You Need to Watch Black Mirror: “The National Anthem” Episode Review

black-mirror

Jonathan May

Promise: I will not give away the ending. You must watch this show. Watch it immediately after reading this.

It’s been a long time since television has posed such an interesting question as this episode poses. Is the decency of one man worth more or less than the life of one other person? Such a fragile and horrifying situation. I found myself aghast at the cost of fame, wherein your personhood, known to all, is your own worst enemy. In this case, the British Prime Minister must have sex with a pig on live television or else the kidnapped Princess will be executed. The use of YouTube by the kidnappers (I’m not giving the end away, I promise) to facilitate a public interest reminded me, in a way, of the scene between the prisoners and citizens of Gotham in The Dark Knight. You bring the public into the situation, and that’s where the stake of fame comes in. It would be interesting to posit the same premise, but with an “ordinary citizen” at the center, instead of a Prime Minister. Would the greater public be just as interested in watching an everyday Joe have sex with a pig to secure the release of a princess? I’m not so sure, but then again, I’ve never wanted an office of power, where you become the target for statements thrust into the public sphere.

As far as this being a commentary on art, all I will say, without divulging the end, is that this episode conflates “Art” with “Statements.” For something to be artistic, it should be beautiful (a bold statement, but one I’ll stand by any day), and while the idea might be beautiful in a cold, intellectual way, the expression of the idea is far from beauty, focusing instead on art always being a performance, which I thought we had moved beyond.

But for the love of yourself, if you want to watch the most gripping thing produced for television in the past five years, seek out Channel 4’s Black Mirror, the first episode “The National Anthem.”

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com

 

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