Black Mirror, President Trump and prophecy – can TV really predict the future?
From Piggate to the victory of Donald Trump in the US Presidential Election, Charlie Brooker's Netflix series sometimes feels eerily prescient. But is it really that simple?
As Donald J Trump became President-elect of the United States of America, the internet was abuzz with cries that 2016 had basically become an episode of Black Mirror.
From the supposedly implausible Brexit to the seemingly impossible rise of a reality star from TV screens to the Oval Office, it's no surprise people tried to hide from the bludgeoning reality by comparing 2016 to Charlie Brooker’s dystopian drama.
But despite the clairvoyant compliments, Black Mirror producer Annabel Jones doesn’t think the show is prophetic – even if it did take an ”utterly comic, or utterly preposterous” scenario like “the Prime Minister f**king a pig” and introduce it to us years before #PigGate.
“Maybe we’re slightly tapping into things that people already feel,” she tells RadioTimes.com, sitting in a New York hotel just two weeks before the November elections. “Because I don’t think it’s prophetic.”
Black Mirror executive producers Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker
“If people are engaging and feeling slightly unsettled by the show, then they’re already feeling unsettled," explains Jones. "To me, we’re uncovering something that they probably have already been worried about. So it’s just everyone catching up with each other.”
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Maybe so – but 2016 certainly feels like it has been catching up with one Black Mirror tale in particular. And believe it or not, it’s one of the stories Brooker and Jones thought might be a failure.
“In the second season, we had an episode called The Waldo Moment, which was about a cartoon comedy character that goes on, in the end, to rule the world – although we obviously don’t play that in the story," Jones explains. "And we were worried about the believability of that; at the time we sort of thought, 'This just doesn’t feel credible'.
“So, thankfully, one of the upsides of our political crisis is that that makes us feel cleverer than we felt at the time. In retrospect you wonder, ‘Did we go far enough?’”
One outlandish plot coming true is coincidence, but two feels like a trend, even if the reality of Donald Trump as President is stranger than Waldo. But what is it about Jones and Brooker's partnership that generates these eerie quirks?
The pair first thrash out Black Mirror episode concepts together, before sometimes bringing in writers to collaborate on the individual stories.
“Because we’ve worked together for so long, we have a sort of shorthand," says Jones. "But also we have total disrespect for each other, which is very healthy, incredibly important! That ability to go, ‘That’s bullshit, that would not work, I would never use that technology’”.
Charlie Brooker agrees: “I’ll go, ‘Here’s an idea,’ and quite often it’s an idea that makes me laugh, and I’ll start describing it. If she starts to argue against it, what’s weird is in a bloody-minded way it starts to actually form the idea.
“I’m going ‘No, no, because…’ and it’s weird how you can get really worked up over this story that doesn’t exist yet," Brooker adds. "Sometimes I get too hung up on the logic".
And that’s where Jones comes in.
“Charlie is a great worrier, very neurotic – he’ll be worrying himself into a frenzy and then through that we’ll try and find a story. It’s very collaborative and it evolves.”
Brooker, for example, is a massive sci-fi fan, having grown up playing video games, watching horror films and reading comics. Jones, by contrast, never took much of an interest in the genre.
“I’m not a big sci-fi fan, and I think that sci-fi has never appealed to me because it has never really resonated,” Jones says. “I don’t engage with it, I don’t really understand the world and I don’t really care about the world.
“So for me, it was very much about, ‘This needs to feel grounded, it has to feel plausible’. If I don’t think this world would exist, I’m not interested in it, because it doesn’t mean anything to me; it’s just a fabrication."
With that plausibility, just occasionally, comes prophecy: “We’re quite good at kind of taking the ideas, and putting it in a setting or a world that feels valid, that feels relevant,” says Jones.
Black Mirror may not have predicted President Trump. But whatever vision of the future comes next in the Netflix series, chances are it's Jones that helped made it nightmarishly believable.