I’ve just got around to watching the Charlie Brooker scripted Black Mirror on Channel 4 and I have to say it’s just brilliant. Dark, warped, frequently nightmarish tales befitting an age of hyperconsumption and the collapse of meaningful social and cultural exchange.
I won’t take either programme to pieces here, don’t worry. I was compelled to jot a couple of notes down regarding the inspired climax of the second piece Fifteen Million Merits, where Bingham, played wonderfully by Daniel Kaluuya (recently seen in BBC’s The Fades) tricks his way onto an X Factor-style talent show in a dystopian (not so distant) future where the whole population appears to inhabit digital media cells and must cycle on exercise bikes every day whilst watching the crass, empty, pornographic output provided by said talent show.
Holding a piece of broken glass to his throat to prevent his interruption and ensure attention, Bingham launches an extended, “Networkesque” rant against the nightmare world he finds himself trapped in. The “judges”, far from dismissing his speech, declare themselves impressed Not, of course, with the content or meaning of Bingham’s diatribe, but rather its “heartfelt” and “true” nature. The lead judge then offers Bingham a show doing exactly what he’s just done, twice a week, for half an hour.
Isn’t this exactly the essence of the culture industry in late capitalism, as expressed so devastatingly by Adorno & Horkheimer? A mass culture so truly omnipotent that any capacity for resistance to it becomes impossible by dint of its capacity to absorb, sterilise and commodify anything which might approach such a thing, even the anguished, fractured scream of an individual driven to the brink of sanity by the mere awareness of this vacuous culture. “Something is provided for everyone,” they wrote in 1947 “so that none may escape”.
Adorno and Horkheimer did not live to see the birth of reality television, youtube or facebook, but their writings cast a long (fore)shadow across the 20th Century, persistently relevant to the degeneration of culture in mass society. That you, the individual, may despise the culture industry is no reason for you to leave,
You can’t anyway,
Come back, we could use someone like you,
Or research has shown that a lot of people feel empty and unsatisfied to the point of suicide by what we produce.
I think you could do great things in that market…
“What is decisive today is the necessity inherent in the system not to leave the customer alone, not for a moment to allow him any suspicion that resistance is possible. The principle dictates that he should be shown all his needs as capable of fulfilment , but that those needs should be so pre-determined that he feels himself to be the eternal consumer, the object of the culture industry”
(Adorno & Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment)