The Black Mirror of surveillance

What is it about the speculative fiction of Black Mirror that captures the workings of surveillance culture so uniquely? Professor Øyvind Vågnes shares his thought at the ViSmedia Conference.


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Culture can be defined as a whole way of life, and Black Mirror concerns how technology shapes a whole way of life and how surveillance is a part of that life. Not only being watched, but watching itself has become a way of life.

Most successful TV-series revolve around a few central characters. When the characters become boring, the show dies. Black Mirror has a different cast and a different setting for each episode. The cold shiny screen is the main character,and one element that appears in all episodes, is the culture of surveillance. The society of control in where surveillance becomes less like a tree, rigid and vertical, but more like creeping weeds. “Surveillance state” and “surveillance society” have been used to describe how surveillance is done to individuals and groups. But contemporary surveillance can be better understood in terms of surveillance culture, where daily activities are monitored and watching has become a way of life. 

Inspired by the Twilight Zone, Black Mirror plunges the viewer into slightly different worlds every week. But they are all about the way we live now, and the way we will be living in ten minutes if we are clumsy. And the one thing we know about mankind, is that we are usually clumsy. If technology is a drug, then what are the side effects?

Øyvind Vågnes - Black Mirror