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Black Mirror Reflections

Terri Murray illustrates Marcuse’s critique of technologised society using an episode of the British TV series Black Mirror.

In One Dimensional Man (1964) and Repressive Tolerance (1965), German philosopher and political theorist Herbert Marcuse claimed that developing technology institutes new, more effective, and more pleasant forms of social control and social cohesion, making totalitarian control through terrorisation unnecessary. Rather, ‘advanced industrial society’ creates false needs which integrate individuals into the existing system of production and consumption via mass media, advertising, and industrial management. ‘15 Million Merits’, the second episode of British TV series Black Mirror (Channel 4, 2011), co-written by Charlie Brooker and Konnie Huq, presents a perfect platform for exploring some of Marcuse’s most prophetic observations.

Sex and the System

The tragic hero of this episode is Bing, a man whose very name is an onomatopoeia for something popping up on a screen. Bing inhabits a dystopic future (or allegorical present?) in which life has literally been reduced to a vicious cycle of meaningless drudgery, as the alienated masses churn out their days on exercise bikes which power the ubiquitous flat screens whose contents are both products of this endless labor and rewards for it.