Category: Cultural Representation

Cultural Representation

Men Against Fire

The TV Series Black Mirror is described as satirical and suspenseful, “showing the dark side of life and technology” (IMDB). All Black Mirror episodes are stand-alone commentaries on a certain aspect of life, whether it is in the present or in the future.

Season 3 Episode 5 “Men Against Fire” not only comments on the mental trauma associated with war, but also primarily on the use of technology by a government to enable the eradication of a certain population. Soldiers have a specific piece of equipment installed into their bodies that allow them, among many things, to view certain people as zombies (called “roaches”). Roaches are inadequate and not wanted by the government. The device makes them look like zombies so that soldiers can differentiate between who is human and deserves to live and who must be killed. The soldiers, however, do not realize that they are killing actual humans. It is not until one of the soldiers, Koinange looks into another device that causes his internal system to glitch, where h then begins to see the roaches as the humans that they are. The image below shows the device, specifically from the scene where Koinange looks into it:

What the device also does is that it alters Koinange’s memories in a way that allows for him to recall his killings as killings of roaches — not as killings of human beings. This removes the emotional trauma associated with knowingly killing a human. The counter-device attacks these realities. When Koinange is given the chance to experience such emotions, he cannot believe what he has done. He is shown a video of when he signed the contract agreeing to have the device installed, which is also a commentary on how humans might sign contracts and not necessarily read what they are getting themselves into. 

The counter-device, described in the episode as a virus, attacks the very foundations of the main government device. Through the creation of the counter-device, an understanding of what the main device was trying to do had to have been established. The glitches that Koinange experiences are a result of the virus attempting to infiltrate the main device in order to break it down. The glitches are also a reminder for Koinange that the technology that he relies so much on and takes for granted can very much be gone in the matter of seconds. What you see in this episode is a virus being used “for good” (or “for the culture”) because the virus attacks the very foundations of the governments device that wrongly kills certain human beings. While at the beginning it might seem that the antagonists of the episode are the roaches, the episode goes on to argue that the true antagonist is the government.

Scholar Bryant Suclos sees the “Men Against Fire” storyline as one “as old as time”. He argues that “the same process” of extensive soldier conditioning “has been achieved by manipulative political leaders and generals for ages” (X). I agree with Suclos’ argument. What is different in this case, however, is the introduction of the technology. The introduction of this technology allows for the desensitization of the soldiers; today you see a large amount of veterans suffering from PTSD (among other things) as a result of such work, and this technology would eliminate that aftereffect. Not only is this episode a commentary on the potential future uses of technology, but also on the structures that have allowed and continue to allow for such societal conditioning to occur in the first place.