By Manik Sharma Jan. 08, 2019
Netflix’s interactive film Bandersnatch is a gimmick, a new toothpaste you must taste before declaring it as unfamiliar. I get what it’s trying to do, but I don’t want to goddamn choose someone’s cereal, or the song they must listen to. I could live with the world being a little less interactive really.
Let me first settle this: I’m a huge fan of Charlie Brooker, the brain behind Black Mirror. To me, he was first the satirist whose acerbity was as infamously toxic as it was implausibly funny. Well before Black Mirror, his TV column “Screen Burn” is a thing of legend. Calling David Cameron, then the British PM “a computerised toe,” or describing criticism of new technology as “nothing more than a little foetus of nostalgia jerking in your gut,” Brooker tore through the envelope, let alone push it. He foresaw piggate, back when the show was just this oddball anthology that came and disappeared from British TV. So the first thought that came to my mind when I heard that the title of the Black Mirror film was Bandersnatch was that it was so much better than Benedict Cumberbatch. The second though was a sense, among other things:
Is it a game? Is it a software patch? Is it a data mining tool? One thing’s for sure, Bandersnatch is not a film. The show/game follows Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), a typically hyper-curious, nerve-wrecked serial-killer-in-the-making kind of boy who wants to adapt a choose-your-own-ending novel called Bandersnatch (kinda like RL Stine’s Goosebumps) into a video game. Stefan takes his pitch to a corporation and he must decide, sorry, we must decide his choices from there on. Given his solemn, wasted mug, and cadaverous eyes, Stefan is pretty much headed for tragedy one way or the other. But we get to take him there. That is about it, really. You get to be the one making the fun choices, like kicking dad in the balls and some not-so-fun like kicking dad in the balls?
Since it was released on Netflix, tech junkies have had their knickers in a twist. After all, it’s a nice showpiece, like a digital clock that announces the time when you ask it. But we’re also in an age where a clock can’t just be a clock, it has do so much more. By the way can you imagine the ideas the porn industry is coming up with after this?
Mindblown What is porn?
Save it. It’s going to happen either way, much like Bandersnatch which travels from head-scratching to ball-scratching pretty darn quickly. I mean, I get what it’s trying to do, but I don’t want to goddamn choose someone’s cereal, or the song they must listen to. Hell I don’t know what I want to listen to half the time. I could live with the world being a little less interactive really. I pine for a time when the IRCTC website can just scan my retina and not ask me to fill captchas; a world where I am asked to do less.
But let’s get serious. Bandersnatch is a gimmick, a flashtube you must enter, a new toothpaste you must taste before declaring it as unfamiliar – duh! The trouble with Bandersnatch is that it wants to raise the stakes on our end, but in doing so lowers our investment. It wants us to care for the hyperbolic relationship we suddenly find ourselves in with previously lifeless screens. But it forgets that there must be life in the stories we watch and the characters we invest in.
Our own lives are interactive and demanding at each turn.
I don’t suppose it’s as novel either: Navigating the internet for a two-bedroom flat, a winter jacket, or a sex toy can – and is – often, just as intriguing. Which only begs the question, why do it? Why do something that is neither fresh, nor memorable, neither challenging, nor groundbreaking? Even for someone like Brooker, who is as critical of the wares of electronic media, this feels like an oddity. An oddity, that he perhaps knows, will be lapped up by millennials.
If there is one thing millennials are addicted to apart from shadow-dressing themselves, it is indecision. We don’t know what to do, what to want, what to demand, yet talk about it anyway. The scrollbar was perhaps invented for the millennial brain. If instagram feeds the ego, e-shopping fills for time. Either way, they are exercises in the littering of worth.
And Bandersnatch is as captivating as an online sale; a game played within margins, a parsimonious conference of the mind, body, heart and reality – with neither entirely present. If that’s the joke Brooker is making, it is an incredible accomplishment. If not, it’s as underwhelming as the buttons companies keep experimenting with on boxer shorts. But whatever it is, it will continue to dominate news cycles for having the illusion of unusualness.
I, for one, cannot be bothered about how Stefan eventually fucks up his life. Our own lives are interactive and demanding at each turn. We can let films and zoos be then. I am more bothered about which bread I will buy tomorrow morning or is double-toned milk, even milk? You must hate me for bringing that up.
Kick writer in the balls I agree with him, but kick him in the balls anyway