Fifteen Million Merits: Part One

Well then. Fifteen Million Merits last night, right after the X Factor final. Who watched? What did you think? For me, it made me realise how good I’d found The National Anthem, how disturbed I’d been by it and how thought-provoking I’d found it, whereas Fifteen Million Merits (FMM for short, because I’m not typing that every few minutes) left me cold, for the most part. And not in a cold sweat, which is what happened after last week’s. I think because I reacted so extremely to The National Anthem – too upset to sleep, flashbacks throughout the week (especially when a particular sound effect came on in The Archers, oh Jesus), and I was still thinking about it yesterday and making connections; it was going to be tough for anything to compete with that.

Funnily enough, the general consensus seems to be the other way round, that this week was genius, and last week was…well, something to be consigned to a pig sty. All I know is, during TNA, I was gripped for every single ghastly minute. During FMM I kept pulling up the TV guide on screen and making sure I wasn’t missing any good films. Then I spent most of the time on Twitter, which is both exactly what Charlie Brooker probably wants but detests me for at the same time.

So, FMM. Where to begin? We start with scenes of Bing (the amazing Daniel Kaluuya)  waking up in his screen-bound world, losing merits for every time he ‘takes’ something – toothpaste, skipping an advert, eating some food – and gaining them by just pedalling on a bike for hour on end, presumably generating the energy needed to run the technology that is keeping everybody prisoner. We see a selection of the ‘entertainment’ on offer, and let me tell you, there’s no such thing as ‘Frasier’ in this dystopian future. Nope, it’s all fat people stuffing their faces, computer generated bike rides, and X Factor style ads for ‘Hot Shot’ (a talent show) – oh, and the ‘Wraith Babes’ channel. Bearing the example from TNA in mind (i.e. everything you see means something), I knew to keep an eye on this ‘Wraith Babes’ malarkey, and that this wouldn’t be the last we saw of it.

Bing is in love with a girl called Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay), but in a world where everything is controlled and manufactured, can their love exist? So far, so 1984, as I’m sure everybody said. Being TV illiterate, I haven’t seen either Downton Abbey or Fades, which is what the two leads are known for being in, so I had no frame of reference for them as actors. I thought they were fantastic, and not unlike the way Rory Kinnear and Lindsay Duncan made TNA by playing it gruesomely straight, these two carved something from the script by injecting a very natural, very real romance into a world where everything is false.

PLOT TIME! It takes ages for the plot to get started, unlike the ‘PIG SEX’ precisely one minute into TNA. I think it’s to build up a picture (or, screen) of the eye-bleeding monotony of their lives, where everything, including porn, is prescribed. The edge has been taken off everything – fruit is all too perfect; the Wraith Babes seem to be performing a very clinical, softcore, Britney Spears backing dancer-esque set of wriggling about; anything created is chucked. Abi constantly makes little origami penguins, which the yellow-clad cleaners throw away repeatedly. ‘Debris’, they mutter as they swat the little birds from around her. So Abi and Bing slope onwards in their pointless lives, watching crappy TV, and listening to a guy who REALLY reminded me of comedian Lee Mack yelling at the screen and at the cleaners.

I am the MTV generation folks, whether I like it or not. My attention span isn’t the best. I was flagging around 40-50 minutes in, wondering where the scathing dissection of the X Factor was that I’d been promised. Christ, the only reason I’d sat through the bloody X Factor final was to provide some context for this show! Dear Mr Cowell, I will be invoicing you for the two hours of my life that I shall never get back. Anyway, Bing hears Abi singing in the bathroom and tells her she should enter ‘Hot Shot’. She explains that she lives ‘hand to mouth’, that she can’t throw away the merits needed (the Fifteen Million of the title.) Bing promises he’ll give her his. It’s a sweet scene, both actors play it very innocently, making it all the more unbearable when the huge screen opens up next to Bing broadcasting the Wraith Babes to all and sundry. Oh, didn’t I mention? The screens are like those hideous targeted ads that stalk you around the internet. You know, when you accidentally scroll your mouse over them and they open up and pelt you with loud noise and you can’t turn them off. Well, imagine that following you around. On all your walls.

Bing is embarrassed, because the screen clearly projects what you’ve been watching previously, or something similar. Now this is the KEY POINT. You’ve got to watch Abi’s reaction when the trashy looking Babes come on. She sweetly averts her eyes and looks at the floor until it’s gone, then raises her head awkwardly. This is the reaction you need to remember as foreshadowing of what’s to come.

Read Part Two here:

Fifteen Million Merits: Part Two

About two million hours in – or, the length of an X Factor final itself – we finally got somewhere. Bing purchases the ‘Hot Shot’ ticket and accompanies a nervous Abi , who is beginning to have doubts about the whole ordeal. Bing talks her into it, and they swoop down to get her checked in. Bing gets a ‘Hot Shot’ stamp on his hand as her designated friend/family, and is told it’ll probably last ‘about two months’. No kidding, I’ve suffered at the hands of an overzealous stamper before when I’ve been on a night out, and it SUCKS. Led to the ‘backstage’ area, we get a glimpse of the ‘behind the scenes’ bit we always see on X Factor/Britain’s Got Talent, where hoardes of hopeless hopefuls are warming up or stretching out. The only difference is they’re all in grey tracksuits. No Kitty Brucknells here (THANK GOD.)

FINALLY, I think. We’re getting somewhere. Eventually Abi gets through to the stage, and we see the judges: Judges Charity, Hope, and…you guessed it, Wraith. A quote from 1 Corinthians (chanks Google, sadly I can’t remember huge chunks of the Bible myself) says this: ‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity’. Nice one guys, rhyming ‘charity’ with ‘charity’ was really ace. Anywho. I’m not in any way saying you’d have been better pushed to spend the time reading the Bible, no sirree bob. But what in God’s name was Rupert Everett thinking with his bizarre accent?

I still can’t work out if it was Aussie, New Zealand or South African. I like to imagine that he’s the kind of actor who gets really, really into the role, and just showed up at rehearsal and went ‘guys. Guys! I’VE GOT IT. I’m going to make him an Aussie/New Zealander/South African!’, and everybody just had to go ‘heeeey! Nice one Rupes, great idea’ etc etc until he shut up and drank his Starbucks. I adore Rupert Everett, I just didn’t understand what the accent was about. I would guess that they didn’t want it to be an impression of Simon Cowell, but last week worked on the basis of Rory Kinnear looking like a love child of Nick Clegg and David Cameron, so why would you deviate from that? Julia Davis was clearly giving her all to an impression of Amanda Holden. Everett just perched on the end looking like a mug shot of George Michael and acting up a storm, but with an ACCENT.

Aaand calm. Anyway, they hustled Abi into the spotlight, and she sang, and Judge Wraith began to talk about her taking her top off, and she looked confused and nervous, and Judge Hope (Everett) said ‘throw another shrimp on the Barbie, mate’. Then the crowd (all made up of avatars) cajoled Abi into signing up to be one of Wraiths Babes. She agreed. The kind, naive, innocent Abi was hauled off to provide 24 hour porn, which Bing himself would later have to watch (not having enough merits to skip it.) Even the scene where he had to watch her tartily made up face contorted on screen wasn’t quite there for me. I may be an utter pervert, but I wanted to see even more humiliation for her. Otherwise it was just a girl with some makeup on with some chap’s thumb in her mouth. A normal Friday out in Tunbridge Wells, what what!

Has anybody ever watched Babestation? Because that’s what Wraith Babes sort of was. If you haven’t, you’ve got to. True fact: you can actually hear your soul steadily seeping away. I remember flicking onto it with a friend and talking about the deadened eyes and plastic lips of the girls. It’s not even porn – the girls have sex with the air as opposed to a man/woman/pig, and they can never take their knickers off, I believe. What upsets me the most about watching it is thinking ‘that’s somebody’s little girl. That plastic chested, shark eyed girl was once a baby.’ Unbearable. I’d hazard a guess that a lot of girls who go for ‘modelling’ careers end up there. So, that’s what lovely Abi with the origami penguins and the fringe was consigned to for the rest of her life.

I don’t think a good enough reason was given as to why. Ok, she’d been drugged slightly before she went on, and the audience of avatars were cheering for her to do it, but really there wasn’t a moment when I saw that she had to make that choice. And she had a choice – it was porn or back to the bikes. Dude! The bikes weren’t that bad! Sorry, but if Brooker can make me think that the PM had no choice but to have sex with a pig on live TV, he should be able to make me think a girl can sell herself to a life of Babestation.

I found the avatar audience pointless. It lost the imposing feel of a real audience. If you’ve watched a talent show, you know that the ugliest part is when the camera turns on the audience and focuses on a single face as it turns from delight to anger, and starts chanting ‘off, off! OFF!’ And here’s where my stumbling block was. I was expecting this programme to really, really rinse X Factor/BGT for all it was worth. I thought Cowell would be completely lampooned. I thought the whole franchise would wriggle under the weight of Brooker’s careful and precise incisions.

Read the final part, Part Three here:

Fifteen Million Merits: Part Three

But alas, it was not to be. I would go as far as saying that you could pick any single episode of X Factor/BGT and you’d see something uglier and more brutal than what Brooker depicted. Ok, so the contestants aren’t being offered a porn deal (not on screen, anyway), but what about when the researchers send through a person with clear mental illnesses for us to laugh at? That happens EVERY. SINGLE. SERIES. Think how many times you’ve laughed at a completely deluded contestant only to stop yourself after a while and go ‘wait, this isn’t right’. People with psychological difficulties are put through round after round by researchers with no scruples, told endlessly how talented they are until they confront the judges. The judges then tell them something like ‘the dream ends here, today’, and they either protest or shuffle off.

Of course they protest! The process by which they gain access to the stage is one in which they are told how fantastic they are! This is not my guesswork, by the way, that’s really what happens behind the scenes. People JEERED Susan Boyle when she came on, purely because of how she looked. That poor girl Jesy from Little Mix has suffered endless torments about her looks and weight. Even last night on Twitter people were passing round photos of animals and saying it was her, or capturing her at ugly angles. That poor, poor kid. She might have won the show with her band last night, but the psychological scars won’t be as short-lived as the fame she’ll probably experience.

There is SO MUCH to be said about X Factor. How we treat people as villains for no reason, how it’s the 21st century equivalent of the Victorian freakshow, how the judges will say anything to sell records. And that’s before you even consider all the scandals about fixing, the bad press stories that the show itself propagates just to gain column inches, and the fact that the pile of nobodies who have won the show in previous years is getting higher and higher. And let me ask you this – can anybody tell me exactly what it is that Little Mix have won? Yes, I know they’ve won ‘The X Factor’, but what are the details here? Have they got a contract? Nothing was mentioned, I’m pretty sure. This is a week when scandal after scandal has hit British X Factor, but the events over at US X Factor are even weirder. Rachel Crow, a girl of 13 or 14, I believe, was voted off the competition this week. Her reaction? She sank to the floor, called for her mum, sobbed her heart out and yelled ‘mama! You PROMISED me!’

These programmes are ugly, and I think most of us have begun to see that. We are no longer in the thrall of them, we’ve had too many vote fixing scandals and insincere comments from the judges to actually take them seriously any more. Brooker portrayed the judges as being the ultimate authority. Actually, this year, we’ve seen the judges criticised as much as (if not more than) the contestants. When ‘reality’ is so ugly in 2011, I would have liked to have seen a really scathing, merciless take down of X Factor. Considering Konnie Huq co-wrote it, and she worked on the programme in 2010, I felt it lacked any insider info. People have claimed that after the axe had fallen on her job, she wrote this to get back at the show. Really? It would have been more effective to paint ‘You suck’ onto the side of a pig and send it on the X Factor stage. I just don’t think the programme was put under the microscope at ALL. It all felt a bit….well, GCSE Drama, really.

There is one more thing, though. I felt disappointed by the postscript in TNA, but in FMM the last 20 minutes were the best bit. Bing worked his way up to the credits needed, tucked a shard of glass into his pants (or was he just pleased to see me?) and proceeded onto the stage. Unfortunately, he didn’t stab Aussie George Michael in the sunglasses, but held it to his own throat and just yelled at everybody. The judges pretended to listen. Aussie George Michael leaned forwards and said something like ‘that was….without a doubt….BRILLIANT’, and got him to speak more. Bing’s anger became sanitised and as a result, he was given his own show, twice a week, half an hour each. He did the whole show with the shard of glass pressed up to his throat, yelling at the system but ultimately becoming increasingly inauthentic, the same as everything else.

Say…here’s a question, kids. Can we think of another angry man who has become a very cog in the thing he hates so much? Who is wheeled out to just yell at things until we all laugh? No, not Konnie Huq. No, not the pig from TNA, now you’re just being stupid. Yes! Charlie Brooker. Spot on. Charlie Brooker is the man who has to hold a shard of glass up to his throat for the rest of eternity, spitting bile and garnering viewers, hating the system but earning money for that very system. Quite a nice touch.

So, that was Fifteen Million Merits. I wonder if I do better with things that look more like our own world, as in TNA? Perhaps it was a little too futuristic for me (although as we speak Google are developing interactive rooms like Bing’s.) I didn’t wake up scarred for life this morning. It was a bit limp. Maybe The Xtra Factor wanted Konnie back to host, and she had to tone down her criticism of the programme. Who knows/cares. I’m off to download the Little Mix single and read the Daily Mail for all the latest X Factor scandals. Ta ra for now.

**Mulling it over, there is one more point I feel I’ve missed. When Bing goes to enter the competition, he’s let through the scanner with no questions asked, even though I’m fairly sure it’s obvious that he’s…erm…got something down his trousers. The security guard sort of gives him a look. It’s been bothering me, that little bit. I wonder if that in itself is a comment on the kind of people they let through to these shows – i.e. as long as they’ll provide entertainment, it doesn’t matter whether they’re a terrible performer, mentally challenged, or carrying a weapon. Just a thought. Another one. **

Black Mirror: The reaction

I felt like I should write a proper review, after listing all my reactions but not really making sense of it. The programme has really affected me. I sat up until 4am last night, wired, and unable to stop running it through my head. I woke up again now, at 6.30am, and it was the first thing I thought of. It’s really, really disturbed me. I suppose I don’t watch enough horror films these days – I’m very easily appalled.

Back in the ‘Screenwipe’ days, I was a big fan of Charlie Brooker. I saw him as a sort of cerebral Harry Hill. I’m surprised by his move into what I consider to be ‘Mark Gatiss territory’. Anyway, the more I saw of him, the more I heard him rant and ramble, the more he reminded me of a nasal, whiny teenage boy. The kind who thinks he knows everything about politics, literature, life…all at the age of 18. You don’t have a discussion with him, he just talks at you, and if you make a point, you are swiftly crushed. The more interviews with him I read, the more I can’t shake that image, and I get faintly irritated by his huge wave of firm beliefs on life and all the disappointments it brings, according to him. I didn’t think a great deal of Dead Set, so I’ve got no idea why I decided to watch Black Mirror.

From the start, you could see the threads he was trying to pull together. Obviously, Britain’s embracing of royalty again, after the Royal Wedding, here reflected in Princess Suzanne, a Kate-a-like. Then obviously there’s the shifting unease with Cameron, any optimistic ideas about the coalition long dead. (Many of the more unfortunate  Tweets have revolved around the following: @NickCleggsfair: David’s just texted. He’s watching something called Black Mirror. Apparently ‘I’m the pig’. Whatever that means.)

So there was that, a squirming feeling for some that they’d been left a bit….*beep*ed over by the Conservatives. Then the incident with Gordon Brown and that woman whose name escapes me – the one who overheard his rude comments, and the public bayed for his blood. The focus was on what happens when the public determine outcomes, but a public who are working together as more of a mob than a democracy. I have to say, Derren Brown managed rather well to convey this to us without any need for porcine ‘love-making’. Then the riots – the way comment spread across Twitter. First the mobs ruled us, and then we became the mob, linking the police with profiles of offenders who were boasting about their new TVs, etc.

Then there’s our inability to empathise with what we see on screen. We’re removed, most of us ‘dual or triple screening’, sitting there and Tweeting what we see, the crueller the comment, the more chance of a retweet. I for one am rude enough about X Factor, but I’ve never watched ‘I’m a Celeb’. I think the concept is vile. It’s not ‘a laugh’, it’s not ‘entertainment’. It’s a bunch of ‘celebrities’ so keen to revive their fame they’ll humiliate themselves on television. Just think of the TV deals! This time around, Freddie Starr went home, I read, with heart problems. This is it, we’re just laughing and laughing, and voting for people we don’t like to eat bugs, or testicles, or…Anyway. Given my inability to watch the above, I’m not sure I should have felt ready for Black Mirror, but I watched it anyway.

People have zeroed in on the story, isolating the pig sex component and have instantly gone ‘how horrible, what a disgusting programme, I’m not watching someone have sex with a pig’. That’s not the point. Brooker hasn’t made an hour long show about how great having sex with animals is. The whole point is that it’s unthinkable. It’s a completely unnatural desire, not just a dark fetish. If it had been softer, the PM’s dilemma at the crux of the show would have fallen apart. What if the demands had said a man? Or a prostitute? Still the humiliation of being seen at your most vulnerable moment on live national TV, but with less of a chance of you vomiting when Countryfile comes on TV. No, the ransom demands had to be so utterly obscene that there was no question that it couldn’t be done. No way. The aides and advisors were calm, the PM merely concerned with handling all of it.

I mention in my minute by minute reactions how my feelings keep shifting. One minute I’m laughing and the idea has become ridiculous, the next minute I’m staring into the broken face of the PM’s wife and seeing how it will destroy her marriage. It’s clever, because 60 minutes of pure outrage and nauseated shock would have been too much for the viewer. It’s played utterly straight, you’re reminded again and again that this isn’t ‘The thick of it’. But as all the chances fall away, we’re driven towards the unthinkable, yet inevitable conclusion.

I read forums and reviews and Twitter last night, trying to gauge public reaction. People thought it was ‘rubbish’, ‘disturbing’, ‘sick’. People can’t seem to unpick the storyline from the point Brooker is trying to make. We’re not supposed to be ok with this. We’re supposed to feel alarmed, and yet, we keep watching. People named a plothole: that the government would have simply said, ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’. Agreed, but I think they show this as a dilemma completely off the book. It’s the beloved ‘Facebook Princess’ at stake, and the stages the PM and his team go through are fairly well realised.

Another plot hole: the severed finger would clearly not have been the finger of a size 6 Princess. Yes, I also agree, but I think it was only the studio crew who got a hold of it, i.e. people more likely to recoil and put the links together, not to forensically test it. So, after 45 minutes of grappling with the concept, we were finally faced with it. I found it very tough to watch, because like the general public, I swiftly moved on from the Private Eye style haw-hawing at the sight of the PM with his trousers down, and looked at the human aspect of it. That is, a man having to do an unthinkable, unspeakable thing, in front of the eyes of the nation.

Try as we might, we still have our visions of England. We trust in England and long held traditions, beliefs and a shred of national pride. An act like this would mean everything was broken. I don’t know, I felt Brooker was actually saying something positive about the Great British Public. They laughed, jeered and tweeted at first, but that stopped. They quietened. They looked upset. Some cried. See! Not entirely without redeeming features!

Actually, those shots of the faces was something itself. Not only are we a culture who love to watch, we also love to watch people watching. Youtube had tonnes of those ‘Reaction to 2 girls 1 cup’ type videos, and probably for things like The Human Centipede too. Voyeurism has become a way of life.

The ending is where my real issue is. Oh, and SPOILER ALERT.

So as the programme ends, visions of Rory Kinnear vomiting and ignoring the phone calls of his wife still dancing like sugarplums in our heads, we think it’s over. The credits roll. Then…what’s this? Oh! It was a TURNER PRIZE WINNING ARTIST WHODUNNIT. As I said in my play by play review, I kind of saw this coming. Not because I’m any sort of genius/Derren Brown type, but because of my drama degree. The rule is always that you include no ‘flab’ in any good performance. That meant that the news segment on the art exhibition at the beginning was bound to bear some importance. And the slightly creepy looking guy who’s pottering about in his workshop too, he wouldn’t be given screen time for no reason.

But it wasn’t just that I saw it coming. It was the silliness of it. Sorry, but do we really think of art like that now? I feel like at the moment, we’ve moved on from being shocked by Tracey Emin or the Chapman brothers. I just think the ‘what is art?’ debate is hackneyed and not something I’ve heard Brooker express an interest in. Although that said, I read about an artist who is LIVING with pigs for four days, behind glass, naked. No bestiality there, though, chaps. She was waaay too thin, pigs hate that, they like a bit of meat. BADOOM TISH. Etc. Then there was the man who starved his dog, I believe? But really, unless you’re a) a listener of Front Row, or b) a Daily Mail reader who gets outraged by the articles they publish on the louche lives of artists, I don’t think this debate is probably central to your life.

Is that what he’s saying, though? That we overlook art. We don’t understand it, until it’s pushed in our faces? I don’t know, I’d just spent 10 minutes watching Rory Kinnear have sex with a pig, I couldn’t make sense of a ‘state of modern art’ debate that had sprung in out of nowhere.

Couldn’t we just have kept it at being rude about social media? To me, this felt like that total cop out ending that you wrote when you were 8, when you didn’t know how to finish a story: ‘and it was aaall a dream’. So, English teachers. You may well be due a spate of stories which end ‘and it was aaall a Turner prize-winning work by an avant-garde artist’. As for the ‘opinion polls are 3 points higher’…oh, come on. Again, a naff ending. The only bit of merit was seeing that behind the sheen of the politician, the PM had a totally destroyed marriage.

And that folks, is that.

And then I woke up, and it was all a Turner-prize winning work by an avant-garde artist.

The National Anthem: Part Three

00.42 And we’re back. The crowds are gathering in front of the TV sets. The PM is making the worst car journey of his life. Sam Cam would be wringing her hands if RADA still taught you to do that to signify ‘distress’.

00.44 Like the PM, I’ve remembered again what we’re dealing with here. The nasty details are clicking in. Lindsay has checked, the pig has been ‘sedated’, and she’s now opening the door for a horrified looking PM.

00.45 Cut to people in a pub watching TV, where an official announcement comments that ‘the PM will shortly be performing an indecent act on your screens’. A cheer goes up. And isn’t that exactly what would happen? By the time this information has filtered down through Youtube, through Twitter and Facebook, haven’t we become so utterly desensitized to it that we make no personal connection to it anymore?

Cripes. People are setting their recorders. ‘All viewers are advised to turn off their sets’, etc etc.


I feel…not too hot.

Do you know what, social media has got us in a horrible mess, hasn’t it?

I am honestly experiencing physical pain.

PM is slow mo-ing down a corridor. Lindsay runs through the rules, her voice unbearably slow. She’s a class act, that Lindsay. I’m glad I didn’t come up with a nickname for her. I sat next to her at the theatre once. She’s very pretty in real life.

Oh, ok. I’m just writing so I won’t have to focus on what she’s saying. It’s not pretty. You can have all the advisors under the sun, but when it comes  to having sex with a pig on live TV, you’re on your own. I think that’s the message we’re coming away with, anyway.

00.46 I can’t actually look at the PM’s face. It’s too horrible.

00.47 I wish I hadn’t watched that programme about teacup pigs. It was narrated by Jane Horrocks. Great show. I’M DOING IT AGAIN.

He’s faced with his destiny. A big pink pig. I have a feeling I’m not going to the South of England show next year.

He says he loves his wife, and may God forgive him.

This is it. We can see how rapidly all talk of porn stars, high tech trickery, opinion polls, and ‘just not doing it’ has been left behind. All the time spent considering other options, and he hasn’t thought until now about what ‘it’ will actually involve. He’s got to ‘see it through’, Lindsay informs him. This is the worst – in a situation where we’re grasping at very thin straws, just sort of mucking along with it would have been better than having to ‘complete the act’, which implies a certain degree of arousal and complicity in the act.

00.48 Just when it becomes too unbearable, he’s dropped his trousers, and we cut to the faces of the punters in the pub. They’re jeering. Then a few start looking troubled. Harrowed. Silence begins to fall. We’re staying on their faces. PLEASE LET US STAY ON THEIR FACES. People are crying, shaking heads. Sam Cam is…well, you know. No need for birth control in that household anymore, eh folks?

00.49 We’ve got a princess, falling over on a bridge.

00.50 And just as I’d got detached again, we’re back on the PM’s face, and noises, and it’s horrible. It’s pretty horrific. Really.

00.50 I’m not sure how much to give away here, in case you haven’t watched it. Something has happened, but I won’t say what.

00.51 PM’s throwing up over a toilet bowl. You and me both, sonny. You and me both.

Do you know, I really never thought we’d go there. I really didn’t think it’d happen.

So, after this, I’m now no longer ok to look at: pigs, Sam Cam, David Cameron, Lindsay Duncan, and Rory Kinnear. Most of all Rory Kinnear.

And do you know what? That’s the really clever part. The Camerons are implicit in this, and our brains have been constantly making associations over the course of the hour. We may not have actually seen Cameron having sex with a pig on live TV, but we’ve been there, because we’ve HAD to think about it. It would have been impossible not to.

I think there’s a big chance most of you will see the postscript coming. It’s all there when you watch it, even before you know what you’re looking for, but it’s ok. It’s not what’s important.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m about to lose the battle with supper.

Tatty bye xx

p.s. Here’s a creepy fact: before this postscript, this blog post had 666 words. I was far too alarmed to leave it like that, so I’ve come back in to write this. Superstitious.

p.p.s There’s one more thing that’s bothering me. I just can’t help wondering if it was deliberate that SamCam was dressed in a particularly pale shade of pink dress at the very end of the show? You know, that soft, muted looking pink….why, it almost reminds me of the skin of……No. I’m being silly. Time for bed.

Black Mirror: The National Anthem, Part One

Black Mirror: The National Anthem

Well. Who watched it? By the looks of my Twitter and Facebook pages, not that many of you, actually – at least not many people I know. My timelines have been clogged with X Factor and Strictly all evening, but I only spotted a handful of references to this. I set my recorder, and that’s what I’m doing now, sitting down at 11.30pm watching it. In a manner Mr Brooker would be proud to lampoon, I decided to do a kind of post action ‘live’ blog. A contradiction in terms and utterly pointless, but I’m just going to go through and list some of my reactions as I watch it. So here goes.

About half an hour prior to watching: I’d read the synopsis, which said about a ‘beloved Princess’ being kidnapped, and the PM having to make a ‘difficult decision’. Turns out that was an understatement. I find out before watching what the particular ‘difficult decision’ will involve: the PM having sex with a pig on national TV. Oh, good. Fantastic. The chance of my dinner making a surprise guest reappearance becomes a very real possibility. But…I’m committed now. Let’s do this.

00.03 The actor playing the PM has obviously been cast to remind us gently but hideously of David Cameron, but the actress playing his wife is unbearably similar to SamCam. I’m already dying a bit inside.

00.04 Ok, here we go, the money shot – so to speak. We’ve got a bleary eyed Princess (not the Kate Middleton-alike I was expecting) having a nervous breakdown and doing a third rate Keira Knightley impression, pleading with the PM to save her life… having sex with a pig. On national TV.

It’s insane, and grotesque. And…I’m definitely reaching for the remote to turn off.  I’m not even doing that ‘car crash TV’ thing I so often do with X Factor. I can actually barely hear what the actress is saying, so I’m quite glad I found out in advance what the demands were. Because I’d probably have spent the next half hour going ‘I must be really perverted, because I’m convinced they’re implying he’s got to have sex with a pig’. Anyway.

What stops me clicking off is a little touch of humour. The PM’s advisors are standing solemnly around him, drenched in blue light. The PM furrows his brow: ‘they want me to have sex with a pig?’ The reply comes: ‘Live, on television, this afternoon’. I can’t help it, I giggle. Ok. Come on stomach, you and me can do this thing.

00.09 Brilliant: ‘This video came from Youtube’. We all know how fast a video can travel in 9 minutes on Youtube. Obviously, the genius thing about this is the fact that Brooker’s setting this in the way it would happen. The abject horror of the PM followed by smacking into the practicalities of it.

00.13 We’re back after the ad break – a blonde girl is lying on a bed with her boyfriend, telling him that ‘Princess Suzanne has been kidnapped’. And this is it, this is where I’m now hooked, because obviously this would be most of us. Alarmed, convinced it’s a ‘piss take’, then bemused as to why it’s not on the news but has spread across all forms of social media. I actually remember this with the riots – sitting up late at night, checking Twitter as parts of London were burning to the ground, and yet the news was frozen, stuck in a place that the social networks had long since moved on from. I remember finding it curious that I stopped relying on the official news channels to tell me what was happening! That I was relying on my friends and acquaintances instead.

00.14 We’re in a newsroom, a team discussing whether they can run the story, and if so, how. The issue is raised as to why Facebook is providing solid coverage, but not the official news. They’re running it.

I like the fact that Brooker got the pig sex thing out of the way in first minute (I assume – still convinced I couldn’t hear a word that actress was saying). It means we’ve sort of put that to one side of our brains, it’s still there, but we’re able to focus on everything else: how the story’s being covered, what the advisors are doing etc…

I hate crude dialogue in most things. I think it shows a lack of imagination. But as an advisor tells someone over the phone to ‘shove it up your arse’, it actually has the effect of jarring me right back into the horror of the imagined act. Because what’s happening is, I’m trying not to think about it, but having to think about it at the same time.

00.16 We’ve got a special effects advisor – of course – I didn’t even think of this. I’ve been seeing this whole story as a pornographic extension of the Grimm’s Fairytales I read as a child – and there was some pretty bloody weird stuff in there, let me tell you.

00.17 Blondie and colleagues are watching the news as it breaks at work. There’s a brilliant little montage showing people absorbed but ultimately involved in their own lives. This is so perfect, and entirely what happens in extreme situations. The world is always watching, but never fully stops and stares.

00.18 The woman from the news crew is sending photos of parts of her body in exchange for insider info on the case. A nice touch again – a metaphor about how we have our own trades, our own demands, our own ransoms. Or maybe it isn’t that at all. I’m getting a bit tired and also dizzy from writing so fast.

00.18 Ace little dig at The Guardian and a) their love of live blogging, and b) the way they’d run this story: ‘the cultural significance of a pig’. Ha. God, I love The Guardian. Never change.

00.19 Vox pops of people in the street on the news ‘it’s disgusting’, ‘revolting’. I like the way that Brooker is building up this idea of people themselves being utterly revolting,  and we as the viewers are too. Because deep down, do we want this to happen? Why are we still watching? Why am I still sitting here, watching a TV programme where there’s a chance an actor might be pretending to have sex with a pig within the hour.

00.21 Sam Cam clone is talking to her husband. I tuned out a bit.

‘Would they use a female pig?’ Blondie asks, and then there’s a discussion about Lars Von Trier. I like this, again – it’s showing how the initial disgust has been filtered down: how, no matter how ‘connected’ we all are, all the time, we are ultimately disconnected, emotionally. What a load of wank. It made sense when I wrote it. Maybe The Guardian will give me a job?

00.23 Techie girl has managed to trace a possible lead, using a lot of technological speak that I miraculously followed. The aerial shot of the campus looks a lot like my uni.

Break time! Finger stretch time….

Read part two here: