Is the future broken?
TV’s sharpest writer thinks we’ll get the future we deserve. Martin Saunders asks: Should Christians listen to him?
‘A Future you Deserve’: one of the
promotional taglines for the second
series of highly acclaimed TV
three-parter Black Mirror, which
ran on Channel 4 in February. The
alternative slogan was less opaque,
more directly indicative of the
writer’s withering hope. It read,
simply: ‘The Future’s Broken’.
That belief belongs to Charlie
Brooker, increasingly regarded – by
myself and many others – as one of
Britain’s most talented writers.
Having made his name as an
acid-tongued Guardian TV
columnist, he now enjoys a threepronged
career: fronting satirical
TV comedy shows including his
Newswipe series, continuing an
occasional newspaper career, and
perhaps most interestingly, writing
dark comedy drama for the small
It’s unclear how
much of the real
man we get in
his writing and
but the voice and
viewpoint he uses
is one of angry
Brooker is one
of the most
of modern culture – widening his
focus in recent years from television
to wider media, politics and more.
Key to the credibility of that voice
is his apparent self-loathing; how
else could he be so scathing about
the very media that he plays such
an increasingly central role in? He
recognises – like the apostle Paul
when he calls himself ‘chief of all
sinners’ in 1 Timothy 1:15 – that
he has to take his own share of the
blame for the things he despises.
The Black Mirror concept is a
perfect expression of Brooker’s dark
worldview. Presenting three twisted
fables set in a possible near future,
the show imagines what might
happen if some of our more
worrying cultural trends are seen
through to their ultimate logical
conclusion. So the first series
featured stories about the mixed
blessings of increased technology
and social media, and a nightmarish
vision of where TV talent shows
might be heading.
The latest run fished in similar
waters, but was more sophisticated.
Whereas the first trilogy sometimes
relied on shocks and on-the-nose
satire, the second series seemed
more interested in properly exploring ideas through convincing
drama. These visions of the future
really felt like dark but possible
realities. It kicked off with ‘Be Right
Back’ – the story of a bereaved
woman enabled by technology to
communicate with a version of her
dead partner created from the
echoes of his social media activity.
It raised concerns about how
technology can prevent us from
processing emotion naturally;
ringing true with the way that
social media can feed neediness and
the desire for attention.
The third story (each stands
alone) was ‘The Waldo Moment’, a
stinging critique of political
engagement among younger people
who, in Brooker’s vision, would
rather listen to an abusive Ali
G-style interviewer than to the
politicians alongside him. Again,
not a great leap of the imagination
when you stop to think about it.
Between these two stories, however,
towered the extraordinary second
episode, a terrifying and brilliant
work of drama that will live long in
the memories of all who saw it.
‘White Bear’ opens with a woman
(Lenora Crichlow, pictured to right)
waking in an unfamiliar place. She
doesn’t know who she is or how she
got there, and as she heads outside
is confronted by scores of silent
zombie-like people, all apparently filming her on mobile phones.
A gunman emerges; she runs for
her life and is fortunate to meet
a friendly face who can help her
escape. She is then told that the vast
majority of the population
are being controlled by a
travel to a
in an effort
events take a shocking turn...
‘White Bear’ appears to be about
one thing – paranoia around
technology – but is eventually
revealed to be about something else
entirely; something much more
primal and important. This is the
genius of Black Mirror as a whole
– like the great satirists, Brooker
isn’t just poking fun at culture but
making a deadly serious point
about, and for the benefit of, his
By the end of the episode, the
viewer is left with a profound
image. Whether this is what the
writer intended or not, that image is
a vision of hell itself; of the opposite of what Christianity preaches about
God’s best future for humankind.
Joining the dots, then, Brooker
becomes the modern-day Dante,
illustrating the Inferno that awaits
people if they continue on their path
This is what I find really
interesting. Like many atheists,
Charlie Brooker is in danger of only
offering nihilistic deconstruction.
The way we live now has
consequences: a broken future; a
future we deserve. There is no sense
of hope or redemption – most of
these tales conclude with a bleak
assessment that things are likely
only to descend further. There’s
never a sense that these situations
could be saved or improved; no
illustration of a better way. At best,
Black Mirror is a great big warning
sign; at worst, it’s utter defeatism.
Remaking and Renewing
Black Mirror enables us – as the
title suggests – to reflect on where
our world might be heading.
Brooker has a gift for conveying
our worst fears about ourselves
through drama, which is, of
course, what makes the whole
thing so compelling. His stories
shouldn’t frighten us, but they
should challenge us. His strength
is in identifying the problems; ours
should be in redemptive solutions.
He has no hope for us; we who
know God, know hope. We know
that grace plays havoc with the idea
of the future we deserve.
Do Christians take the future
seriously enough? Certainly in one
sense we do. Yet perhaps in focusing
on humanity’s eternal destination,
we have forgotten God’s mission to
remake and renew the earth. The
show suggests that politics, media,
technology and society as a whole
are all on a one-way journey to hell.
A Church that concerns itself with
the remaking and renewing of all of
these might argue to the contrary.
As we gaze into the Black Mirror,
we should be inspired to bring the
change that Charlie Brooker fears is
now beyond our reach.