The dystopian television series is playing out one of its own plot linesby Lucinda Smyth / June 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
Towards the end of the final episode of this season’s Black Mirror (Netflix, 5th June), we see protagonist Ashley O tied down to a bed. Ashley (Miley Cyrus) is an iconic pop sensation whose artistic outputs are adored around the world. Lately Ashley has been being a bit difficult, so her managerial team have reasonably placed her into an induced coma. Attached to her head is a device which will monitor creative activity, digesting the sound-waves pulsing through her brain, and transcribe them to create songs Ashley is dreaming. The plan is to funnel these new songs into an album and perform them live via an enormous Ashley hologram. Ashley O might die, but the thing that makes her valuable will live forever. It will be bigger, better.
This episode touches on many of the anxieties we usually see in Black Mirror. We’ve got bad advice from robots, aggressive friendlessness, commercial gloom and internet addicts with delusional expectations. First and foremost though, it’s a commentary on the commodification of talent. Outside of what you’re good at, what are you good for? The obvious parallel here is Miley Cyrus herself. Cyrus started out as a Disney sensation in squeaky tween show Hannah Montana, before rebelling against Disney’s tight restrictions, culminating in her chopping off her hair, prancing nude on a wrecking ball and twerking against the monochrome crotch of Robin Thicke.
Black Mirror co-creators Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker have confirmed that the Cyrus parallel is intentional, and she collaborated with the director when reworking the script. Look closer to home, however, and there’s another parallel to be found. If the links between Cyrus and Ashley O are visible, we can also see them with the Black Mirror co-creators. Jones and Brooker are the masterminds of a show so successful that it’s now surpassed its meta status. Black Mirror has become a front-runner product of the system it criticises.
I wrote a few years ago about the “Hollywoodisation” of Black Mirror after it transferred to Netflix, in the wake of season three. Brooker’s low-key roots as a Guardian grouch then seemed a distant memory; the earlier Channel 4 episodes were similarly obscured. While the first two series of Black Mirror had mostly featured UK-based, BBC-famous actors like Rory Kinnear and Domnhall Gleeson, now there were Really Famous…