Monday night heralded another slice of black satire from Charlie Brooker in the form of White Bear, the second episode of the new Black Mirror series. In the show’s signature style the audience is force-fed a critique on Twitter culture and the depths of depravity that humanity is capable of when common courtesy is thrown out the window.
The premise of this episode is that a young woman, Victoria, wakes up in her house to find all the TVs tuned to an eerie signal. In addition to some crippling amnesia she finds herself being tailed by the silent general public who are keenly tracking her with their mobile phones. Worst still she is being pursued by a variety of masked pursuers who are trying to kill her.
SPOILERS BEGIN HERE
Approximately halfway through the episode it is revealed that an outfit called the Justice Park are forcing Victoria to relive the same hellish day over and over as punishment for her part in the killing of a child. The masked pursuers are merely actors, the voyeuristic general public are paying customers who’ve come to antagonize and goad Victoria for her participation in the crime. The scenario brings to mind the vitriol and sense of justice that usually pervades the comments section of any incendiary news article. People with only a handful of facts are often prone to snap judgments and White Bear presents a scenario where this sense of indignant righteousness is made a reality.
One thing that I didn’t consider initially is this: what purpose does cyclically torturing Victoria achieve if she is destined to forget every night? Isn’t the aim of punishment to deter, and rehabilitate? In this instance I would say no; Victoria’s treatment is not about her repentance - I don’t think the short timeframe combined with the extremely traumatic events of the day would give her enough breathing room to reflect on her actions long enough to harbor a sense of regret. I surmise that the primary motive is to satiate the ‘visitors’ hunger for justice – to let their need to vilify go unchecked. The experience allows them to scapegoat and abuse a girl who – let’s not forget – is an accessory to murder, not a murderer. Would she still be part of this ordeal if the murderer had not hung himself and was still alive to pay his pound of flesh?
The calendar on the wall of Victoria’s house and the rote presentation that the staff give at the outset of the day suggests that Victoria has been wheeled out each day for quite some time. Consider the time and money sunk into set design, actors, security, insurance – all to produce this specific scenario for Victoria to relive. So much planning and investment could surely only be viable if this was a long term project that could recoup its costs – unless it was government funded (gulp). Does this mean that the Justice Park is only a ‘seasonal’ attraction, to only be put to use when a crime is ghastly enough to warrant the prolonged torment of the accused?
When the well of criminals runs dry will the Justice Park pull in vandals and litterbugs? Or will it become the foundations for the next generation of Big Brother houses? Let’s hope we never find out.
I’m eagerly anticipating the last episode!