The narrative approach to Black Mirror's new film Bandersnatch is generating lots of noise, despite being not remarkable or interesting or that "experimental." The narrative as video game, or as Borges' short story "Garden of Forking Paths." This sort of thing is still interesting to a certain type that's cut from the same cloth as the young man who watched the 1999 The Matrix in a Slovenian theater and was very impressed by its crude metaphysics ("reality is not what it seems"). The philosopher Žižek, who happened to be in this theater, writes that the young man, who sat near him, "was so immersed in the film [The Matrix] that he all the time disturbed other spectators with loud exclamations, like 'My God, wow, so there is no reality!'" Anyone impressed with Bandersnatch's choose-your-own-plot stunt, and invests any amount of time getting deep into it, is like that young Slovenian man who happened to sit near a famous philosopher.
That said, let's turn to what is really significant about this episode of Black Mirror, a TV show that often orbits its plots around the old Cartesian split of mind and body. (The only science-fiction TV show to really abandon this established dualism and take a Spinozist turn is the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica—but that path of thinking is for another post.) Bandersnatch, which was written by the series' creator, Charlie Brooker, is in fact very close to another Black Mirror episode, "San Junipero," which begins in the mid-1980s and has Alexander O' Neal's 1987 turbo-funk track "Fake" as its structural or gravitational core (the Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis-produced track was much bigger in the UK than the US). The connection between Bandersnatch and "San Junipero" is precisely the 1980s. But why this infatuation with and repeated return to the 1980s? Why do we never return to the 70s or 60s or 50s in the Black Mirror series? Now this is interesting.
Charlie Booker wrote both San Junipero and Bandersnatch. Booker was born in 1971. He came alive not in the 1970s but the 1980s. The was his first world, and so it is not surprising that he can't beat (and is overwhelmed by) the compulsion to return to it. Like many of his age, Booker, as a teen, probably cut some serious rug to "Fake." He also owned or had knowledge of one of the first "home computers," which in Bandersnatch is an American Commodore, but in the UK would most likely have been a Sinclair computer (the Americans in the Netflix production must have played a role in mentioning the former and ignoring the latter). But is this movie all about nostalgia, a remembrance of things past? Is Booker lost in his teen years?
The writer/music critic I have sat next to or near to for over a decade in the Stranger office, David Segal, once told me that the older one gets the harder it is to listen to new music, and, as a consequence, the more one turns to music in the past. This result, he further explained, has nothing to do with nostalgia but with the fact our senses when we are young are more (physically) keen. We grow old, we grow old, we are doomed to return to the years when we really felt beats. The days when it entered our young body with its full power. Is this, in a larger sense, how we can break down this predilection to the 1980s in Black Mirror?
Somewhat, but that's not the whole picture. I want to present another idea: Those who experienced the transition from childhood to adulthood in the 1980s (Generation X), feel they can make a claim on other generations that are ahead of them, beginning with Millennials. But why is this sense of authority on the now even credible or plausible? Why do people like Booker feel that the world of today still has their imprint, or, better yet, has not left their cultural orbit? (There is a little of this in Ready Player One, but that complication is for another post.) To understand this is, in my opinion, to understand Bandersnatch, which is basically about a computer programmer (nerd) who goes nuts and does a bunch of horrible things.
In this movie, we are imagined to be in the Eden of the world around us: the home computer, the computer game, the game corporation, synth- or computer-music, game culture. None of this is in the 1970s in a massive way. They were disco dancing or reeling from a heavy hippie-hungover. The 1980s changed all of that. That moment leapt into the age of domesticated programming and technologies that are not dissimilar from the ones we have today: cordless phones/cell phones; home computers/tablets; Basic/HTML; dial-up/Wifi; hiphop/rap, and so on.
Geezers like Booker are making a power move to maintain relevance. This is your Bandersnatch. These Gen Xers feel there has been no rupture or break between the years when their senses were alive and the ones where the young are now fully receptive. But do not be fooled, young people; be vigilant for vampires who want "chew yu neck like a Wrigley's." They rejuvenate themselves by keeping you young as old as them.