By Jackie Thakkar Jan. 04, 2018
Barring outliers like “San Junipero”, Black Mirror isn’t renowned for its optimism. But the online dating-focused “Hang The DJ” strikes a hopeful, uplifting chord with lovelorn millennials.
A short sequence in “Hang The DJ”, an episode from Black Mirror’s fourth season, details Amy (a brilliant Georgina Campbell) expressing her frustration with her boyfriend, Lenny. Lenny is handsome, a great lover, and seems to be compatible with Amy. But he has an annoying quirk: He punctuates pauses with a loud exhale, and it chips away at Amy, little by little, until it is completely unbearable. It’s a nuanced, cutting take on how, after enough time together, humans will manage to find faults with even the most seemingly perfect paramours. When it becomes clear that Amy is in love with Frank, a guy she spent less than a day with, this altercation also reaffirms the age-old romantic truth: No matter how gorgeous the face in front of you, you’ll hardly notice them if your heart is set on “The One”.
Amy and Frank are each other’s missed connection in the episode, series creator Charlie Brooker’s homage to the triumph of romance in a bleak, nihilistic universe where technology is a crutch for basic human interaction. Much like last series’ standout heartwarmer, “San Junipero”. Much like the walk down feels avenue with Series 2 tearjerker, “Be Right Back”. Barring these outliers, Black Mirror is hardly known for its optimism.
“Hang The DJ” could change that perception, by striking a hopeful chord with the lovelorn of 2018. Its narrative is rooted in the very near future, in perhaps the most culturally significant fad in our generation’s romantic lives: online/app dating. It taps into the underlying belief that even in the superficial and changeable world of dating apps, there’s hope to eventually find yourself a soulmate, an “Ultimate Compatible Other”. That would be a tall order in any era of human history, but is especially so today, considering most millennials’ track record with dating apps.
For instance, I first discovered Tinder in early 2013, as a second-quarter grad student at UCLA and like many of my peers using the then-relatively unknown app, I was fascinated. For a lot of us back then, the period in our love life immediately following the discovery of Tinder, resembled Amy’s tastefully shot montage of emotionless yet lustful trysts with multiple partners. Tinder was the go-to millennial “hoe-phase” app. I’ve personally been guilty of waving my phone screen in the face of a friend who’d just been dumped, singing praises of how this magical app could help them find a casual, discreet, “get over it” fuck.
Over the years though, there’s many things I’ve come to detest about online dating. The impersonal swiping-to-express-interest coupled with the lost novelty of meeting someone for the first time in person… Thanks to a plethora of their pictures, bios and sometimes even entire Instagram feeds available for you to browse through, the butterflies that were synonymous with seeing someone for the first time are all but extinct. And then there is the complete dehumanising of the courting experience, the feeding of the delusional, anxiety-inducing belief that there’s always something better out there.
We’ve all been Amy, lying in bed next to our Lennys, wondering what the hell we’re still doing with the guy after the spark is lost.
We’ve all been Amy, lying in bed next to our Lennys, wondering what the hell we’re still doing with the guy after the spark is lost. We’ve also all been Frank, enduring an unfairly demanding lover, in the desperate hope that maybe, if we were more adjusting to her needs, she would like us. All the while, fantasising about the magical rickshaw ride that will mercifully end our nightmarish ordeal.
As is usually the case with this show’s profoundly haunting universe, there’s a technological antagonist in “Hang the DJ”: “Coach”, a mix of Siri, Tinder, and Akshay Kumar from Ajnabee if you replaced “Everything is planned” with “Everything happens for a reason”. Like Akshay Kumar and most dating apps in general, Coach encourages Frank and Amy to have sex with as many partners as possible within the database of the system. At first, it feels like the system is designed to keep the two apart. But gradually, the two realise that in order to be together, they must rebel against the system together. Leading to a Truman Show-esque, nail-biting climax where both the protagonists scale a wall and finally get the happily-ever-after they so deserve.
Difficult to admit this, but I cried buckets long after the episode ended: in relief, in catharsis, in grief, in longing. But most of all, at the sheer beauty of the idea of having someone to partner up with, whether you choose to tilt at the windmills with them or be able to say, with innate confidence, “You get the fries, I’ll grab the coke.” And the difficulty — the maddening, frightening fucking difficulty — of finding that partner, even with the world’s most sophisticated algorithms working to help us find him/her.
The most common interpretation of the ending is that Frank and Amy’s 99.8% match compatibility was dependent on them rebelling against the system in the first place. But the real beauty of this assessment lies in its extrapolation: a little plea to all of us to “rebel against the system” in our own tiny ways. Don’t get on a dating app due to peer pressure. And if you fancy meeting someone in person, through a common friend or at a bar rather than finding love on your phone screen, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I could get behind this new variety of Black Mirror. For all its bleakness, the show seems to be developing a bit of a soft-corner for feel-good, uplifting stories. If it means having more episodes like “Hang The DJ”, I’d rush to it with open arms. Hopefully, in the company of someone I’d have found to rebel against the system with.
Masking anxiety with humour. Living with his dog, cat, and mediocrity. Creating content aur life se kaafi discontent. Tweeting as @juvenile_jack.