NOSEDIVE AND IDEOLOGY
The Netflix original series Black Mirror, created by Charlie Brooker, presents its audience with chilling parables about the nightmares of life in the digital age. The third season of the anthology series begins with an episode titled “Nosedive,” directed by Joe Wright and starring Bryce Dallas Howard. Howard plays Lacie Pound, a woman who is obsessed with elevating her social media status.
Lacie’s narrative takes place in the not-so-distant future where people can “rate” interactions with their peers from one to five stars, forming an aggregate rating for each person. In this universe, a high star rating is widely sought after, as those with a high rating are afforded special privileges, like premium apartments and prestigious jobs.
Expressing disdain over her current living arrangements, Lacie pursues a new apartment in a “lifestyle community,” one that requires a 4.5 rating to qualify for the discount she needs to afford the payments. Lacie begins the episode at a 4.2-star rating and seeks a boost from so-called “prime users,” or those with a 4.5 rating or above. These users have more influence in the rating system (Schur & Wright 2016). When Lacie’s old friend Naomi, a 4.8, invites her to be the maid of honor at her wedding, Lacie quickly accepts, knowing a heartfelt speech will earn her the rating she needs (Schur & Wright 2016).
Lacie’s journey to Naomi’s wedding is filled with road bumps, causing her rating to be continuously marked down to a zero, resulting in detainment by the authorities. Despite her low rating and Naomi’s retraction of her invitation, Lacie shows up at the wedding to deliver her speech and continues until she is arrested. Once in jail, the technology placed in her eye allowing her to see other people’s ratings is removed, finally giving her freedom from her obsession (Schur & Wright 2016).
“Nosedive” is more relevant than ever to today’s society, as writers Rashida Jones and Michael Schur cleverly reference the current culture’s overdependence on technology and obsession with social media. Black Mirror received widespread critical acclaim for all three seasons (“Black Mirror: Season 3” 2017) and “Nosedive” earned Bryce Dallas Howard a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination (“Bryce Dallas Howard: Awards” 2017) for her neurotic and vulnerable performance as Lacie. ( industrial context)
Today, social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat play an integral role in society’s communication. According to a report by the Pew Research Center in 2016, 86 percent of Americans utilize the internet. Out of those online users, 79 percent use Facebook, 32 percent use Instagram, 24 percent use Twitter, and 24 percent use Snapchat (Greenwood, Perrin, & Duggan 2016). The pervasiveness of technology and social networking can be explained by the theory of technological determinism, which is the main ideology present in “Nosedive.” According to Professor Langdon Winner, technological determinism is the theory that technology governs the way that humans act in a social setting (Hess, 2015). Through the critical method of ideological criticism, technological determinism in “Nosedive” is identified through the disconnect of the characters from the real world, the connection between the characters’ happiness and social media, and the adoption of obsessive rating habits. ( ideological context )
Analysis ( ideological contexts )
“Nosedive” illustrates how technological determinism has transformed social interactions between the characters by illustrating a disconnect from reality, which leads to constant distraction and awkward face-to-face interactions with peers. The audience first observes the depth of Lacie’s preoccupation with technology in the opening scene. She jogs through her neighborhood with her eyes glued to a translucent device resembling a smartphone. A close-up reveals a social media program resembling a Facebook-Instagram hybrid, featuring photo updates from peers with a star ranking system below (Schur & Wright 2016). Lacie scrolls through the posts, rating her peers ve stars, ignoring the content of the entries. She jogs past an acquaintance and they both raise up their devices and rate each other five stars (Schur & Wright 2016), simply validating each other’s existence, void of a meaningful interaction between friends. Technology is overtly fused with reality when Lacie places an augmented reality lens on her eyes, allowing her to view her peers’ ratings. Black Mirror writers draw similarities to the younger members of today’s society. Generations like millennials are accused by older generations of excessive technology use—Instagram-ing every meal and relying on social media as their primary mode of communication. Through Lacie’s obsessive documentation of her daily routines, such as yoga or her afternoon coffee, and her shallow face-to-face interactions with friends, these accusations are seemingly confirmed.
Technology also plays a role in mediating strained interactions between Lacie and her peers. In one scene, Lacie is pictured getting into an elevator with a work acquaintance. Their exchanges are forced and insincere. They both peer down at their phones, perusing the other’s social media, in search of a topic of small talk (Schur & Wright, 2016).
A good scene to also reference the use of codes –e,g CAMELS
This dependence on social media for insight into the lives of one’s peers is comparable to a phenomenon discussed in the book How the World Changed Social Media. In the book, researchers surveyed social media users around the world to gauge how they utilized networking websites (Miller et al. 2016). Researchers used a theory known as the “Goldilocks Strategy” to describe how some social media users interacted with peers:
[Researchers] found that social media provided a way to keep these people, who fell somewhere between close friend and distant acquaintance, in a position that was neither too ‘hot’ nor too ‘cold’...By remaining connected on social media, users were able to give the appearance of being in touch without having to spend signi cant time and energy meeting them in person. (Miller et al., 2016)
The Goldilocks Strategy is observable in “Nosedive,” mainly through Lacie and Naomi. The two mention several times how they have failed to keep in touch, and throughout the episode, Lacie obsessively browses Naomi’s social media account. While the two have not exerted the energy to interact in person, they could surmise the details of the other’s life through technology.
Technological determinism is also evident in the role social media plays in the acceptance and happiness of the characters. In the episode, Lacie stands in front of the mirror, testing out a variety of laughs (Schur & Wright, 2016). It is apparent through the blank face she reveals between bouts of laughter that the happiness she exhibits is disingenuous. It is simply rehearsed to achieve high ratings, and therefore a high social status in the episode’s reality. This scene serves as an early indicator of the intensity of Lacie’s desire to be accepted by her peers—an obsession so severe that even something as visceral as laughter is rehearsed to please those around her. (more good scene/s to reference for codes and conventions )
Later, Lacie promptly posts a photo of her coffee to her social media, even though the disgusted look on her face after her first sip reveals she does not actually like the taste of it. She soon begins to receive five star ratings on her photo, resembling “likes” on a Facebook or Instagram post. Her mood instantly improves and the expression on her face resembles one of pride, as if posting a photo of her coffee is a noteworthy accomplishment. In the article “Social Media Triggers a Dopamine High,” psychology professor Mauricio Delgado states that social media “likes” trigger the reward centers of the brain, initiating an in ux of dopamine. Delgado further explains the addictive qualities of social networks:
If you’re getting positive feedback in social media—‘likes’ and shares and retweets—it’s a positive ‘reinforcer’ of using social media, and one that allows you to, a.) get the positive effects of it, and, b.) return to it seeking out more social reinforcement. (Soat, 2015)
The effects of these “positive reinforcers” are evident in the giddiness Lacie exhibits after she is validated by her peers, even by a superficial social media nod. Technological determinism has allowed humans to receive neurological rewards not merely from exercise or human interaction, but from a digital media audience.
The arbitrary rating system that structures the “Nosedive” universe depicts another way the technological determinism ideology has transformed the current culture: through the phenomenon of rating everything. Popular internet services like Yelp and Uber allow users to assign quantifiable values to their dining and travel endeavors. Today, like in Black Mirror, enterprises and humans alike must live their lives in pursuit of a desirable reputation. Internet ratings have even come to determine the fate of some American businesses. The NPR podcast “All Things Considered” stated that in the San Francisco Bay Area, “Restaurants with low or middling Yelp reviews have become more likely to go out of business. Places with high reviews have been unaffected,” (Harnett, 2017). Personal reputation and business also intersect in the transportation industry, as Uber drivers and passengers have a mutual obligation to behave well, due to the star rating they are prompted to appoint each other after the ride (Chamorro- Premuzic, 2015). In this scenario, the reputation and the profitability of Uber depends on high internet ratings. The abundance of Yelp reviews and Uber ratings are evidence of the impact technological determinism has had on society’s dining and travel habits. One cannot simply enjoy a meal or a car ride, but many feel obligated to register their approval or disapproval online.
Brooker, Jones, and Schur tell a cautionary tale in “Nosedive” regarding society’s current social-media obsession— one that is re ected in Lacie. The motif of technological dependence in the episode resembles the ideology of technological determinism in three main ways: through the disconnect of the characters from reality, the dependence on social media for happiness, and the characters’ xation on the rating system.
In this Black Mirror universe, a zealous use of technology is the prominent hegemony, one that is regularly reinforced by the rating system. The “Nosedive” society requires one
to subscribe to the rating system by rewarding those with high ratings and punishing those with low ratings. As seen in the episode, Lacie is barred from certain privileges as her rating begins to plummet. After her ight is cancelled, she is prohibited from booking another ight with the “prime ight program” and she is limited in the type of car she can rent because of her subpar rating (Schur & Wright 2016). Near the episode’s conclusion, Lacie befriends a truck driver named Susan. She discloses that she used to aspire to a high social status like Lacie, but she now counters the hegemony of the rating system by speaking her mind, regardless of its impact on her rating.
In a technology-dependent society, one may no longer require meaningful conversations and experiences to feel ful lled; for some, two taps on a screen that require minimal effort has the same effect. One’s worth is no longer based on merit or character, but dependent on internet status. In future years, the rating phenomenon will only proliferate. Future research could investigate the psychological impact of institutionalized rating systems on the minds of individuals. While society’s preoccupation with technology is not at the level this episode depicts, at the current rate, one must wonder if the shallow world of rating one’s peers is closer than it appears.
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2017, from http://www.metacritic.com/tv/black-
mirror/season-3 Bryce Dallas Howard: Awards. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16,
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awards?ref_=nm_awd Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2015, October 26). Reputation and the rise of the ‘rating’ society. Retrieved November
24, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/media- network/2015/oct/26/reputation-rating-society-uber- airbnb
Greenwood, S., Perrin, A., & Duggan, M. (2016, November 11). Social Media Update 2016 (Rep.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from Pew Research Center website: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/ social-media-update-2016/#fnref-17239-1
Harnett, S. (2017, May 8). Restaurants with low Yelp ratings suffer under higher minimum wages [Audio blog post]. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from https://www.npr. org/2017/05/08/527452861/restaurants-with-low- yelp-ratings-suffer-under-higher-minimum-wages
Hess, D. J. (2015). “Power, Ideology, and Technological Determinism” [PDF]. The Society for Social Studies of Science.
Miller, D., Costa, E., Haynes, N., McDonald, T., Nicolescu, R., Sinanan, J., . . . Wang, X. (2016). Does social media make people happier? In How the World Changed Social Media (pp. 193–204). London: UCL Press. doi:http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1g69z35.20
Schur, M., & Jones, R. (Writers), Wright, J. (Director), & Borg, L. (Producer). (2016, October 21). Nosedive [Television series episode]. In Black Mirror. Los Gatos, California: Netflix.
Soat, M. (2015, November). Social Media Triggers a Dopamine High. Marketing News. Retrieved November 25, 2017, from https://www.ama.org/publications/ MarketingNews/Pages/feeding-the-addiction.aspx
1. In what ways does the author parallel Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” episode to actions and ideas present in modern society?
2. In what ways has American society become reliant on technology to support our sense of personal worth?
3. How does the use of popular media allow a variety of readers to enter into the conversation the author has started? Who might be the intended audience(s)?
1. How does the author make use of current sources and examples from “Nosedive” to examine society?
2. With attention to his writing style, how does the author account for the lack of visual information that watching “Nosedive” would give us?
1.Discuss the narrative possibilities presented in the opening scene.
2.Describe the introduction and characterisation of Lacie.
3.How does her characterisation reflect the production period?
4.What circumstances or conflict motivates Lacie to improve her social rating?
5.Conduct research online to find whether the Social Media rating system is a just an idea or actually happens in real life.
6.Analyse the use of production elements used to enhance Lacie’s obsession with improving her personal rating.
7.How does Nosedive reflect ideologies of the production period
8. Explain why audiences from different periods of time would engage with, consume and read Nosedive differently.
‘Black Mirror’, a title that refers to the ‘cold, shiny screens’ of the devices we are so attached to; an implied message that technology reflects the darkest elements of humans today. Charlie Brooker, the genius behind the show, outlines the concept with stating ‘they’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes time if we're clumsy’. Each episode, unrelated to one another in every sense from narrative to characters, vary in time period, also. Some episodes are set vividly in an imaginative, futuristic world yet, the most disturbing ones, are set today; shining an unsettling spotlight on the way we live as of now.
‘Nosedive’, series three - episode one, does just that as we follow the protagonist Lacie, (Bryce Dallas Howard), on the journey to her idea of success. There is extreme gender regressive notions which are portrayed through the overall aesthetics of the episode. Both the male and female characters, dressed in their perfectly mismatched shades of salmon and baby blue, prance around a clear 1950’s inspired architectural community which paints the picture of the nuclear family, and all that entails. The colours used - blue for boys, pink for girls - combined with female and male interactions causes for one to feel confused by the idea of regression contrasting with when the episode is supposed to be set, the future.
"A satire on acceptance and the image of us we like to portray and project to others’’ - Brooker describes the successful yet concerning episode. Upon the first viewing, one may feel outraged by such a world. Sickeningly-sweet, fake loners who roam around a pastel-coloured hell in seek to desperately maintain or improve an acceptable rating and acceptance from others in society. How sad must one be within themselves that the medicine to uplift them is another’s approval? To fuss over why a certain tweet has not got as many likes as you first had hoped; to have anxiety whilst waiting for your crush to match you on Tinder; or considering what mark you wish to score your Uber driver the entire journey, are aspects your independent, self-assured life would never consist of… right? Wrong. Nosedive is perhaps a heightened version of modern society, however there are undeniable ingredients purposely included to make one not only think about our behaviour as an individual but collectively as a nation.
In ‘Status Anxiety’, Alain De Botton (2004) states, that ‘those without status remain unseen, they are treated brusquely, their complexities are trampled upon and their identities ignored’, categorising them into nonsensical/absurd terms of ‘somebodies’ and their inverse as ‘nobodies’. In Nosedive, your rating determines your status. Drop below a 3.5 and you are considered an outcast - unable to rent certain cars, denied access to certain buildings or even catch a flight to leave the country. Nosedive could not support De Botton’s statement more. But what makes us a ‘somebody’ opposed to a ‘nobody’? What doors does that open for us or perhaps keep us out of? One of low status should not be read in material terms alone although typically we associate the benefits of high status to wealth. At no point do we see characters interact with the idea of money. Buying a simple coffee and cookie is exchanged with a rating to the barista and an extra cheery goodbye! Lacie’s coworker, blacklisted by colleagues after a breakup, is categorised as an absolute ‘nobody’. We see hints of his journey to rock bottom throughout the episode where he essentially begs Lacie along with others to rate him higher simply so he can access his office. Humiliated and scared of what is to come for his low rated life now, it is tortuous to watch what status, and lack of it, can oppose on someone
‘In traditional societies, high status may have been inordinately hard to acquire as what mattered was one’s identity at birth, rather than anything one might achieve in one’s lifetime. What mattered was who one was, seldom what one did’ (De Botton, 2004). The concept of ‘Nosedive’ and rating one another which then opens doors to more opportunities challenges De Botton’s statement. In this world, one is not luckily gifted with status, it is earned. One can not commend Lacie for wanting a better life for herself, having goals and ambitions. Her dream of living in a certain area with a beautiful home is not absurd. Securing false friendships and repressing true emotions and thoughts to appear as a perfect human is, however. De Botton then justifies that ‘status anxiety is the price we pay for acknowledging a public difference between a successful and unsuccessful life’ and that the ‘fear that one might fail and disgrace ones self in the eyes of others is only a natural consequence of having ambition’.
Repressing ones true thoughts and feelings to achieve comfortable happiness appears utterly ridiculous to a modern society, especially due to the amount of technology accessible to us, which allows us to have the freedom of speech at the click of a button. Yet still, we are undeniably careful of the choice of words used around certain company or consider the correct way to project a comment in the most positive way. Something the characters in ‘Nosedive’ are no stranger of. Lacie even practices her greetings every morning in the mirror to perfect the perkiest introduction possible. There are countless reasons why us as humans do this. It could be said the most significant though, is the fear of rejection and our constant crave for love and acceptance. ‘’No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all members thereof. If no one turned around when we entered, answered when we spoke or acted as if we were non-existent things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would before long well up in us, from which the cruellest body torture would be a relief.’’ William James, The Principles of Psychology, (Boston, 1890). James highlights an important point that perhaps the attention of others matters to us simply because we are affected by a congenital uncertainty as to what our own value is. To support this, Botton expresses ‘there is something sobering and absurd in the extent to which we are cheered by attention and damaged by disregard’. The absence of love, to be ignored, rejected causes an emotion so incomprehensible that one would do all in their power to avoid - even if that may be to repress and subdue your true being.
Rejection leading to absence of love inevitably leads to loneliness. In a modern society where we’re more connected than ever before, with social media being the most powerful way to communicate, it does make one wonder how our time has been called ‘the age of loneliness’. The platforms available to us from Facebook, Twitter to Instagram allows for convenient connection but are we truly creating a link between relationships? The word ‘social’, connoting a group of people genuinely connecting, is ironically shown with the characters in ‘Nosedive’. A brief encounter in an elevator with Lacie and coworker consists of one another checking the other's profile accounts to see what they have been up to instead of simply asking and conversing - something that is not unattainable or unusual to happen in todays society. The “social” network has been linked to a surprising number of undesirable mental health issues, which aside from the feeling of loneliness, includes depression, low self-esteem, and bitter jealousy. According to studies and new research from the psychologists at Brigham Young University/ The University of Utah it has been said that social isolation and the feeling of loneliness increase a person’s chance of premature death by 14 percent - nearly double the risk of early death from obesity (The Huffington Post, 2016). Worrying figures for a modern world where the thought of feeling lonely is absurd due to our accessibility of ways to connect.
Although appearing negative, we must not forget what technology and social media really has brought us. Black Mirror may explore the murky relationship between humans and screens but it is in no way a bash against it. If anything, a celebration of what our modern society has become. Brooker heightens aspects of real life within the episode for dramatic purpose and entertainment, not to completely leave the audience with a uncomfortable feeling of hate towards our world. The truly beautiful moment at the end of the episode where we see Lacie utterly let go of the repression and built up emotion allows for an ending where one can go away feeling that although technology, social media and overall modern society can at times be overwhelming, its how we as humans utilise them in moderation that counts. Technology is exciting, but lets not drown in eagerness to the point where we lose sight of what is important.
De Botton, A. (2004). Status anxiety. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books.
Forbes.com. (2016). Forbes Welcome. [online] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/04/08/new-study-links-facebook-to-depression-but-now-we-actually-understand-why/#5ebe05662e65 [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016].
Williams, Z., Kingsley, P., Stuart, K., Hern, A., Elan, P. and Parkinson, H. (2016). Reflections on Black Mirror – by those for whom science fiction became reality. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/oct/25/reflections-on-black-mirror-by-those-for-whom-science-fiction-became-reality [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016].
The Huffington Post. (2016). Why Loneliness Is A Growing Public Health Concern -- And What We Can Do About It. [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/21/science-loneliness_n_6864066.html [Accessed 2 Dec. 2016].
YouTube. (2016). Black Mirror: Bryce Dallas Howard and Alice Eve Discuss Their Chilling Social Media Episode. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7S_QYL3JEU [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016].
Posted 2nd December 2016 by Amy French
Black Mirror is coming true in China, where your 'rating' affects your home, transport and social circle
Alice Vincent, entertainment writer
15 DECEMBER 2017
In Nosedive, an episode of Black Mirror released on Netflix last year, Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a woman seeking the approval of her soon-to-be-wed childhood friend. But because this is a machination of Charlie Brooker's mind (Michael Schur and Rashida Jones wrote the script), Lacie's social standing was decided by technology and voted on by the people she interacted with.
Having a good score – above four-point-five out of five – meant that Lacie could qualify for a luxury apartment. If she lost her temper with a waiter or shop assistant, or associated with people with lower scores, her score would drop, excluding her from the more refined parts of society.
A story in Wired magazine reports on Zhima Credit, a "personal credit" rating associated with Alipay, the main form of mobile payment in China – and the power of Zhima Credit sounds eerily similar to that outlined in Nosedive.
Users will be given a score between 350 (low) and 950 (high), and rewards those with "good" scores with perks and rewards. Paying back debts will give you a good rating, but so will having certain qualifications, the products you choose to buy and, crucially, the company you keep.
The writer of the piece, Mara Hvistendahl, explains that she used the system in August and was immediately given a "poor" rating of 550, which meant she had to pay a $30 deposit before she could rent a bike at the cost of 15 cents. She also had to pay deposits to stay in hotels or rent GoPros or free umbrellas. "I belonged to the digital underclass," Hvistendahl wrote.
The Zhima Credit system is integrated with China's governmental blacklist, List of Dishonest People, as journalist Liu Hu found. Even though he hadn't signed up for Zhima Credit, he had a score that rendered him a "second-class citizen". As Hvistendahl describes it: "He was banned from most forms of travel; he could only book the lowest classes of seat on the slowest trains. He could not buy certain consumer goods or stay at luxury hotels, and he was ineligible for large bank loans."
Those with high Zhima Credit scores, however, had reverse fortunes: Lazarus Lui, who had a score of 722, was able to access: "favorable terms on loans and apartment rentals, as well as showcasing on several dating apps should he and his wife ever split up. With a few dozen more points, he could get a streamlined visa to Luxembourg."
As another high-scoring millennial told Hvistendahl, the ratings of those in your social circle impacts on your own score: "If your friends are all high-score people, it’s good for you. If you have some bad-credit people as friends, it’s not nice."
You can read the whole feature here. The perilously prescient Nosedive is available to watch on Netflix.