue an apology, and I got lots of blood-curdling messages threatening me. And so it wasn't quite the same because this was pre-social media, really - or pre-Twitter. And it was interesting. What that does to you psychologically was fascinating once I'd got through it.
GROSS: What did it do to you psychologically?
BROOKER: There's a character in "Hated In The Nation" - explains that it feels like a change in the weather. It feels like there's this ion cloud, ominous ion cloud hanging over you, and rather like a mental illness. It feels like there's invisible people who hate you, who are out there somewhere and are shouting at you. There's a comedian - there's a British comedian called Stewart Lee who several years ago now wrote a musical, "Jerry Springer The Musical." And in it - it's quite controversial. Jesus Christ appears as a character in it, and he was on the receiving end of all sorts of hate mail.
And I remember - I'm probably misquoting him, but I remember him saying something along the lines of that most people walk around - or certainly most writers or performers walk around with the notion in their head that - a paranoid worry that maybe people don't like them. So it's a terrible shock to suddenly discover there were literally thousands of people who actually do (laughter). And so it's kind of like that. And what happens is you then realize that these people then move away and target someone else the next day and the day after that and the day after that. And so really it's ephemeral - or it's ephemeral to them. But the impact on the person on the receiving end of it can be immense.
GROSS: One of your characters in one of the episodes says there's no cure for the Internet.
BROOKER: (Laughter) No, there isn't. And I don't want to sound - this might seem like a weird thing to say but I really don't want to sound like overly negative or critical of the Internet in general because I'm actually really quite pro-technology. I'm, you know - I used to be a video games journalist. I love any new gadget or gizmo that comes along. I love all the details in the show, any technological details, I tried to get involved in as much as possible. I love all that sort of thing. Things like social media and the Internet, of course, it's not going away. There is no cure for it. And this shouldn't be just like there shouldn't be, you know - it would have been a tragedy if there was a cure for the printing press. I think it's just that it's an amazing tool that we as a - as an animal are just getting to grips with because it's like we've grown a new ultra powerful limb and we're learning how to use it.
BROOKER: And so at the moment we're flailing around occasionally and knocking over the furniture. You know, and we're just - we all - we're having to deal - we're learning how to deal with these new capabilities that we have, these new super powers we've suddenly been granted.
GROSS: How would you - how would you describe "Black Mirror" to someone who hasn't seen it?
BROOKER: I'd say run away. No, I would - the first thing I would say, I guess, is that they are - they're all stand-alone stories. So it's an anthology in the old-school sense in that every single episode is a completely different story with a different cast and a different tone. And it's a - in my head, it's quite a funhouse.
You know, in my head, it's sort of quite popcorn and quite a romp. But that doesn't necessarily translate to the way other people see it. It's quite a dark - if it's a box of chocolates full of variety, it's - they're all dark chocolates. It's in the vein of shows like "The Twilight Zone," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," that kind of dark storytelling hopefully with...
GROSS: With a surprise ending.
BROOKER: An ultra-black vein of - yeah, and some ultra-black humor. It's not always a twist ending, actually. It's weird in that we - sometimes we have a twist in the tale, not always. And it's interesting, I have to remind myself not to always - we don't always have to veer towards a twist. But there's something I find very satisfying about a nice ironic twist.
GROSS: Since you're so involved with social media, gaming, all aspects of the internet and computers, why did you want to do a dystopian series that connects to technology?
BROOKER: Well, really, I mean, the show came about because in 2008 I did a zombie show. I wrote a zombie show where the premise was that there's a houseful of "Big Brother" housemates and - from the reality show "Big Brother." And the premise is that there's a bunch of "Big Brother" housemates are in the house. They don't know what's going on in the outside world. There's a zombie apocalypse that happens, and they're the last remaining people on Earth. And they're people who'd been selected by producers to fight and not get on with each other.
And so there's a comic premise which we then played straight. And that had been - that'd done pretty well. And so Channel 4, which was the channel in the U.K. that put that out, asked what else I was interested in doing in terms of dramas.
And I'd always been a fan of "The Twilight Zone," and I was struck by - it was obviously very interesting that when you look at "The Twilight Zone," it's very much about the contemporary fears of the day. It's about McCarthyism and the arms race and the space race and, you know, psychiatry is in there. And so I just thought, well, what - if we were doing a show like that now, what's playing on our minds now? And I was thinking, you know, terrorism, and really technology became by default became the thing that was a new thing that had swept in and was altering it everything.
You know, and like I say, I'm a huge fan of technology. But I'm also the sort of person - I used to be a chain smoker. I used to smoke 60 cigarettes a day, which takes some doing. You know, I used to smoke in the shower.
BROOKER: That's how committed I - genuinely, I used to smoke in the shower. You have to lean out...
GROSS: Wait, how would you keep the cigarette going?
BROOKER: Well, you lean out. You have one arm out - right? - of the water...
GROSS: That's dedication.
BROOKER: ...And then you - you swap around and then you fling the cigarette down the toilet when you're finished. I'm painting a really glamorous picture of my life. But I used - when I was a chain smoker, I used to wake up and the first thing I'd do was reach for a cigarette, basically. And now I do the same thing for a smartphone, basically.
I'll just immediately automatically, without even thinking, check my phone. And it feels like the same little bit of my brain is being - the synapses are lighting up when I do that. So I can't - you know, I thought, well, that's the thing that's altered my behavior probably more than anything else is the fact that technology has swept in. And this was back in 2010 when we were first sort of coming up with the show.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Charlie Brooker. He is the creator and primary writer of the Netflix series "Black Mirror." Season three is up tomorrow. So we're going to take a short break, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Charlie Brooker, creator and primary writer of the British series "Black Mirror," a dystopian anthology series set in the digital era. Season three will be streaming on Netflix tomorrow. The next episode of "Black Mirror" that we're going to discuss is about an indecent act. We're not going to talk graphically, but nevertheless I thought I should let parents know.
I want to talk to you a bit about the famous first episode of season one in which a video is released on YouTube and goes to all the networks that the princess - and this is in England, so it's a princess who's beloved in the way Princess Diana was - that she's been kidnapped and the only way she'll be released is if the prime minister has sex with a pig live on television. So the prime minister has to decide what to do. And everybody knows about this. By the time he finds out, there's already been, like, 18 million views. What inspired this idea?
BROOKER: (Laughter) Several things. I mean, again, it was a comic idea I'd had many years prior to writing it. And then - and this was in the '90s, I think. And I was thinking about sort of Princess Diana or something like that. And then in later years, I came to - I remember one day I was watching - during one of our election campaigns in the U.K. - the prime minister at the time - the incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown was giving a - was at an event. And he basically - he left his microphone on, and he accidentally - he was caught on microphone calling a woman a bigot. And the press went crazy, and he had to turn up and apologize to her live on television. Suddenly, it cut to this woman's house and there's - you know, the press are all thronged outside. It was a really chaotic and strange day, where he was sort of being buffeted around by sort of angry public opinion because he'd done this terrible gaffe.
And I remember watching and thinking who's in charge here? It was just bizarre. And also, at the same time, we have this show called "I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!" which is incredibly popular in the U.K. And people appear on it and do humiliating things. And you get people - there was a guy who'd been running for mayor of London, and he lost. And then four months later, he's in the jungle on this show. And I thought that is a strange career trajectory. And then about six months after that, he's just back on the news as a pundit commenting on a political matter. And also, this guy was a former head of the Metropolitan Police.
So I thought there's a strange appetite for sort of public humiliation, I think. And it was kind of a mixture of all of those things together really that episode. And then, of course - then what we do is we take - it's an outrageous jokey premise and we play it very straight, and it becomes disturbing, like genuinely disturbing and harrowing because, of course, it would be if that was - if that was happening.
GROSS: So the prime minister decides he has no choice but to go through with it.
BROOKER: He does.
GROSS: And before the live broadcast, a TV announcer comes on with an advisory for listeners basically telling them not to watch. So I want to play that advisory that comes on before this live broadcast.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) This is an official announcement. In a few minutes, the prime minister will perform an indecent act on your screens. This is in accordance with the kidnappers' demand in the hope that it will ensure the safe release of Princess Susannah. Recording or possessing a copy of this broadcast will become illegal at midnight. All viewers are advised to turn off their televisions immediately. The broadcast will commence after the following tone.
GROSS: I love that advisory, first of all. I have to give advisories sometimes on the show if we're talking about, you know, something sexual, an advisory to parents that this might not be appropriate to children. If there's something that's graphically violent that's going to be described, I'd give an advisory to parents or to anybody else who feels like they really don't want to hear anything like that. And you know that there's probably a group of people hearing that advisory who are going, like, oh, turn up the volume (laughter), you know? There's going to be sex or violence, turn it up.
And I also know I'm probably going to be disappointing some of those people because it's not going to be nearly as graphic as they were hoping. So those advisories are always kind of odd. But in your show, when the advisory comes on it's like - everybody's, like, cheering like, yeah, like, bring it.
GROSS: Let's see that act of degradation. We want to watch.
BROOKER: Yes. Well, they are - well, they certainly are in the pub. We sort of go into one pub where people are watching it. And then as it all plays out, the mood definitely darkens and people are - the audience starts to feel cheapened by what they're seeing. And...
GROSS: And they're still watching.
BROOKER: Aghast, but kind of out of it - but also, I think people are starting to look away and questioning, and they're sort of horrified. They're watching - the reality of it hits them, and they're watching a tragedy.
BROOKER: And so it becomes a stomach-churning - just a - it's kind of an - it's a national disgrace, and it's awful.
GROSS: Do you think of humiliation as having become a popular pastime on television through reality shows?
BROOKER: There's - now there's a sort of - there's a type of - it's certainly something that is more - it's a more salvageable situation, I suppose, in some ways. I mean, at the end of the national anthem, we show that it's a year later and the prime minister's approval rating has gone up by a couple of percent - not massively but by a couple of percent. People have moved on.
And that was kind of what I felt when I was watching things like "I'm A Celebrity" and there were people doing these degrading things was that then nine months later everyone had forgotten about it. And certainly now you get - I've noticed that you - we've got a politician called Boris Johnson in the U.K. who's persona - popular persona is kind of as a buffoon. And he showed up on comedy panel shows as a guest and would sort of dither and say outrageous things and look a bit crazy. And what that did was it made him kind of unassailable. You know, you can't humiliate him because he is - he's inoculated himself to humiliation by kind of playing a - starting out as a kind of comedy figure in some way or becoming known as a comedy figure. So I think that's kind of interesting that you get figures like that seem to be springing up. I don't know if that's a peculiarly modern phenomenon or not.
GROSS: My guest is Charlie Brooker, the creator of the series "Black Mirror." Season three will be on Netflix tomorrow. After we take a short break, we'll talk about a political episode of "Black Mirror" about a crass, crude CGI bear. To boost the bear's brand. The animators decide to enter the bear as a candidate for parliament. What could possibly go wrong? I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Charlie Brooker, the creator and primary writer of "Black Mirror." It's a dystopian series about unintended consequences of digital technology and artificial intelligence. "Black Mirror" originated on the BBC. Season three will be on Netflix starting tomorrow.
Last season, there was an episode about politics. And there was a CGI bear that's voiced by a very crude comic.
GROSS: And on a TV show, the bear, you know, the CGI bear, interviews a conservative candidate for parliament. And the bear taunts him. The audience loves it. So the producers decide that in order to, like, boost ratings even more and to boost the value of this bear's brand, they're going to project the CGI bear on the side of van and park it outside of this candidate's meet and greets and continue to taunt him. And then on a TV program panel discussion of candidates, the candidates include the CGI bear, and the audience is loving the actors because the bear's decided to, like, run for office. So the politician who's played by Tobias Menzies is trying to convince the audience of this panel discussion to ignore this bear, this fake candidate and focus on real issues. Here's a scene.
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TOBIAS MENZIES: (As Liam Monroe) I think we have to ask ourselves what is this for and why do we waste our time with animated trivialities like him? I mean, why?
DANIEL RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) Why?
RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter, imitating Liam Monroe) I mean, why? I mean, why? I mean, why? I mean, why? I mean, why?
MENZIES: (As Liam Monroe) This is just the kind of thing. They'd rather see you laugh.
RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) They laugh at you, Limbo.
MENZIES: (As Liam Monroe) You're laughing at someone who won't engage, who is scared to engage, who hides behind a children's cartoon.
RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) Who you calling a kiddie-toon, fool?
MENZIES: (As Liam Monroe) I'm speaking about James Salter. It's your name, isn't it? James Salter, this is the man who's behind all this. He's 33 years old, a man whose career can be summed up surprisingly quickly. You were in a sketch troupe who enjoyed a minor success about six years ago. And the others moved on to better things. But your main achievement seems to have been playing the part of a corn on the cob in a high interest personal loan commercial. I notice you're - you keep that pretty quiet, and now, of course, operating this sort of teddy bear thing which by the way is easier than it looks. Anyone could do it. See this is the thing. It's easy what he does. He mocks. And when he can't think of an authentic joke, which is actually quite often, he just swears. I think that this puppet's inclusion on this panel debases the process of debate and smothers any meaningful discussion of the issues. So I return to my original question. Is that really what this is for? He has nothing to offer, and he has nothing to say. Prove me wrong. Speak, Waldo, please. Come on. Speak up. You see? Nothing.
RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) Oh, go [expletive] yourself.
MENZIES: (As Liam Monroe) It's more swearing.
RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) You're a joke. You look less human than I do and I'm a made up bear with a turquoise [expletive].
RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) What are you? You're just an old attitude with new hair, assuming you're my superior because I'm not taking you seriously. No one takes you seriously. That's why no one votes...
GROSS: OK. That's a scene from the "Black Mirror" episode "The Waldo Moment" where Waldo is the CGI bear who's running for parliament and is in a debate with a conservative politician running for parliament. So it seems to me that that's almost like a dystopian version of what comics like Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G or Robert Smigel as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog have done which is take their humor into the real world and confront politicians and persona. But the way you're doing it on the TV show it leads to just really bad things all the way around. Whereas, I think, you know, Ali G and Triumph are very funny.
CHARLIE BOOKER: Yes. And Ali G was very much on our minds when we did that episode. I used to work on "The 11 O'Clock Show" which was a show...
GROSS: Oh, with Sacha Baron Cohen?
BOOKER: ...Years ago. Which I didn't actually work with him, but that's where Ali G was on this show. By the time I joined the show, he was already so popular and successful. I don't think I ever saw him in the office. But what I guess that story is about was - it was a what-if story. What if one of these kind of insult comics, effectively, a character, became a lightning rod for an anti-political mood that I felt was growing in the U.K. at the time? And then became sort of elevated to - it became the mascot of sort of populist anger. And that's kind of what happens within the story.
GROSS: What's it been like for you to watch a reality TV star, Donald Trump, become the Republican presidential candidate in the U.S.?
BOOKER: It's felt inevitable. I mean, the first time I saw that he was running for, you know, as the potential Republican candidate, I just got a sense that he would win that because I guess similarly to what happens in that episode that you played the clip from, it feels like, you know, he's tapped into that same anti-political mood. And it's just - I find it hard to almost articulate what I feel about that because I find it - it's fascinating and frightening in kind of equal measure. And I don't know where all of that is heading. I really can't work out what the end point of all of this is.
GROSS: Are you fascinated by his middle-of-the-night tweets? Since your series "Black Mirror" has so much to do with social media and with how people use and misuse the new technologies, I figure you must be really interested in how Donald Trump is using Twitter.
BOOKER: Well, I mean, I think he's using it in the same ways he - like he seems to just blurt whatever's in his head. And there's no filter there. And that is one of the things that I'm, you know, that I think people are responding to, isn't it? That that's sort of the point is that he operates without a filter. And for many people that is - that's what they've been waiting for. And so, I mean, his use of Twitter is really, I guess, just an extension of that is that he just - he kind of says things and damn the consequences. And I guess the more that's - that appalls many people, the more it cheers others.
GROSS: What kind of media did you grow up with?
GROSS: What was your media diet when you were just, you know, becoming conscious and able to use media?
BROOKER: I was exposed to TV quite a lot at an early age. And I remember I - you know, I grew up watching the BBC, like everyone in Britain, and, you know, slightly, slightly eerie children's programs we had and terrifying public information films. When I was a young - when I was 14 years old, the BBC broadcast a show called "Threads" that was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen, which was a drama about nuclear war.
Now, I know there was an American drama roughly the same time called "The Day After" about nuclear war, which was harrowing, but was nothing compared to "Threads" because "Threads" fought - went on for 13 years after the apocalypse, basically, until you've got sort of, you know, languages devolved to nothing and you've got people scrabbling around to eat rats in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It was terrifying. And I think things like that had a huge effect on me.
GROSS: You have children age 2 and 4. Do you think a lot about the fact that they're going to grow up native to technologies that no one has dreamed of yet and that you will feel left behind (laughter)?
BROOKER: (Laughter) I think yes. I mean, so my 4-year-old, for instance, would much prefer to play a video game than watch a cartoon. I mean, he'll watch a cartoon, but he would prefer to try Super Mario Maker or something like that. He seems - he tends to gravitate towards things where you build things or you construct things or you - I think he likes the control you get.
I dread to think what sort of stuff they'll be using and playing with in just five, 10 years' time. It will be beyond my - beyond my imagining, I'm sure. But I kind of feel like - I feel like it's positive. I feel like if I see - if I see my son trying - like, you know, something like Bad Piggies, which is like an Angry Bird spinoff on the iPad. And you build vehicles that you have to then sort of get them to go across a course. And I'll see him doing something like that, and I think that's way better than just sitting there watching - watching somebody else do the thinking for you on - you know, on TV. In many ways that's so much more interactive. I kind of feel like that's a huge leap forward.
At the same time, I don't know - I can't conceive of what sort of stuff they'll be toying with in five, 10 years' time and whether that will be a positive or a negative. I don't know. I'd like to be optimistic about it. I mean, it's just - it's weird to see them that they run over to a television and start trying to swipe at it like an iPad, you know, because they - you know, and if it doesn't - if the images don't move when they run their hand along it, they think it's antiquated. You know, and that's the world they'll be growing up in. I mean, what are their kids going to be doing, eating holograms?
BROOKER: I don't know. You know, 3-D printing their own dreams. It'll be - I try to be optimistic in my real life...
GROSS: Oh, it seems you're incapable of that, though.
BROOKER: I know - well, I mean, I am a worrier. I am neurotic, and I'm a worrier. And I have to try and remind myself that weirdly - in a weird way, I mean, this year has been a horrible dystopian year, hasn't it? 2016 has been an awful year generally, all sorts of terrifying, chilling things are happening. And in a weird way, when everyone's feeling that the world's going to hell in a hand basket, I kind of relax a little more because I often feel like that. So when I feel like everyone's feeling like that, I kind of feel more on common ground. And that's when I start becoming more optimistic in a kind of probably doomed bloody-minded sort of way.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Charlie Brooker. And he's the creator and primary writer of the Netflix series "Black Mirror." We're going to take a short break, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Charlie Brooker. He's the creator and primary writer of the Netflix series "Black Mirror." Season three goes up tomorrow. "Black Mirror" is a dystopian series where the episodes usually revolve around some kind of computer technology or social media or artificial intelligence.
In an episode in the new season of "Black Mirror," everybody walks around with a device, like their phone, grading everybody they see. And everybody has a grade that they're given, which is the average of all the grades that they've been given by individuals that have had contact with. I feel like we're already in that world (laughter) you know?
GROSS: Or at least we're just, like, a short step away from it. Do you feel that way?
BROOKER: Yeah. I mean, it's not a million miles away from just how reality works. It's just been massively codified in that story, basically. It's - yeah, I mean, it's a kind of sarcastic version of now. And that one's called "Nosedive" and that stars Bryce Dallas Howard. And it's been directed by Joe Wright.
Social media has made it as - you know, and the internet and technology in general has sharpened all of those things. I guess they've always been there, that performative nature of life has always been there that you sort of perform, you know, to everyone to an extent, don't you? You sort of perform your personality, I guess, to everyone on some level. It's just that I think it's more - well, my little theory is that we've got - that - I remember - my theory is that we've got - that we used to have several personalities, and now we're encouraged to have one online. So - but by which I mean I remember once having a having a birthday party - or was it a book launch? - something - anyway, a party.
And people from different aspects of my life showed up. So there were work colleagues who showed up and there were people I'd known since, like, college who showed up and there were people I'd only just met who showed up. And I behaved differently with all of these people in the real world. But once they were all together in one space and they were all mingled in in one group, if I walked over to them, I suddenly didn't know how to speak, do you know what I mean? Because, like, with some of them I'd be - I tried to be all intellectual and erudite and with others I'd just swear and curse and be an idiot. And suddenly, when they're all in one space, I don't know who I am.
And I kind of feel like the one sort of thing is that online you're encouraged to perform one personality for everyone. And I wonder if that's one of the things that's feeding into the kind of polarization that seems to be going on is that you're - I think that lends itself to groupthink in some way or some kind of lack of authenticity. I wonder if we're better - better equipped to deal with having slightly different
BROOKER: personas. Not massive - you know, not hugely different in a sinister way.
GROSS: Different sides of your authentic self.
BROOKER: Exactly, that you...
GROSS: That are brought out by different people or different environments.
BROOKER: ...That come out when you interact with different types of people. Exactly.
GROSS: Exactly. Exactly.
BROOKER: And the problem, in a way, is that online, that's sort of stripped away from you in many ways, you know?
GROSS: Well, it's a little too subtle (laughter).
BROOKER: Yeah, it's sort of - I - you know, it's - so I wonder if that feeds into the slightly inauthentic feel of the online world still.
GROSS: Since "Black Mirror" is so much about technology, does it make sense to you that the show is on Netflix as opposed to broadcast TV? That, you know, you need some kind of connectivity (laughter) beyond cable in order to watch it?
BROOKER: Well, it's certainly fitting. I mean, I guess if your Wi-Fi goes down halfway through an episode and you get this little spinning wheel, you might just think it's (laughter) part of the show.
GROSS: Exactly (laughter).
BROOKER: It feels fitting. I'll tell you what it - it certainly feels fitting - it feels fitting thematically. I also think it's fitting for this type of show, i.e. a show in which it's a stand-alone story each time because they're traditionally shows that are quite difficult to build an audience for on broadcast television because obviously we don't have cliffhangers or returning characters. So it's - you know, it's difficult to ensure that viewers will come back on time the next week.
So I think that anthology shows of this nature have kind of been waiting for services like Netflix or Amazon or whatever to come along because there, it's kind of more like giving you a short story collection all in one go. You can tackle the episodes in any order.
I mean, we've had such a headache working out what order to put them in. And I changed my mind again, but it was too late (laughter). So we've sort of - it becomes like sequencing an album or something because you can pick them up in any order. You know, we couldn't work out what order - it's terrible for someone who's indecisive like me.
But it seems fitting that, you know - certainly the other - I mean, the other aspect for the nature of this show is that I can't quite get my head around the thought that it's going to be instantly available all over the world in one nanosecond. That kind of is quite mind-boggling.
GROSS: Charlie Brooker, thank you so much for talking with us.
BROOKER: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.
GROSS: Charlie Brooker is the creator and primary writer of the British anthology series "Black Mirror." Season three will be on Netflix tomorrow. This is FRESH AIR.
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