Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Why do we let Black Mirror torture us?

In case you weren’t feeling anxious enough, Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series Black Mirror is returning later this year with a new batch of episodes that will at least entertain you while piercing your gut with an existential distrust of all things digital. If you don’t watch the show, and haven’t read any of our wry articles detailing how much we love it despite how miserable it makes us, you might be asking the same question Nerdwriter does at the top of his latest video essay: Why?

“Why do we watch Black Mirror?” he asks, noting that the show is essentially just a “parade of tragedies” that more often than not ends in death and/or destruction for its protagonists. His clever, thoughtful answer lies in a subversion of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy’s appeal, which is that the pity and fear we experience while watching it results in a satisfying sense of catharsis. That’s certainly the case for shows like Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad, after all.

But Black Mirror, the essay argues, is different, because its tragedies are so often senseless, thus dismantling that road to catharsis while laughing at the concept of a moral takeaway. “We’re just left with pity and fear,” Nerdwriter says. While that answer will no doubt continue to alienate those confused about the show’s appeal, fans will agree that there’s something indelible about that result, if only because no other show is willing to put that kind of art on TV.


And anyway, you can always watch a 30 Rock rerun after.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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