In our celebrity culture and fluffy lack of depth, it’s unlikely that any TV programme will provide a life changing or even soul touching experience; and yet last night that is exactly what happened for me as I watched “15 Million Merits”. It is part of a Channel 4 series written by Charlie Brooker called Black Mirror. The series is described by Channel 4 as a “suspenseful, satirical three-part mini-series that taps into collective unease about our modern world.”
Shown after the X Factor final, this week’s 15 Million Merits presented a futuristic world in which we pedal on electric bikes all day to earn merits to buy apps for the electronic versions of ourselves called doppelgangers. Overweight people are cleaners who wear bright yellow clothing and are insulted and looked down upon by the cyclists.
In this world, people have to watch TV constantly and not watching adverts incurs a penalty of losing precious merits. Hardcore pornography is regularly shown and to not watch this also incurs a penalty.
Every person lives to watch the latest version of the X Factor and it costs 15 million merits to enter. Bing, the main character so loves the voice of Abi, the other main character, that he gifts her 15 million merits to enter the show.
As she arrives to star on the show she is required to drink a carton of “compliance” before making it onto the stage. Before she is able to sing, Judge Wraith (the owner of the hardcore porno channel) challenges Abi to show everyone her breasts. She refuses and after being degraded and put down further she is then allowed to sing.
She sings well and the Simon Cowell-esque judge says she has an amazing voice and yet the only thing he can really think she would be good for is appearing on Judge Wraith’s pornography channel. As the audience yells and whoops, “Simon Cowell” emotionally blackmails her and she looks horrified, Under tremendous pressure and the effects of the Compliance drink, she accepts the “kind offer” to make it out of pedalling and into a new life as a porn star.
As you can imagine I watched this programme with gradually unfolding horror; increased as I had recently read the horrific accounts of those who have “worked” in the hardcore porn industry on Shelly Lubben’s website.
I am ashamed to admit every year I have been sucked into the X Factor machine, watching and laughing and voting along with many in the UK. I would feel uncomfortable as they mocked the less talented, but not enough to turn the TV off, not enough to take a stand. I would see the articles and music videos of the female competitors, gradually making it to soft pornography and feel sad for them, but still thinking, “well…they did make that choice, it’s the price of fame…”
As I watched 15 Million Merits yesterday, I felt ashamed and guilty, I have contributed to the degradation and pornographication of the competitors, I have become part of the machine which abuses, degrades and humiliates beautiful and precious human lives for the furtherance of entertainment. I am part of the problem.
Yes me! The person who works so hard to end violence against women, whose heart breaks every time I hear yet another story of the abuse a woman has suffered, the devaluing the have experienced at the hands of men. And for that I am truly sorry, to every person who has in some way been damaged by the X Factor machine and its partners in crime (and I truly do mean *crime*). I promise with all that I am, I will never again watch those shows again, I will never laugh along at the humiliating bits or smirk inside at the uncomfortable bits. I will speak out against this machine that degrades and destroys and I will be part of it no longer.