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'Not enough of him': Technology and Melancholia in 'Be Right Back'

by Ethan Tussey

by Sarah Artt for IN MEDIA RES

In 'Be Right Back', technology begins as comfort. The newly widowed Martha is lured into a software simulacrum. The more information she feeds to the software, the more it mimics the voice and mannerisms of her dead husband, Ash. The 'next level' of engagement offers her a synthetic replicant of Ash. But, living with a synthetic person is both uncanny and melancholy. The replacement Ash recalls the concerns of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein dreams of creating a beautiful creature who will be closer to him than a child, but he rejects his ugly creation, abandoning it to a life of subsistence and hiding. Irrevocably saddled with the secret of the other Ash, Martha can neither abandon nor destroy him and instead resigns him to the attic. Black Mirror's ambivlance towards technology is similar to Frankenstein's ambivalent attitude towards science. Martha attempts to assuage the profound melancholy she experiences after Ash's sudden death, but she cannot destroy the new Ash she has brought into being through her use of technology, just as Victor cannot seem to kill his creation.

Black Mirror mourns the utopian dream of how technology might connect us, while meditating on the ways it separates us. Martha initially retains a connection to Ash through the simulation of his voice, but the presence of his cyborg double only reinforces the separation brought on by death. Here, technology is not the miracle. Instead, it is pervasive and unsettling.  It permeates every aspect of our lives, and Martha, blinded by grief, attempts to recreate her husband without considering the long-term implications, She is left with a permanent reminder: the android in the attic.  Brooker's series often presents characters as guilty bystanders, salacious voyeurs or jaded spectators. Yet, it also implicitly asks us to reflect on how we use technology and whether we might choose to use it differently.


Black Mirror and Art

A video collage of commentary on Black Mirror

from ArttInMediaRes (2015)
Creator: Sarah Artt
Distributor: Vimeo
Posted by Ethan Tussey