That Black Mirror continues to be a popular program after the first horrendous episode is proof that survivors of sexual violence need more than the general aegis of feminism for our protection. We need and we deserve a movement specially geared toward our interests as a community. Non-survivors don’t know how to recognize threats against us and are not prepared in any way to address those threats. We do, and we are, if we had a platform to preach it.
Charlie Brooker’s science fiction anthology show is supposed to examine dystopian manifestations of current trends in technology and culture. It’s also, according to Wikipedia, “inspired by older anthology shows like The Twilight Zone, which were able to deal with controversial, contemporary topics without fear of censorship.”
So says anonymous on the internet, who, like Michael Hogan of the Daily Telegraph, comfortably hails the first episode as “a shocking but ballsy, blackly comic study of the modern media.” But really, shut up, because I saw that first episode, too, and what I saw was a giddy self-congratulation on Brooker’s infinite power as expressed by his ability to make you watch a man’s sexual violation.
It features a fictitious British Prime Minister (Michael Callow, played by Rory Kinnear), who is tricked into believing a beloved princess will be killed by a terrorist unless he has sex with a pig live on national television. He goes through with it, and everyone tunes in, their delirious giggles at local pubs slowly turning into mutters of “poor bastard” as he sobs his way to tortured orgasm.
It turns out the princess was never in danger of being killed. She’d been kidnapped by an oh-so-edgy, oh-so-brilliant artist who quietly released her right before the pig-fucking, and who gracefully killed himself to avoid any discussion of just what crimes, by name, occurred.
A news analyst in the show recapped the incident one year later, tacking the following moral onto the story: the incident was definitely art. The artist had successfully engaged a bigger audience than any artist before him. And everyone engaged in what was clearly a public performance, whether they wanted to or not.
But did you see what Charlie Brooker did there, friends? He got meta. It’s not a fictitious audience fictitiously engaged in a character’s coerced sex-act. It’s you and it’s me who were tricked into watching the full episode. We thought there would be a point. It’s implied when you begin a story that you’re going to get to a point eventually, and we trusted that there had to be a point, and we watched and kept watching even when we were made to feel uncomfortable, and it turns out that there was no point – just art.
Some of us, though, watched with more than vague discomfort. Some of us, where others saw weird, bold, artistry, could see the plain old rape. And where you were hearing white-noise, we were hearing dog-whistles. Brooker’s boast is old as time: look what I can do. But when you are a survivor, it doesn’t matter that Michael Callow is male and white and rich and even a world-leader; he is who you are. The message for us was look what I can do – to YOU.
When we were sick to our stomachs and shrugged it off (because dammit what’s the point of this? we have to figure it out), Brooker’s gloried Statement – that he did it because he could, because no one could stop him – came as a reminder, not as a revelation. We already knew that we are powerless in the face of rape. We already knew that you could make us watch, over and over, for no reason if you wanted to. We might not have known (but thanks for the memo) that people like you can dream of power in terms of raping prime ministers live on TV, and all of society will say that it’s fine and good work on keeping things wonky.
We need a survivor movement: #ImasurvivorAnd I need you to see what I see.