I need to issue an apology to my best friend for that one time we watched an episode of Black Mirror.
She had already seen all available episodes of the show whereas I had avoided it. However this evening, we were having a grand old time showing each other videos and episodes of tv shows the other hadn’t seen yet and so when she suggested Black Mirror, I said yes. I had heard positive feedback, even if part of that feedback focused on how desolate the show was.
We watched just one episode and it wasn’t even that tragic relative to the others, but after this episode, I spiraled into a brief depressive crisis. Oh my goodness, I thought, there’s no hope for humanity, we’re all awful, we’re all doomed, what’s the point of even trying?
A good time was had by none.
I tend to respond very strongly to what I watch. Some might call it being overly empathetic to fictional characters. I am a sympathetic crier in response to those I see on the screen, and I get disproportionately mad on behalf of characters when it comes to injustice. So when a dystopian show like Black Mirror comes along, I take it perhaps a little too seriously. Balance that with walking the tightrope of depression and anxiety, and it turns out a show like Black Mirror and a girl like me do not make a healthy fit.
There are a lot of dystopian shows and movies out there of this vein, that in some ways act as a warning for humanity. A great degree of popular series tend to focus on the destruction of humanity. Maybe humans are needing to be shot into space because we have neglected this earth. Maybe a zombie apocalypse has broken out because we have neglected one another. Maybe robots have have finally taken over because we have neglected our own decision making skills. The message is consistent: we are destroying ourselves and our world and hurtling towards a doom of our own making.
The stories we tell are shaped by us as we are by them. The stories that resonate with us say something about us. If there is an uptick in the popularity of apocalyptic tales, maybe we really are more fearful of our own demise than ever before, and these shows act as a warning or a wakeup call.
Entertainment and art serve different purposes for different people. For some, these dystopian shows are a call to action. “Wake up!” they shout, “and do something to prevent this.” Or maybe they show the inevitable, and instead say “this is your future, deal with it.” Or perhaps people don’t see these shows as indicative of what’s to come at all, but just a way to be entertained.
When I take in fictional media about how we have doomed ourselves, I tend to walk away feeling dejected. The world is horrible, people are horrible, everything is horrible. These sentiments fuel my depression (as if it wasn’t already self-sustaining), and leave me feeling hopeless and empty. When this is the case, instead of taking these warnings as cues, I curl into a ball and wonder what the point is anyways. Maybe this is a sign of a weak mind or a weak will, but it’s where I’m at right now.
This rabbit hole is at the very least unproductive. Even if there is a part of me that feels like I need to do something to make the world better, it drowns in despair. As such, I tend to stay away from these dystopian stories of desolation. Until recently, I tended to beat myself up over this. Does this mean I can’t handle hard truths? There is a performance to everything, and perhaps the performance of being an intellectual and someone who cares about pain in the world means taking in inconvenient truths.
But what is performance without productivity? What is useful about the performance is it takes away from our ability to actually be useful?
Right now, for me, it comes down to productivity. If I am at a point right now where I need to fuel myself with hopeful stories instead of tragic ones, than that’s what I need to do. There is difference between what is performative and what is productive. It is imperative we understand the difference for each of us.