This article acts as a sequel to a piece written about porn in Black Mirror last year, so I’d recommend taking a cheeky peek at that one over here before reading this one. There’s also major spoilers for series four throughout this article, and a trigger warning for discussion of sexual abuse, so careful with this, kids.
It’s 2018, it’s been over a month since Black Mirror season four was released, and I still have a concerning obsession with sex in Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology series. Delving deeply into the in’s-and-out’s of these new episodes gives an insight into the accessibility of sexually deviant behaviour in the modern age – paraphilias such as voyeurism and BDSM exist in new forms now with so much online pornography and fan fiction floating around the net (bet Brooker would love to know what kind of antics he and David Mitchell get up to on Archive of Our Own, arguably the kinkiest fan fiction site out there). Black Mirror finds some really zany ways of exploring how technology allows its characters to bash one out in the most inappropriate and morally questionable ways possible.
I’ll ease in gently with “Hang the DJ”. You’ve got Amy (Georgina Campbell), you’ve got Frank (Joe Cole), you’ve got them having amazing chemistry, and then they bugger off to meet new people, despite the fact that they really, really like each other. Why do they do this? Because they’re doing what Coach tells them to do. Coach is a Tinder/Siri-type system that runs through a ‘playlist’ of potential partners for participants in the dating game to match with until they find the person the system determines is most compatible with them.
“Hang the DJ” is an uplifting story about two people finding they have a deep connection with one another and giving the finger to a confining dating culture in an artificial society. So what on earth does it have to do with sexual deviancy? Like I said, I’m easing in gently here. The deviancy part half kicks in with the lack of identity given to the meaningless hook ups the system sets up; sex with strangers is a somewhat kinky thing to do, though Tinder makes it appear quite vanilla. Apps like Pure (which was created purely for hooking up, no awkward bios need be written) make it seem a tad naughtier, with there being even less personality given to the people you meet on there. The other half of the deviancy is the system telling everyone what and who to do, like some kinky dominant-submissive relationship going on between a human being and a non-physical higher power. Just imagine ‘Coach’ being called ‘Daddy’ instead. Or ‘Mummy’, even, probably more fitting with the femininity of its voice. Filthy.
I’ll slide in a little deeper this time. In “USS Callister” Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) is just a nerdy bloke who gets picked in his workplace by tosser James Walton (Jimmi Simpson), even though they created the company Callister Inc. together. Daly’s a shy fella in the real world, but when he gets online to simulated reality MMO Infinity, the game produced by their company, he’s a beast. The lack of power he has in the office is made up for in this virtual Star Trekkie-ish world, where he takes the DNA of those he works with and inserts copies of them into the game and plays around with them in adventures where he always saves the day. They celebrate with cheers and kisses.
It gets very, very wrong when you learn that the characters in this simulated reality Daly’s built for himself continue to exist when he’s no longer playing the game, and they’re stuck inside it. They’re living, breathing copies of their real world selves used for Daly’s own gratification; he gets to abuse Walton psychologically when he disobeys orders, and makes out with the skimpily dressed women from the workplace as a reward for his successes. What he’s too reserved to do in real life to them he does in the game; it’s a bit like one of those weird sex simulations, except there’s no sex in Infinity because no one has any genitals. Autonomy is non-existent, and from Nannette’s (Cristin Milioti) distress at the thought of having to kiss Daly, it’s clear whatever consent he believes he receives is coerced. Is this deviant? Yeah, and just straight up perverted.
Black Mirror has it all, from weird sex games to watching your teenage daughter have sex. “Arkangel” explores the dysfunctional relationship between mother Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her daughter Sara (Brenna Harding) as she matures into a young adult. Out of concern for Sara’s wellbeing when she was a child, Marie agreed to have a neural implant inserted into her daughter so she could monitor Sara’s location and psychological state through the tablet system Arkangel. Marie can see everything Sara does, and prevent her from viewing or hearing any harmful or inappropriate stimuli around her. This reveals itself to be pretty bad for Sara’s development, because apparently disconnecting your child from reality and spying on everything they do is actually not great parenting. So, Marie turns off the implant and hides the tablet that allows her to censor her daughter’s perspective in the kitchen cupboard.
Like any concerned parent would do, Marie takes the tablet out the cupboard when Sara becomes a sneaky teenager and begins to spy on her again. One day, Marie tunes in and catches Sara shagging a boy from school in the back of a van. Creepy! The Arkangel system always had the potential to become sexually deviant, though. If you’re the voyeur to all your child’s actions, you could end up seeing a lot of their sexual behaviours – the lack of privacy between parent and child becomes perverted when you have a device that allows you to see all details of their personal life. The harm Arkangel can cause could go down even more disturbing avenues if we consider what children in sexually abusive households could be subjected to with this system. No wonder it ended up being banned.
Now I’m going in real deep. “Black Museum” includes the tale of Dr. Peter Dawson (Daniel Lapaine), who earns himself the title of world’s horniest sadomasochistic doctor. He agrees to having Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge) stick a foreign object inside him – specifically, an experimental neurological implant that allows him to feel the pain of his patients to efficiently diagnose and treat them. Dawson discovers this implant makes him better at his job, and spices up his sex life; his girlfriend puts on the sexy little hairnet that transfers the sensations she experiences onto him through his implant, and they get up to all kinds of kinky shit together. Dawson even gets to have both male and female orgasms when she’s wearing the hairnet. Amazing.
That’s one layer of the sexual deviancy in this episode. The next layer comes along when the sex Dawson demands from his partner is becoming too kinky – she tells him to stop, he struggles too, things are getting non-consensual now! Dawson takes his sweet time diagnosing a patient’s poisoning on purpose so he can enjoy the sexual pleasure of their death, gets the sack for being a creep, starts self-mutilating at home for arousal, then goes out one night to taser, torture, and drill into a homeless man’s skull to have a truly fantastic ejaculation. He gets arrested and ends up in a coma – was it worth it? I’d say no, but Dawson might argue otherwise. Good thing he’s not conscious to do so!
Unfortunately, there are a bunch of wealthy sadists out there who are conscious, and visit Rolo Haynes’ Black Museum for its main attraction. Dawson’s story is just one part of this episode; the story ends with Clayton Leigh (Babs Olusanmokun), a man falsely convicted and sentenced to death for murder, and whose digital consciousness is now imprisoned inside the museum for visitors to electrocute again and again for the purpose of getting an up-close viewing his execution. The exhibit became particularly popular with perverts willing to pay extra to get their own private time to watch the electrocution, which adds the third tier to this episode’s sexual deviancy cake.
Season four of Black Mirror is littered with examples of sexual deviancy ruining people’s lives. We probably all know someone who’s just one kinky bastard, but the antics they get up to are safe and consensual, and are attentive to their sexual partners’ needs. The events of this series are extreme versions of technology giving people the opportunity to discover new ways to experience eroticism, and their lack of understanding of how to navigate this technology leads to the sexual encounters they have to become non-consensual. In this new series of Black Mirror, Brooker has given us some food for thought on how to approach technology and sex in this rapidly changing modern day.