Black Mirror: Striking Vipers

Social Commentary About Porn and Love

Black Mirror spoilers below

Black Mirror is one of my favorite Netflix shows.

It combines all my favorite things: Philosophy, sci-fi, and technology.

Seasons 1-4 always made me think. In fact, while at Yale Institute for bio-ethics, a bunch of students got together and had an informal discussion on the ethical issues in the episode The Entire History of You.

Thus when I discovered season 5 was out, I knew I had to binge watch it.

Sadly season 5 of Black Mirror was disappointing.

In my opinion, the only thought-provoking episode was Striking Vipers.

As I watch Striking Vipers, I couldn’t help but wonder if Black Mirror producer, Charlie” Brooker, intended to say something profound about porn and love. Let me explain.

Synopsis of Black Mirror’s episode Striking Vipers.

There are three main characters. Danny and Karl are best friends from college. Danny has a girlfriend, Theo, who he eventually marries. Since starting a family with his wife, Theo, Danny has become estranged from Karl. On Danny’s birthday, Karl gives Danny a gift, Striking vipers, a game similar to Mortal Combat. This game is played in Virtual Reality. The game allows the players to take on different avatars. Karl takes on the female avatar Roxette and Danny takes on the persona of Lance.

That is when things start to get weird!

Danny and Karl enter into a sexual relationship in the virtual reality game. Lance (Danny) has sex with Roxette (Karl).

I am not sure what it means for each person’s sexuality. Are Danny and Karl homosexual? Is Karl living out transgender fantasies? Maybe, the Virtual reality game is no different than porn?

The show leaves these questions primarily open-ended. Yet it does suggest that both Karl and Danny are not homosexual.

What’s interesting to me is what the game does for Danny and Theo’s relationship. Danny becomes more addicted to having sex in virtual reality. He pulls away from his wife and family. She eventually finds out why.

Their solution is to have one night where they both get sexual gratification. Danny gets to play the game and Theo gets to go to the bar without her wedding ring.

Black mirror’s commentary

The premise of Black Mirror is to use technology as a commentary on societal issues.

I believe VR technology reflects the issue of porn in modern society. Porn gives us unrealistic expectations. Thus, the reality is no longer satisfactory.

While playing the game, Danny can no longer be satisfied by his wife. He gets his satisfaction from the unrealistic avatar in the game.

The show seems to say that playing the game is similar to the wife picking up a man. Both people are not faithful. When someone watches porn, they also are not faithful. They are using someone else for their own gratification.

Black mirror: Happy ending?

Some people cite the ending as happy. Both parties were able to compromise. Yet they ignore what Theo, Danny’s wife, said,

If I wanted to I could have anyone I wanted..but I’m loyal. I make sacrifices because it is a partnership. Does marriage get boring and dull, yes, even I find it boring. So tell me if I’m not wanted.

In modern society, we tend to equate love with the warm feelings we get or how attracted we are to a person. Karl embodies this philosophy in the show. He chases after Danny because it is the “best sex he has ever had” Karl tells Danny that he loves him. This makes Danny realize that they must face the reality of their feelings. Yet in reality, it isn’t love. We need to reclaim the ancient philosophical notion of love

Aristotle’s Notion of Love

Aristotle says that in order to love the other, we must love ourselves. If we truly love ourselves, we will not use anybody else for our own gratification. Rather love is doing for the other’s stake. In other words, if we love ourselves, we will want to pursue a virtuous life. As part of the virtuous life, we should extend unearned love to others. Likewise, one needs the community to be virtuous. This notion of love can also be seen in Catholic teachings.

Catholic Church on Love

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154 This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together. (CCC 1644)

For Catholics, Love is giving of oneself to another. This includes sacrifice. We are called to lay down our lives for our spouse. This is hard work. We don’t do it alone. We do it with the grace of Christ.

Black Mirror shows the consequences of our modern hedonistic lifestyle when given the right technology. Maybe we should reinterpret love as the act of self-giving.

Want more commentary on Love? Check out Matt Fradd’s interview with Christopher West

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