Volume 4, Issue 2
Special Issue: Black Mirror
Guest editor: Bethany Holmstrom
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Cover Image: MattBarley, “Black Mirror,” licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Introduction, by Bethany Holmstrom (7-10)
“We are Not in Control Anymore”: Technological Possessions Facilitated by Simulacrums in the Posthuman reality of “Hated in the Nation,” by Shastri Akella (11-26)
Abstract: Acts of technological possession occur in "Hated in the Nation" at the point of intersection of two forms of surveillance: social media- and government-driven surveillance, each form producing a simulacrum. The work the simulacrums do together to facilitate the act of technological possession is symptomatic of a partially-realized posthuman reality, one in which honeybees have gone extinct and technologically-driven drones perform the task of pollination. Self-imposed limitations might create a more sustainable relationship between the technology that facilitates the posthuman state of being and the environment in which the posthuman subsists.
Keywords: Black Mirror, climate change, posthumanism, social media, surveillance, technology, Trans-humanism
Grain Ethics: Voyeurism, Violence, and Traumatic Memory in Black Mirror’s “The Entire History of You,” by Sarah Hildebrand (27-41)
Abstract: This article analyzes how memory-enhancing technology may serve to perpetuate trauma and enable new forms of gender-based violence. By drawing on the fields of trauma theory and memory studies, it critiques the alleged objectivity of digitized vs. organic memories by exposing the power dynamics at play during acts of witnessing. This article conducts a close-reading of the Black Mirror episode "The Entire History of You" in order to reveal how biotechnology can increase the vulnerability of female bodies. In a society where memories can be digitally preserved and projected on-screen for both private and public viewing, instances of the male gaze are amplified and the conditions necessary for consent disappear, increasing the risk of physical and psychical violation.
Keywords: Black Mirror, gender, memory, technology, trauma, voyeurism, violence
Wired: "Men Against Fire" and Revolution in Military Affairs, by Kenn Watt (42-60)
Abstract: The "Men Against Fire" episode of Black Mirror depicts an advanced military device, an implant called MASS, which enhances a soldier's capacity for surveillance and ferocity and blocks ethical reasoning. This article examines how MASS is merely the next stage in a revision of U.S. military strategy in place for decades, and is, in fact, already in various stages of development. This logical extension of the dehumanization of both the enemy and our own combatants makes killing easier because the Otherness of the opponent is drawn out to monstrous extremes. By examining the strained psychological effects of MASS, this article critiques the military vision of current tactical priorities as well as the loss of moral compass demanded of participants in contemporary conflicts around the globe.
Keywords: Black Mirror, combat, military technology, modern warfare, soldiers, war
How Do I Look? Data's Death Drive and Our Black Mirrored Reflections, by Chris Campanioni (61-76)
Abstract: In a culture that has systematically abolished privacy, the pleasure we still most desire is the private experience. What is more private than connecting our bodies to the VR apparatus, individualizing our imagination so as to stay inside on the outside? This contribution uses logic and language theory (Wittgenstein), visual studies (Berger), and psychoanalysis (Freud) to frame an auto-theoretical inquiry into the many different ways art--and our experience of art--has changed as virtual reality becomes increasingly mainstreamed and normalized. "How Do I Look?" traces the history of VR as its starting point before exploring today's questions of digital intimacy, data accumulation, AI chatbots, and our culture's general fascination with and re-appropriation of death. Internet's exploitation of our inability to deal with death, by removing it from life, is re-contextualized through a reading of two of the most popular episodes of the television show Black Mirror.
Keywords: Black Mirror, data, death, digital intimacy, Internet studies, virtual reality
Teaching Notes (77-96)
"Men Against Fire": The Uncanny Episode on Ideology, by Minerva Ahumada
Teaching Black Mirror and Popular Culture, by Bethany Holmstrom
Language, Identity, and "Be Right Back," by Rebekah Johnson
At the Limits of Relationality: Teaching "Be Right Back," by Christine Marks
The Pleasure of Terror in Black Mirror: "Be Right Back," "Playtest," and "Metalhead," by Claudia Moreno Parsons
"The National Anthem," Shut Up and Dance," and the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, by Leah Richards
Shastri Akella earned his MFA at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) where he is currently a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature. His academic writing appeared in World Literature Today and Making Strangers: Outsiders, Aliens and Foreigners (Vernon Press). His other writing appears in Guernica, Electric Literature, Rumpus, The Common, LA Review of Books, and European Stages. His research interests include migratory art, cultural translation, contemporary Bollywood, and children in horror cinema. He is Translation and Interpretation certified and Film certified. His teaching experience includes Composition, Fantasy, Dystopias, Horror, and Migration, and in 2016, he won the campus-wide Distinguished Teaching Award.
Chris Campanioni is a first-generation American, the son of immigrants from Cuba and Poland, and the author of the Internet is for real (C&R Press). His “Billboards” poem was awarded an Academy of American Poets College Prize in 2013, his novel Going Down was selected as Best First Book at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards, and his hybrid piece This body’s long (& I’m still loading) was adapted as an official selection of the Canadian International Film Festival in 2017. He is a Provost Fellow and MAGNET Mentor at The Graduate Center/CUNY, where he is conducting his doctoral studies in English and redrafting narratives of exile. He edits PANK, At Large Magazine, and Tupelo Quarterly, and teaches Latino literature and creative writing at Pace University and Baruch College.
Sarah Hildebrand is a PhD candidate in English at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her research takes place at the intersection of trauma theory and autobiographical studies, and her dissertation involves a cross-genre study of narratives of sexual violence. Sarah teaches English Composition and Literature courses at Lehman College in the Bronx, New York, and has recently completed fellowships through the Modern Language Association, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Vera Institute of Justice.
Bethany Holmstrom (guest editor) is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY. She received her PhD in Theatre from CUNY Graduate Center. Her work has been published in Theatre History Studies, Journal of American Drama and Theatre, and Theatre Journal (co-author), and in edited collections. Her research interests include the construction of race, citizenship, and US Civil War memories on the postbellum stage, as well as speculative works.
Kenn Watt is currently the Collaboration Coordinator, guiding projects within the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Texas Tech University He received his PhD from the Graduate Program at the City University of New York, and is working on a book about experimental environmental participatory theatre. He has presented at ASTR, ATHE, and PSI, and published in Theatre magazine, Theatre Journal, PAJ, and on Howlround. Previously, he has taught at City College of New York, Lehman College, Colgate University, San Francisco State University, University of California, Santa Cruz, Whitman College and the American Conservatory Theatre. He was the founder and artistic director of New York and San Francisco based Fifth Floor, garnering Dramalogue, Black Box, Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and Goldie awards in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and has been supported by the NEA, California Arts Council, the Creative Work Fund of the Haas Foundation, the Flintridge Foundation, the Zellerbach Family Fund, and many others. As a director, he has directed over 35 productions in San Francisco and New York, and was a recipient of the TCG/NEA Directing Fellowship, the TCG/PEW National Theatre Artist Residency Award.
*These notes appear on pages 97-98 in the print version.