An analysis on an episode
Abstract: The futurist author, Marshall McCluhan, believed that the medium is the message. This episode of Black Mirror plays with that analogy. Media is an extension of ourselves and in this episode one of the characters body dies, but he is brought back to “life” by all the data collected on him. Everything from the original character is collected phone calls, memories posted social media to his medical files and even his voice. In this essay I argue that even though he is consisting of mostly everything the original it could not generate original content or response like the real character would. It is only a message and extension of the original character, a view point that McCluhan would support.
Essay: Black Mirror
The episode, “Be Right Back” in the show of Black Mirror is the perfect example of media becoming an extension of ourselves. In the episode, the main character Martha, loses her husband, Ash, and finds out that she is pregnant. To cope with the loss, Martha takes her friend’s advice and signs up for a media program that “resurrects” people’s responses through text, based on their social media history. The program starts as text replies, then advances to voice response and ultimately can duplicated and recreate a full body copy of the person it mimics. In this case, it was mimicking Ash. To begin with, Martha was married to this copy of her husband. In addition, the author Marshall McCluhan would agree with this previous statement based on his article, “The Medium is the Message”. He would because this “copy” of Ash is essentially the communication and light composed of all things of the original.
Martha was indeed married to this copy of her husband. It is revealed to the watcher of this episode at the end. When Martha’s child is having her birthday cake and asks if she can go see Ash upstairs. To which Martha replies, “But it’s not the weekend” referring to him like an divorced spouse. She gave him visiting rights basically and his own space in her home to live in, even though it was basically the attic. Martha treated the copy like a divorced husband, and it can be seen on her face at the end of the episode that she clearly feels that way about the copy.
McCluhan states, “Many people would be disposed to say it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was the meaning or message.” (“The Medium is the Message” McCluhan) In this case, she treated this copy of Ash as her actual husband and this copy somewhat helped raise her daughter. This machine was meant to be Ash and help her not lose what he left behind. McCluhan would also agree that she was married to him for the way that she treated him.
In addition, when Martha tries to kill this copy of Ash she cannot. This copy of the real Ash was his message. An automaton that took a collection of all his information and kept it alive. However, the copy could not recreate new information and would ask sometimes how the real Ash would respond to a situation. Again, McCluhan mentions, “For it is not till the electric light is used to spell out some brand name that it is noticed as a medium.” (“The Medium is the Message” McCluhan) Martha acknowledges this copy of Ash as the real Ash at first, but as the episode progresses she begins to stop. The copy is the remains of Ash’s social media and somewhat his legacy but that is all he can be. Basically the “brand name” of the original Ash, this copy wore throughout the episode. Yet, the copy starts to believe he is in a sense the real Ash as Martha begins to lose belief, hence him not wanting to jump off the cliff.
Also, another reason why McCluhan would agree that she was married to the copy is because of how Martha wanted the copy to treat her. She wanted it to adopt Ash’s attitude and his persona but the copy could only adopt what it could find online. The hidden behaviors of Ash and his quirks were not always posted. Even his early childhood remained a mystery to the duplicate. Which leads to McCluhan stating, “This fact merely underlines the point that ‘the medium is the message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” (“The Medium is the Message” McCluhan) So in McCluhan’s perspective this copy of Ash was the message, and he did project Ash but because he could not fit all the behaviors of him, he was not the full message. This information however did not stop Martha from treating him like a husband.
In conclusion, the main character Martha did treat this copy of Ash as her husband yet because he could not fit and match all the responses of the original deceased Ash, he was not the full copy. Also, McCluhan would agree that she did indeed marry him because of the fact that the copy had some sort of visitation rights to Ash’s and Martha’s daughter. Even though she had a weird way of displaying it, Martha did love this copy of her husband and she really wished it was him but, it was not and at the end of the day she knew that. And in the end of the episode, the viewer understands that she is filled with regret of trying to resurrect her husband. Instead, she treats this copy as her estranged divorced husband. This fact, McCluhan would agree with. The copy could not create new content, only mimic the past and therefore it fulfills its role as being a message but ultimately fails at being Ash. Therefore, it is shown by Martha that at one point she was married to this copy but in the end decided to separate from it.
McCluhan, Marshall. The Medium Is the Message. Verona: Fedrigoni, 1999. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.