Black Mirror "White Bear": The Pursuit of Justice
How easy it is to be corrupted on the road to Justice
“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
— Matthew 24:12 (ESV)
In an interview, Charlie Brooker explained that Black Mirror was meant to show us “the way we live now — and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” Many are familiar with the premise of this successful anthology series which paints a near future dystopian reality, extrapolating on the ramifications of our society’s technological and digital age. Yet it seems those “10 minutes” are up as we are in the Now of that future, with so many of us feeling like we are living Black Mirror in real time — a fact that even has discouraged Brooker from considering a Season 6 because of the bleakness of our reality. Black Mirror is certainly a “bleak” show, and not for the faint of heart. Even I refuse to watch Episode 1 of Season 1 for personal reasons. Despite this, Black Mirror isn’t a nihilistic show as some may be tempted to believe. It hurts to watch, and it is cruel, depressing, and extremely dark — but it is aptly named Black Mirror. Its goal is to reflect to us our reality, but even more than this — it tells us what it means. It isn’t a complete picture, though, and never claims to be. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly…” By looking into this “dim mirror” we can see shades and shadows of those deeper realities within ourselves. If the show is cruel, it is only because that cruelty exists within us. If it is dark, it is only because that darkness exists within us.
It may also be tempting to see Black Mirror as a gimmicky show — a premise that explores the effects of our technology with shocking twists and sensational ideas. It is easy to get caught up in the “shock value” of it all, and you forget what the stories are actually showing you. At its heart, Black Mirror is about dehumanization — how disturbingly easy it is for Man to dehumanize himself and others. It isn’t even a criticism of technology itself, necessarily, as technology is simply made up of tools and our social media venues are just platforms. The foundation of Black Mirror has always been us — it is showing how we use our tools and platforms and why we do, exploring our most basic instincts. Black Mirror is the most successful and grandiose display of “user error” that there is.
I give this preamble so that we can get into the proper frame of mind as we dive into Episode 2 of Season 2, because I chose this particular episode for a reason. I believe that it has become even more relevant than the time it was made, as those “ten minutes” Brooker mentioned went by fast, and we were indeed very clumsy. I do not want us to let it slip away from us as a mere fiction, but I want us to feel it and know it, to not look away from what is being reflected to us here , because the darkness goes deep. Yet I also do not want us to get lost in this dark reflection, but instead remind ourselves that we only look into this mirror to learn and to understand. As Paul continues, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” There is still yet more to know beyond. The mirror is not all there is.
Black Mirror: White Bear is probably the Black Mirror-est of the entire series. With solid writing and acting, White Bear achieves the goal of Black Mirror so succinctly and effortlessly, leaving you with an ending that horrifies to the core. The episode cold opens upon our protagonist, Victoria, who wakes up in an unknown room, in an unknown location, and with no memory of who she is, where she came from, or what had happened. She has clearly suffered physical harm, and hasn’t had any food or water for some time. There seems to be evidence of some kind of restraints being used on her wrists as well. As she explores this silent and ominous world around her, she gets flashes and images in her mind. She sees is a little girl with a smiling face and a white teddy bear, and concludes that perhaps this is her daughter. She also notices that on all the tv screens there is a strange, eerie white symbol flashing.
Once she goes outside, she begins to uncover the mad nightmare of this world, as people stand staring out their windows, holding their phones up to record and photograph her. They are all ages, and even children stare at her distress, unmoved as she shouts at them for help. Even bystanders she comes across in the street do not acknowledge her suffering, but continue to film her with their phones as she begs and pleads with them. Disoriented and terrified, and before she can even make any sense of what is going on, a man masked in that same foreboding white symbol drives up with a shotgun and immediately begins to hunt her down. Running and screaming for her life now, still the bystanders do nothing but follow the inhuman chase like a silent paparazzi or a flock of voyeur vultures. Eventually, Victoria meets up with a young man and woman who also appear to be running for their life from this grim-visaged man who seeks to kill them. It is through this desperate escape that Victoria learns from the woman of what has happened here. She explains of how one day that same white symbol showed up on everyone’s screens, and it changed almost everyone:
“It did something to the people — like most everybody became onlookers, started watching, filming stuff, like spectators who don’t give a shit about what happens.”
Because of this, the most violent members of the society began to hunt, torture, and kill others, emboldened by the passive masses who would only standby and watch. Sure enough, even as they are being hunted by the man and the gun, he is joined by another group of masked and psychotic individuals brandishing their own weapons and seeking to destroy them.
Victoria’s world continues to unravel into chaos and madness, an unrelenting nightmare with only flashes and snippets of another life haunting her along the way. She even starts having premonitions as she travels with her apparent allies, a nagging sense that she has done all this before, met this young woman before, and had the same experiences. Each step of the journey seems almost rote as Victoria is barely able to put the pieces together, navigating for her life through a reality that is consistently unreliable and seeking her destruction. She struggles to listen to her instincts through the haze of her constant fear, but in the end it is too late, as we discover the truth behind this horrific game. After a climatic confrontation and with a dramatic flourish, the woman whom she had befriended and her hunters both together sweep her onto a chair, strap her down, and a whole stage opens up to an audience of cheering people. Horrified beyond belief at this point, Victoria can only watch transfixed as the man who was her hunter, now turned showman upon the stage, reveals to Victoria her true identity and the reason why she is here.
Victoria and her boyfriend had kidnapped a young girl, the same girl who had been in Victoria’s memory flashes. Her boyfriend (who bore that same strange symbol as a tattoo on his neck) had brutalized this young girl with Victoria looking on, filming the whole thing on her phone. The boyfriend had been killed during capture, but Victoria had been sentenced and subjugated to White Bear Justice Park, named after the white bear owned by that little girl they tortured and killed. In this park, they run a simulation where Victoria is forced to endure obscene and horrific psychological tortures every single day to the joy of the onlookers. These onlookers are now paid park attendees who visit this park like you would go to Disneyland, even bringing their children to revel in this gruesome justice.
What makes it worse, as Victoria is escorted through a jeering, condemning crowd who scream hate and violence at her, is that her memory is wiped clean at the end of each “show”, so always she must endure this day and always she must endure the revelation of who she is and what she had done at the end of it. It is a never-ending cycle of hellish justice, as Victoria is made to feel what her own victim had felt over and over again with no hope of the release of death. And as her memory is stripped painfully from her at the end of this show, all the workers of the park reset everything in the house, re-staging and setting it up for the next day’s “performance.” Even as the end credits roll, we are shown how the day progresses. White Bear Justice Park opens, gathers its attendees who are given explanation of the rules, and we see how each of the actors prepare for their roles. All of these steps are completed by the employees and performers like they are going through a normal work day, unmoved by Victoria’s screams of pain that echo throughout the house. Their faces are full of pride and joy as they clearly feel a sense of personal satisfaction through the “justice” they are administering. We see the joyful audiences and happy families as they watch Victoria’s day from the sidelines or through their phone screens, laughing and giggling at her distress and horror, reveling in it to the fullest extent.
Terrible? Yes, almost unbearable to watch unfold, yet I think the indictment is clear and its warning eerily close to home. For although Victoria herself was a despicable person for what she had done to that poor little girl, this episode puts on display the deepest wickedness of the human heart when we perceive ourselves as the righteous ones. These people of White Bear Justice Park, and the audiences who joined in the hellish revels, saw themselves as delivering justice, gaining retribution for the little girl whom Victoria and her boyfriend had tortured and killed. There is no prick of conscience, no indication of doubt in their heart that what they are doing is wrong, even as they clearly are tormenting this woman beyond the capacity of what any one human being can bear. Instead, they seem to say to themselves: “She deserves it.” — “Serves her right.” — “She destroyed that little girl’s life in the most brutal fashion, let her feel the retribution forever.” What is on display here is not Victoria’s atrocity, but the hardness and ugliness of her tormentor's hearts instead. White Bear Justice Park is the atrocity of this episode.
I found it very interesting that at the end of the episode when the Ringleader (the man who was given the role of the grim-visaged Hunter) is explaining the rules of the park to the attendees, he brings up why he doesn’t want any of them to engage with Victoria. “We are trying to get her to believe you are all mesmerized,” he says. The audience laughs as if it is the most ludicrous statement and he continues, “I know, I know, but she has believed it up until now.” If we recall back to the young woman’s explanation to Victoria, about how some apocalyptic type event happens which turns everyone to onlookers, we can see that what they are telling as “fiction” to lead Victoria on the chase, is actually the reality — people have become the onlookers here, “not giving a shit about what happens”. They believe it is so absurd that Victoria should believe that they are mesmerized, and yet they are. They are mesmerized by their own sense of justice as they treat another human being’s suffering as a form of entertainment. In the end, the apocalyptic scenario is actually true, and that is the tragedy of it.
Justice is something that has been of a hot topic debate of late, has it not? “No Justice, No Peace” is a slogan that is heralded as a worthy and true cause. Did we not just have riots and looting - violence - happening not too long ago in the name of this cause? Think about the term “Cancel Culture”, and all that entails as we , through our devices , pronounce an irrevocable judgement upon someone we perceive as committing an act of hate, bigotry, or violence against society. I believe White Bear should be a warning to us to be very careful upon this ground which we tread. In this story, Victoria’s guilt wasn’t in question. We know what she has done and that it is an evil, just as we know that the injustice in this world is very real and also evil. Yet there is no justice in reveling in another human being’s suffering no matter who they are or what they have done. There is no justice in mob violence, whether physical, virtual, or psychological. There is no justice because none of us is greater than the other, or more righteous than the other — we are all human. Each and every one of us is equal in our human frailties, even if we don’t go out and commit heinous crimes.
It isn’t about the level of evil committed or that people shouldn’t be met with consequences for any wrongs they have done. Justice should be pursued naturally when a wrong is committed. What I take away from this episode is that it isn’t a commentary about pursuing justice, but an indictment on the manner by which we pursue that justice. If we start perceiving ourselves as unerringly righteous in this pursuit, no matter what actions we take — and whatever ramifications they may have on a person or persons or even on our society — we can easily justify extremely terrible things. White Bear Justice Park could become a reality that manifests itself in our hearts that overflows into the reservoirs of our culture, poisoning us. Should this not give us pause when pronouncing our judgement? Should we not instead pursue wisdom first so that we may be certain in our judgments, for the benefit of ourselves and our fellow men?
“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
— Proverbs 4:7-9, ESV
So let us instead seek to apply what we learn from White Bear in our day to day use of our social media by taking particular notice of what lies within the hearts of the people of White Bear Justice Park, as they say to themselves: “We are justified in what we do, we are good people in what we do, because she is evil, because she deserves it.” Remember this whenever you sign on to your social media and start saying to yourself: “I am justified in what I am saying and inciting within others. I am right in whom I am condemning. I am a good person, because this person or persons I condemn is evil, and they deserve to be punished. They deserve to be silenced.”
The people of White Bear Justice Park essentially stripped Victoria of all her humanity, and viewed her as an inferior to themselves — they were the holy ones pronouncing true justice. As I watched how the crowd paraded Victoria down that thoroughfare, so her shame and suffering could be seen by all, I could not help but draw parallels to another kind of “walk of shame,” the one Christ made on the road to Calvary. Victoria was wicked and Christ was innocent, yet the same mentality applies. For if we can enjoy and validate the suffering of an evil person with whom we consider subhuman to ourselves, is it too much of stretch for us to enjoy and validate the suffering of the innocent one because we perceive them as subhuman to ourselves?
And so, we see where our pursuit of justice leads us as when we look into this black mirror. Be careful, then, how you judge.
“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
Matthew 7:2 (ESV)