Neutral Magazine

Media & Technology

Neutral examines the advantages and consequences of living in a technological world and begins to explore what our world may look like in the future.

Neutral Magazine + Media & Technology

Future Paranoia in Netflix’s Black Mirror

By Beth Sawdon | beth.sawdon@yorksj.ac.uk

Streaming platforms offer viewers a new way of spectating. Platforms such as Netflix provide audiences with unlimited and exclusive content, only available through their subscription service. Black Mirror is a British sci-fi series which Netflix purchased after series two. Exploring and philosophising common sci-fi themes such as technology, time, and human capabilities as well as identity, society and culture, Black Mirror looks at the dark side of our love affair with technology.

The Entire History of You, an episode in series one, delves into a future where humans have a ‘Grain’ implanted in their brain from birth, connected to the perceptual-cognitive system. Memories or ‘re-dos’ can be stored and replayed as a visual augmentation and on any screen or device. The episode focuses on the use of eyes, and how the technology can be accessed through lenses. Use of the eye makes this technology very personal and unique to the user, as if the eye is another form of communication such as texting or emailing. In Black Mirror, it can be understood that technology will always require the human element, otherwise it ceases to have a purpose.

From the start, it is made clear that the existence and necessity of this technology causes incredible paranoia for the main character, Liam, who constantly watches back his ‘re-dos’, questioning himself and those around him. The technology used in this episode presents similarities to today’s daily back-ups of data and camera usage on handheld devices. In addition, it can be applied to the paranoia and self-doubt that transpires from current technology usage. The episode suggests a dark exploration of the predicted consequences of this kind of technology, along with its effects on relationships and identity. Liam’s identity is shrouded when he becomes obsessed with finding out if his partner, Fi, has cheated on him. Using his Grain to playback re-dos of their time together, observing her body language, and making note of every detail, Liam questions Fi. She puts his accusations down to jealousy and paranoia, yet Liam later finds out that he was right and Fi had manipulated him into questioning himself. The way this story is explored is a plausible prediction for the development of social media as a form of surveillance. Relationships become fragile through a misuse of trust and honesty, most commonly seen in society through a secretive use of social media as a way of surveying and observing others.

The characters are presented as innocent victims of panopticism, through the use of the isolating yet scopophilic technology. As explored in the episode, Fi’s lover, Jonas, boasts about how he uses his Grain to look back on “hot times in early relationships”, reinforcing the scopophilic nature of the Grain technology and highlighting the future implications of privacy and censorship. This is seen again later when Liam and Fi have sex whilst watching back their ‘first time’. Michel Foucault’s original theories on the panopticon effect highlighted the panopticon’s power as being a new mode of obtaining mind over mind. The discipline thus becomes a self-promoting mental tool through visibility.

Finally, the episode examines the use of the Grain in a seemingly all-digital world. The Grain is presented as an identity chip; without it, it is near impossible to do anything. In a job interview, Liam is told that his progression relies on a six-month re-do – a digital background check of the last six months of his life. Likewise, at the airport, he is asked to replay the past week for security guards to visualise on screen, using facial recognition technology to flag the faces of people he’s interacted with. This episode explores a future world where everyone is an augmented human, until Hallam is introduced and tells the group that she is ‘Grainless’ after having it surgically removed. Later, when Hallam calls the police, she is asked to provide a livestream through her Grain. They hang up when she tells them she is Grainless. Hallam’s decision is one of self-preservation and identity, enabling her to take back control that technology has continuously pulled from her. This brief moment is an important expression of how the digital world is becoming dominant, and those who choose not to embrace it are deemed inferior.

The series three episode, Nosedive, is one of equal paranoia and disturbance at the hands of technology. In a seemingly perfect suburban neighbourhood, Lacie lives in a society where appearance is everything. Lives are dictated by ratings gained from peers on social media and day-to-day meetings, with positive encounters encouraging four or five-star ratings for the individual. Similar to The Entire History of You, high ratings ensure individuals receive the luxuries of daily life. Jobs and property are subjective to a person’s rating, with Lacie needing a 4.5 or above to get her dream home. At the airport, she requires a 4.3 to get a plane ticket, and to rent a car, her low rating gets her the oldest, most unreliable hybrid model.

The prediction that our livelihoods will rely upon ratings is a development of society’s reliance on social media. This also fuels the argument of a class divide, with those in more privileged circles receiving more luxuries than those from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds. This is explored briefly in the episode when a gay, black co-worker with a 3.1 rating desperately tries to offer Lacie an organic smoothie to increase his numbers. Later, he is refused entry to the office building with an even lower rating of 2.4. This supports the findings of the recent Inclusive Boards report that only 8.5% of senior leaders in the tech sector were from a black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) background, and highlights the lack of diversity in many businesses. The inclusion of this in Nosedive suggests that our technological future will have made no progression to diversity in the workplace.

In terms of identity, Lacie’s is fuelled by her friendship circles, her online presence, and her daily decisions. Lacie adheres to various cultural forms and practices in order to maintain her high status of 4.2. Practicing fake smiles and laughter in the mirror at home and upholding a perfect appearance keeps her steadily in the boundary. It is only when she gives in to human nature that her rating drops, starting with an argument with her brother and then walking into somebody in the street. This forms the prediction that human nature will become socially unacceptable in the future, resulting in alienation and loss of respect simply from being natural.

Additionally, Lacie’s friend Naomi demonstrates a mode of power through her high 4.7 rating and celebrity-like status, saying she cannot have a “2.6” at her wedding. This supports observations that suggest identities emerge within modalities of power, as Naomi has a superior sense of self compared to Lacie. People rely on social media to enhance their self-esteem and maximise social capital. This reliance can be problematic and leads to excessive social media usage. The reality that the women’s friendship depends upon statistics and popularity causes Lacie to break down and begin speaking her mind, rapidly reducing her rating, but vastly improving her sense of self and identity.

The episode title, Nosedive, is an accurate allegory for the nature of immersion that society gives to technology and online identities. Nosedive predicts an obsessive and problematic development to our online identities with the growth of technology.

Neutral Magazine + Media & Technology

The Future of Cinema on Disney+

By Harry Gudgin | harry.gudgin@yorksj.ac.uk

It’s no secret that the popularity of streaming services has been growing exponentially in recent years. Today, the likes of Netflix and Amazon are producing content so rapidly, and with such high production value, that traditional studios are struggling to compete. Now, Disney have jumped on the trend to bring us Disney+, a new streaming service offering audiences instant access to Disney classics, both live action and animated, as well the IP’s acquired by Disney in recent years, including Marvel, Star Wars and The Simpsons. On top of streaming their back catalogue, Disney has also begun producing original content, specifically for the platform. This includes everything from live-action remakes of classic Disney animated films, such as Lady and the Tramp (2019) to continuations of Disney Channel TV shows like the upcoming ‘Lizzie McGuire’. Perhaps most fascinating, however, is Disney’s plan for the future of Star Wars and Marvel on Disney+. Both franchises released films in 2019 which served as quasi-conclusions to their respective sagas and plans have since been announced for the franchises to continue, at least in some sense, on Disney+. While two Marvel films, ‘Black Widow’ and ‘The Eternals’ are slated for theatrical releases later this year, a further eight Disney+ shows have been announced, five of which are set to release over the next two years. Similarly, there are currently no Star Wars films in production but three Disney+ shows have been announced, with one, ‘The Mandalorian’, releasing in November 2019 and receiving positive reviews. This article aims to explore the how and why of Disney’s move to streaming, as well as how these decisions may affect the film industry going forward.

The Star Wars franchise has had a rocky few years since Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. The first Star Wars film released by Disney, ‘The Force Awakens’ (2015), was well received by many but was also criticised for its over-reliance on nostalgia and lack of originality. Since then, Disney has released Star Wars films yearly, to varying degrees of success. In 2018, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ was released, the second ‘Star Wars anthology’ film after 2016’s ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’. The film was a box office flop and reportedly lost the studio $76.9 million, forcing Disney to question the longevity of annual Star Wars features. Most recently, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ opened to a mixed response. By relying heavily on fan service and overlooking glaring plot holes, the film (and the trilogy it belonged to) was deemed a mess.

However, a month prior to the release of ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’, Disney+ launched in the United States and with it, the first episodes of ‘The Mandalorian’ were available for streaming. The show takes place within the Star Wars universe and is set after the events of the original trilogy but before the events of the Disney trilogy. The sci-fi/western, follows an unnamed bounty hunter on weekly adventures throughout the galaxy, all while protecting the mysterious ‘child’. It has gone on to become a global phenomenon, in part because of the adorable ‘baby Yoda’, but also because of the show’s ability to give fans what they want, without sacrificing story. The show's success proves to Disney, and to the film industry at large, that small-scale, lower budget stories, can be far more lucrative than a big budget feature film, when done right.

The success of ‘The Mandalorian’ has earned it a second season, scheduled for release towards the end of 2020. On top of this, other live-action Star Wars shows, telling the stories of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Rogue One’s Cassian Andor are currently being developed for Disney+. With fan favourite, Ewan McGregor, reprising his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and fan favourite characters from Star Wars animation, Ahsoka Tano and Ezra Bridger (from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels respectively) set to make their first appearance in live-action, Star Wars' future on Disney+ seems far brighter than the cinematic alternative.

Marvel Studios’ ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ began in 2008 with the release of ‘Iron Man’, then in 2009 the studio was acquired by Disney who has since turned the franchise in to the behemoth we know today. Narratively, the saga that began over a decade ago with ‘Iron Man’, came to a climactic end in 2019’s ‘Avengers: Endgame’, creating an uncertain future for the MCU. In July of 2019, during a panel held at San Diego Comic-Con, President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, announced that much of the studios upcoming productions will be released as series on Disney+ and not as feature films. The announced slate included, ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’, ‘WandaVision’, ‘Loki’, ‘What If...?’ and ‘Hawkeye’. On top of this, a further three series’ (‘Ms. Marvel’, ‘Moon Knight’ and ‘She-Hulk’) were announced a month later at Disney's exposition event, D23.

While none of the Marvel Disney+ shows have been released yet, it’s clear to see which direction Disney and Feige plan to take the franchise. During his San Diego Com-Con panel, Feige made it abundantly clear that these shows will exist within the same universe as the films of the MCU. Not only will many of the film actors reprise their roles for the series, but the events of the shows will directly influence, and be influenced by, the events of the films. This is a clear departure from Marvel’s previous forays into television, such as ABC’s ‘Marvel’s Agents of Shield’ and Netflix series such as ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Jessica Jones’, the events of which were never acknowledged by the films despite the shows themselves being direct results of the events of the films. Instead, Disney and Marvel aim to make big budget, film-quality shows that are as much a part of the MCU as any of the films.

In recent years, the limits of what is possible on television has been pushed further and further. On top of this, streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Video and now, Disney+, provide audiences with more quality content than ever before. With the gap between film and television growing ever smaller, it seems only logical that Disney’s blockbuster franchises make the shift to the small screen. While the full effects of this shift are yet to reveal themselves, it’s clear that the future of cinema is intrinsically linked to the future of television and streaming.