Black Mirror: The Nosedive of Approval
Black Mirror is a trippy show and carries a very unique fanbase of people who truly want to be shocked and challenged by their entertainment. I first heard of the show from my friend Patrick on the way to a comicon. As he recommended it, he told me explicitly, "Do not watch the first episode." I took his advice and started with episode that and have given everyone else the same advice. It calls back to the days of Twilight Zone of really challenging sci-fi horror and some of the episodes have truly been eye opening.
One episode that stood out to me the most was season 3, episode 1, "Nosedive." This was the first episode to premier once Netflix took the series over, and dramatically upped the budget of the series. One of the cooler things for me regarding this episode was that it was written by Rashida Jones (Ann Perkins from Parks and Recreation) and Michael Schur (Mose from the office). The episode depicts a world where everyone can rate every other person anytime they want on an Instagram type app. You don’t just see their ratings when you look them up on the app. You can physically see the person’s rating above their head. It’s crazy. Their social media rating doesn't just stop at the app though. It affects everything, like credit scores, hiring eligibility, dating, etc.
If someone makes you mad, hurts your feelings, or is just overall unpleasing to you, bam, lower their score. It can literally change their life. This creates a society where everyone is constantly "on." They are constantly putting on a show, pleasing people, and desperately seeking the attention and approval of others. The sad part is that we as a society aren't too far off from this in the real world. Between social media rankings on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, this real is life. I remember the first bookstore I approached about carrying Faith and Fandom. They didn’t ask about the book, or even why they should carry it. They asked me how many likes it had on Facebook. The book had only been out for about a month and had roughly 100 likes, so I was shut down. Even now 5 years into this, it’s just over 2,400 likes, which I'm really grateful for. I’m a short hefty dude writing Bible studies about geeky things. All things considered, those are banging numbers. The reality is that I could let my Facebook numbers question the validity of what I’m doing is crazy.
One of my favorite people in the comicon life is immensely talented and one of the greatest people I've ever met. They’ve worked for four of the biggest names in geekdom, yet a local comicon didn’t want them because they didn’t have 400,000 Facebook likes. We’ve already arrived at a place in the real world where our social media is actual status and currency. People who never actually have conversations with me or are in involved in my life send me daily vague group snaps to keep “Streaks” going, because these digital streaks matter more to them than real relationships.
In the episode Nosedive, there are no authentic or genuine relationships because every single action is being done for the approval of others. Lacie Pound has a 4.2 rating as the story begins and spends the entire episode trying to put on a pleasing persona to simply rise to a 4.5 rating. She even has a social media consultant to improve her rating.
Hansen: So in terms of quality, you could use a punch up right there. Ideally, that's up votes from quality people. Lacie: Quality people? Hansen: High fours. Impress those up-scale folks, you'll gain velocity on your arc and there's your boost."
She posts a photo of her childhood teddy bear “Mr. Rags” to fish for approval and likes from her highly rated old friend Naomi. She is literally selling her childhood memories to gain approval and forward her status. The apostle Paul talks about this type of attitude in the book of Galatians. He writes, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). It’s toxic for any person to try to live a life seeking the approval of others, but for a Christian it’s not only toxic, but also idolatry.
When we have a relationship with Jesus Christ yet let the approval of others be our guiding force, we are taking a position of influence that only belongs to God and placing it on people. Whether they are people in front of us or on the other side of an app, it’s dangerous and it’s toxic, but it ultimately will suck the joy and authenticity of every you do. You will not only arrive at a place where you lose track of your own identity but will also arrive at a place that you can't see God clearly because it is through the filter and lens of social approval.
Lacie's plan works initially. Her desperate social outcry for attention gets her the notice of her past friend Naomi and lands her an invite to be in her wedding and give a speech, which she is sure will help her arrive at the coveted social standing of a 4.5 rating. She even takes on an apartment she can't afford or maintain banking on the predicted outcome of her now bright social media existence.
Let's face it though, what we think is going to happen on the internet vs what actually happens are rarely the same. Social media management is one of my roles as the church in which I'm a pastor. We have an amazing graphic designer who puts out great work, yet the things that most people respond to are random candid photos and the occasional quote or silly video. With Faith and Fandom, I can work for hours on a Bible study, podcast, video, graphic or anything, and then a random meme can become the most successful thing I do. I've had 2 memes go crazy viral and were both things that I put less than 2 minutes work into. You really never know what people are going to like, or dislike too. I've had people get angry over things I never would have imagined. You really can't tell how people are going to see things and banking your future on other people's perceptions is just super dangerous.
Lacie learned this the hard way as people's perceptions of her quickly plummeted her coveted standing. An argument with
her brother causes her to be late, which causes her to spill coffee on a couple, which causes her to be salty when she has problems with an airline which causes her rating to be drastically reduced by almost half. People’s perceptions of her based on her rating then caused her to miss her flight, and the rehearsal dinner, and even limited her options to rent a car. Renting a car isn't that pleasurable of an experience to begin with, but when people look at you like you are less valuable than others, it's even worse. She ends up stranded, hitchhiking to a wedding she is now no longer even invited to attend. Naomi reveals to Lacie that her now unappealing rating isn't good enough to attend, and especially isn't good enough to speak at her wedding. She is no longer invited.
Naomi: Don't come. Lacie: What? Naomi: No. No. Lacie: I'm like an hour away... Naomi: Don't come. I don't want you here. I don't know what is up with you, but I cannot have a 2.6 at my wedding."
In an extremely short window, the way the world viewed Lacie changed so drastically that her whole identity and foundation was shaken. That is the danger when we let the way we appear to others become a factor in how we see ourselves. The same danger is present when we form a judgement or opinion of someone simply based on what we can see and observe from a shallow or superficial standing.
That's why I'm so glad that God is different. He doesn't gauge us based on a superficial perspective, and He encourages us to do the same. It’s made abundantly clear then David is anointed.
"But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” - 1 Samuel 16:7 These days the "outward appearance" is more than just someone's physical image. I think it now consists of not only how we look, but also how we appear in the world of social media. You can't judge a person based on the social media accounts, likes, views, streaks, or retweets. You have to look at the heart. No one was interested in Lacie's heart though, and I think that includes her.
In Lacie's late night desperation, she is picked up by a formerly 4.6 woman named Susan who gave up on the system when her husband was passed over for cancer treatments that could have saved his life because someone else had a slightly higher score. Susan tries to impart the wisdom that the rating system is toxic, but Lacie wasn't willing to listen. As she showed up to the wedding, she lost it, hence the title "Nosedive." She crashed hard, even to the point of putting a knife to the dear Mr. Rags throat. She just couldn't let the need for the approval of others go. Of course, all of this unfolded in a very public manner and everyone rated her lower and lower to the point
she hit a 0. She officially hit rock bottom in her quest for status and approval and ended up in prison.
In prison, they removed the rating tech from her vision. As she openly and unapologetically was real with a prisoner on the other side of the room, it began to hit her that living for the approval of others was more of a prison than the confined room she now sat in. I'm hoping that you and I will never have to end up in prison or putting a knife to a stuffed animal's throat to realize that. There really is no satisfaction in living for other's approval because we are all in the same position in this world, broken in need of grace. The only approval we really need to seek is God's. He's the only one who knows who we truly are inside and out. His approval won't be measured in our successes, appearance, or status, but in the condition of our hearts. I'd much rather have him approve of my heart than the rest of the world give me likes and hearts.
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." - 2 Timothy 2:15.