Fifteen Million Merits
A satire on entertainment shows and our insatiable thirst for distraction set in a sarcastic version of a future reality. In this world, everyone must cycle on exercise bikes, arranged in cells, in order to power their surroundings and generate currency for themselves called Merits. Everyone is dressed in a grey tracksuit and has a "doppel", a virtual avatar that people can customise with clothes, for a fee of merits. Everyday activities are constantly interrupted by advertisements that cannot be skipped or ignored without financial penalty. Obese people are considered to be second-class citizens, and either work as cleaners around the machines (where they receive verbal abuse) or are humiliated on game shows.
Bingham "Bing" Madsen (Daniel Kaluuya) is a citizen of the facility who has inherited over 12,000,000 merits and has the luxury of skipping advertisements. In the toilet he overhears Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay), a woman whose voice he finds beautiful, singing a song from before the facility. He encourages her to enter into the X-Factor style game show Hot Shots, which offers a chance for people to get out of the slave-like world around them. Abi however does not wish to do this as she hasn't enough merits and feels she would be unable to perform under the pressure. Bing persuades her and, feeling there is nothing "real" worth buying, purchases the ticket for her, which had been raised from 12 to 15 million merits.
When she enters the competition, the judges (played by Rupert Everett, Julia Davis and Ashley Thomas) and the crowd enjoy her singing, but they state there is no room for an 'Above Average Singer' and instead give her the chance to become an adult actress on the pornographic TV Show 'Wraith Babes', or else return to the bike machines. After goading from the judges and the crowd, and drugged on a substance called "Cuppliance" (compliance in a cup), Abi reluctantly agrees and Bing is heartbroken.
Bing returns to his cell without Abi and without any merits. When a showing for Wraith Babes appears on the screen, he is unable to skip it as he doesn't have enough merits and is forced to watch Abi perform a sexual act, even unable to close his eyes due to the cell emitting a piercing tone until he watches again. He desperately tries to escape his cell, ramming the door until the glass breaks. He hides a shard of glass under his bed and starts to earn another 15,000,000 merits to enter the competition. He stops buying food (eating the leftovers the other citizens leave behind), watches all advertisements and pedals for months until he has enough to buy another ticket. He stands in the Hot Shots waiting room every day without any expression until he's eventually called to compete.
As he approaches the stage he is required to take a dosage of Cuppliance, as Abi did, but he then presents the empty carton he preserved from Abi's performance, avoiding taking the drug. When he is put on the stage he begins to dance but interrupts his performance, draws the shard of glass and threatens to kill himself live on the show. He tearfully rants about how unfair the system is and expresses his anger for how the judges took away the only thing he found in the facility that felt real. The judges, instead of taking his words into consideration, are impressed by his 'performance' and offer him his own show, where he can rant about the system all he likes.
Under a similar pressure as the one placed on Abi earlier, he accepts, and he is shown finishing one of his streams in his penthouse, putting his shard away in a silk box. Bing stands staring out of the penthouse windows over a vast green forest stretching to the horizon. It is unclear whether this vista is real, and it is left up to the viewer to decide if by selling out all Bing has managed to do is find himself in a larger cell.
Obviously it is unlikely that our future would turn out to be exactly like this, but it may be hauntingly similar. There are a few aspects that we are already doing now and if we were to continue giving those parts of our society attention then we may end up with a world like the one imagined above.
Let's look at some parallels between the "extreme" imagined world from the Black Mirror episode and compare it to what the world is like now:
- Spending your day on an exercise bike, powering your surroundings to earn points that you then use to buy stuff VS working in a job you have to buy things you like to keep the world spinning round and round.
- People spend their hard-earned points to buy stuff they don't need (like a new hat for their virtual avatar) VS Peoplespend their hard-earned money to buy all sorts of stuff they don't need (fashion, trends, gadgets that will break after 6 months, etc).
- Everyone wears the same tracksuit and expresses their identity through a virtual avatar VS everyone wearing a mask of who they want everyone else to think they are, creating persona's according to the company they are in, creating virtual identities on the internet.
- Everyday activities constantly interrupted by advertisements VS look around you...
- Obese people treated as second class citizens VS poor, obese, coloured, religious etc people treated as second class citizens, depending on where in the world you are.
- Everyone wants to escape their slave-like lives and be famous and exceptional VS Everyone wants to escape their slave-like lives and be famous and exceptional.