Selfishness is underscored through the whirlwind of a struggle to heighten one’s own status. Everything we put on display to the public and every choice we make has a fraction of greediness, as we are only looking to benefit our own satisfactions.
For example, projecting our accomplishments on social media for everyone to see and marvel at. As a society, we are obsessed with seeking out what will profit us personally, physically and mentally. In the third season of Black Mirror, Episode #1 “Nosedive” predictably brushes on the desperation to fulfill a polished image through social media but further entrenches a feeling of relief to reveal the essence of an authentic personality rather than a meticulously structured self-image.
Social media reigns in this world as you are rated out of five stars for every interaction you have with another human being. Simply put, your friendly interactions help you get five stars which will assist your own personal rating. On the other hand, any negative interaction will degrade your star status if someone chooses to give you one star. The episode focuses primarily on Lacie Pound, an individual who will do anything to get a higher status. She’s dedicated to devoting all efforts to reach her goal of what she assumes the perfect life is. This particular life is magnified as the guide to pure happiness, through a fantasized lifestyle illuminated with the use of social media. The advanced technology, a staple in all Black Mirror episodes, is a device put in your eyes so whenever you see another individual a virtual screen pops up with their name and status. Additionally, you are able to rate them out of five stars on your cell phone automatically.
While Lacie goes to get her latte one morning she snaps a photo for aesthetic purposes in order to receive ratings on her social media profile. Even though she reacted bitterly from the actual taste of the cappuccino, her mood is instantly brightened as her post gets rated. Our reliance on temporary satisfaction from approval of others is stressed as more important than actual internal satisfaction from, for example, having a satiating breakfast.
Moreover, the aesthetic of the episode is illustrated with a refined color palette of pastel colors which banally devoured the city. The muted shades dramatize a lack of substance as they align with the white picket fence atmosphere. Although the fact that our obsession with being attached to our phones is not a staggering realization, the episode continues to set the mood of the public all on their phones, before revealing the underlying intention of mocking the selfish need to fulfill a high status to promote power.
As Lacie gets into an elevator with a lady, Bethany, who has a 4.6 status, she is naturally inclined to emphasize an overly sweet attitude. Hence, a correlation of power between the intimidations of a high-status individual compared to that of a lower-status. Bethany is entitled with a having a classification of being above Lacie, simply because of her high status. Lacie seems to assume she is lesser of a being, signifying her lack of power to grasp control of the situation. Without having an actual conversation with Bethany, Lacie relies on quickly looking up Bethany’s social media profile in order to catch up with her life and find something to remark on.
A lack of verbal communication is accentuated to reveal how accessibility to keeping up with people’s lives has become easier because of social media. However, this ease of access is unnerving as an artificiality of the conversation is emphasized. Lacie is clearly impressed with Bethany’s promotion as she becomes self-conscious of her own job which is less than stellar. We participate in a silent competition with other people to raise above the set status of society. Nevertheless, Lacie continues to digest how many ratings she’s getting on her previous post, until Naomi Blestow who has a 4.8 status, likes her post. Tempted to peek at how Naomi reached a worthy 4.8 status, Lacie stalks her profile of staged perfectness from doing yoga to horseback riding.
She becomes distracted by a coworker who offers her a fresh green smoothie but unfortunately, has a 3.1 status. As she takes the smoothie, her interaction with a low-status individual catches the attention of the rest of the office as they all look at her disapprovingly. Ranking a person based on success in the work and social life is underpinned through both of these interactions. Furthermore, a lack of power for the 3.1 status individual is presented as he feels helpless and tries to gain power back by being overly nice.
The scene changes to Lacie looking for a new apartment as she is introduced to an expensive looking space by a real estate agent. Through technology, a virtual image of Lacie actually living in the apartment is used as a marketing strategy to appeal to a potential property owner. There is almost an obedience to the luxuries that technology can offer, as we become enamored by the convincing appeal of enhancing our current status. Lacie becomes infatuated by what her life could look like, and will boldly do anything to get the apartment. A 20% off discount is offered if Lacie can get her status from a 4.2 to a 4.5.
Therefore, when Lacie’s childhood friend Naomi who has a high status, asks Lacie to be her maid of honor for her wedding, Lacie knows this opportunity will help heighten her current status. The wedding is only expected to be flooded with notably high-status people who will surely give Lacie five stars and boost her average rating. She makes a plan to emit an elevating speech about their closeness from their childhood, hoping for it to play out just as she’s expected. She becomes obsessed with articulating a schedule to achieve her expectations, however, these hopes may not reach reality. As she practices her phony speech, Lacie’s brother mocks her obvious transparency at trying so hard, yielding an argument which ends with her brother rating her one star.
Stubbornly, as she still makes her way to the airport, Lacie has a discussion with Naomi on the phone about the schedule of the dress rehearsal and Lacie’s voice is a piercing pitch of fake excitement. This resonates to the cab driver who rolls his eyes at the obvious and annoying fakeness. As Lacie gets out of the cab with a plastered smile and gives the cab driver 5 stars, assuming he would give her 5 stars as well, he instead gives her one star which moves Lacie’s overall status a smidge down to 4.1. Though the cab driver is of a lower status, he took control of the situation by not submitting into a fake and happy persona, and instead, he reacted in an honest manner which emphasizes how status does not instigate power.
Only adding to the downturn of a day, Lacie reaches the airport only to be told her flight has been canceled. Because of her low status, which dwindled down from Lacie’s interactions with her brother and the cab driver, she is unable to book another flight and make it to the wedding rehearsal on time. Though her fake mask of niceness is coated on her facial expression, Lacie’s voice shows a frustration that begins to creep out. She yells at the airline employee to make an exception and book another flight, which only triggers the employee to call security.
The security officer then docks one point off her status, temporarily for 24 hours, and puts her on double damage, which acts as a multiplier to amplify points docked for any negative interactions Lacie has from that moment on. Pristine onlookers behind Lacie watching the interaction all give one star to Lacie for her outburst. As the night continues without her control, a lack of power is present as Lacie submits into a desperate state of helplessness.
Eventually, Naomi calls and tells Lacie not to come to the wedding since her status was now down to 2.6. But Lacie doesn’t listen, covered in mud and with a torn dress, she still barges into the wedding to give her speech she was so adamant on delivering. Her polished image is eradicated, as she sobs through her speech while Naomi orders security guards to kick her out. In this moment, Lacie has a powerful performance which glows with unadulterated honesty, a sharp contrast to her practiced and polished attitude.
Ironically, Lacie’s physical state reflects her real personality saturated in flaws. As Lacie is sent to jail, her ability to see people’s statuses through the advanced technology is extracted from her eyes, but she is able to recognize the beauty of having flaws and exterminating the urge to live a seamless life. Across her jail cell is a black man in another cell who is gazing upon her as Lacie becomes self-conscious and motions with her hands as if she’s giving him one star.
He remarks that he doesn’t like her brassiere and she comments that she doesn’t like his mustache. The inviting darkness between Lacie and the prisoner across from her juxtaposes from the filtered mannerism exaggerated through the amusing, but overly nice interactions in the beginning of the episode. Foul words are thrown carelessly between the two, energizing a fiery interaction which was lacking before.
Quite literally in “Nosedive”, those who radiate a true personality are physically caged up for not caring what people think of them. Furthermore, they live simpler lives but genuinely seem happy with the absence of materialism. On the other hand, individuals who thrive to seek happiness through constructing a flawless image, are really the ones who are trapped in their own egotistical minds. Power from the seductive appeal of technology is reduced as people choose to take control of their lives themselves without machinery.
In a Marxist theory, the materialistic aspect of how society organizes itself is represented as we have been accustomed to living our lives in accordance with technology. Moreover, values and beliefs depend on how much people are obsessed with their social image. Social media like Instagram and Facebook visually embody what we want people to think our life epitomizes. The economic jurisdiction of society focuses on social wellbeing, wealth and status. Actual independent and original thoughts are tossed aside as being too unique in a negative way. Diversity is viewed as a disease as people must be cleansed in order to conform to society’s standards. The power lays in the people, to reject these societal expectations and dominate their own lives the way they want to and not the way they think other people want them to.
Furthermore, the routine and expected lifestyle of getting a good job to make money and live a luxurious lifestyle just to flaunt your status to society are expressed in the episode. The show also accentuates a sardonic aspect of the unnecessary need to align respect with status in the modern world. Our culture is very accepting of others who hold a high status just because of wealth and an admirable image. Marxism is pronounced as a tiresome effort to try and keep up with the evolving world which is encompassed in perfecting self-image.
A struggle between submitting power to technology as an easy way to enforce more control over a social image is stressed. We become dazzled by those who live a luxurious life, easily believing that they couldn’t possibly have any problems. The sophisticated but constricting lifestyle leaves one feeling suffocated; however, even though Lacie and the other prisoner are caged up, their valid interaction relieves the uptightness represented in perfection.