Since January 2020, reality is more and more like the plot of a science fiction action movie. No wonder the Madrid creative agency “Brother,” amid the pandemic, published a creative: it highlights that the actual events accurately conveyed the spirit of the series “Black Mirror.” To declare this, they installed mirrors in public places. “Season six. Right now, everywhere,” organizers had written on top of them.
In an interview with “The Radio Times,” British writer and showrunner of “Black Mirror,” Charlie Brooker said that he met the pandemic more prepared than the others because he was writing dystopian scripts for ten years. “If you’ve spent years anticipating the worst, oddly, when the worst happens, you can stop worrying about that possibly happening because it has. Everything that has been going on for several months seems like a protracted episode of “The Black Mirror.” On Netflix, you can watch five of its seasons. The sixth is happening in reality,” Brooker said in May 2020.
And Stephen King, a recognized classic of American horror and drama literature, was asked if he really predicted a pandemic in his 1978 novel “The Stand.” As a result, King in 2021 announced the writing of a novel about the COVID-19 pandemic, the work on which even the venerable master of the pen found “difficult.” “I want to take the events of 2020 and see how they show themselves as a novel. It will be difficult,” King said.
Meanwhile, many trends of the phenomena pouring on us from the news of the last year and a half have been successfully predicted by the authors of another recent series called “Years and Years,” broadcasted on the BBC and HBO platforms. The creator of the series Russell T. Davis is the man who returned to the audience “Doctor Who” in 2005, came up with “Torchwood,” “The Sarah Jane Adventures,” and “A Very English Scandal.”
These six series are an argument in favor of the fact that Mundane science fiction is always one step ahead, and many futurists can easily guess the following events. Let’s see how the authors managed it.
The setting of the series covers the year 2020 (fictional) and the near future after it until 2028. We already see variations in the historical line of development. In “series” reality, Trump won the election for the second time and used a “nuclear baton”; Greece withdrew from the EU, and other unpleasant events took place. The series and reality are united by the Brexit, which, actually, happened and many technologies that already exist but need to be checked for mass introduction to the market. These are, first of all, modifications of bodies sung in the genre of “cyberpunk” so that a person can directly control a computer and surf the Internet without tired mice and joysticks.
The authors of the “Years and years” bravely mixed several genres. The beginning of the series is quite a family drama with elements of tragicomedy, leisurely pumping includes political satire, and by the end, the creators draw us an anti-utopia. In the end, fans of the genre will enjoy the lovely science fiction (unfortunately, the aliens will not arrive).
While the authors of the “Black Mirror” focus each series on exploring a new kind of social plague, often exaggerated to absurdity, then “Years” exposes several of them in each episode.
First of all, you will enjoy the world-old dilemma of “fathers and flies.” How would you react if your child implanted an artificial eye? Or if she monitors your every action through the monitor you’re working on?
Another massive block is a set of eco-problems. They’re shown as daily TV news: bees are dying out (which is a disaster for agriculture – but remains a background routine); the rain in Britain goes on for two months in a row. And, of course, a new global pandemic begins (in the version of the series, it’s more like a mild form of flu compared to the coronavirus; lockdowns and mandatory mask policy are not introduced). By the way, the topic of dictators’ use of another “monkey flu” as a weapon is fully disclosed. “This is so British,” says one of the protagonists, a concentration camp prisoner.
I’ve got good news for those curious about meat-eating in the near bright future: meat is grown in a tube and sold as food identical to meat. In a peculiar form, veganism triumphs in the series: even British ordinary people inevitably become vegans.
Eternal moral dilemmas are also revealed. What if a man with a “middle age” crisis cheats on his wife and suffers from financial failure and the grayness of life? What to do if the lover is from a totalitarian country and has the status of an illegal migrant? If nuclear weapons are used in front of your eyes, is it worth making a trip into the infected area to condemn the aggressor? And there are many such issues, relevant even now, in the series. At first, the leisurely course of events is strung on them.
A separate block of problems is the “showman syndrome spoiling democracy.” Oh God, what if… People democratically elected a dictator who doesn’t look like a dictator? And if she (it’s a woman) refers to a centuries-old history of the British Empire? You may find genocides, racial oppression, extrajudicial killings, and many other ugly things there.
The British Lyons family is trying to live a normal life to solve their family and household problems. Even after the US nuclear attack, the 90-year-old grandmother says: “We thought the world would never be the same again. But nothing changes.”
One of the characters in the series is politician Vivienne Rook, played by two Oscar winner Emma Thompson. In the series, she appears mainly in TV stories, but all the characters experience the direct impact of her political activities on their lives.
Vivienne is a collective image of a new generation of populist politicians. Her behavior at a press conference, where she accuses journalists of fake news, is an obvious imitation of Donald Trump’s behavior. And her phrase “you are the enemy of the people!” refers directly to Stalin and Orwell’s novel “1984”.
In addition, Years and Years shows that politics is something you’ve got to be interested in because it directly affects your life, even if you try to bury your head in the sand, not watch the news and not vote. And the policy affects not only your own country. The world has become too globalized.
“In the west, there is the United States, a lone wolf. In the east, there’s burning Europe, and then China rises. Britain has been left alone and has never been so majestic!” says the heroine of the series, a politician of the “Trump school.”
There are many references and borrowings in the plot. Let’s call to memory the 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here” by American writer Sinclair Lewis. He describes the rise of a populist senator who is elected president of the United States, promising radical economic and social reforms, promoting a return to patriotism and traditional values.
The satirical novel “The R Document” by Irving Wallace has already become a classic too. It describes a few officials who want to turn the US into a society of total control, a de facto concentration camp. They start by creating a closed city of Argo (a parallel with the events of the “Years…” is obvious).
We also call to memory Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” movie, which also painted totalitarianism on Western material (and, quite expectedly, without a happy ending, in contrast to “Years…”).
The hint of the series’s creators on Trump’s behavior is more than transparent, and many such trumps have grown up. After all, the Guantanamo prison, to which British satirists also directly hint, still exists under the Biden administration. If the Russian Federation is a priori a totalitarian country for the authors, then the governments of the West are not totalitarian only “yet.” What prevents modern, democratically elected Western politicians from introducing Orwellian totalitarianism? Moreover, they can use modern technologies that cyborgize people.
The authors of the “Years” also described acute social problems. They deliver a critical message against modern capitalism: banks are collapsing and leaving their depositors without money; people lose their jobs due to replacing them with machines. Not only that 35-40-year-olds are already victims of “future shock” (a phenomenon that I’ve described in this column). And officials segregate the population into “adequate” and “criminals,” creating new types of ghettos in Britain.
One of the most colorful characters is a middle-aged wealthy financial adviser married to a black woman who loses more than a million in cash and his house. By the way, he is played by Rory Kinnear, the prime minister from the debut episode of the first season of “Black Mirror.”
And, of course, no one is waiting for refugees from the Third World in the “beautiful new world” described in the series. As in the breaking news of real 2021, they are drowning in their fragile boats, trying to get to a prosperous “European fortress.”
Watching the series gives you some clear deja vu vibes. The theme of refugees and concentration camps in the kingdom was revealed in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men;” the topic of resistance to totalitarianism in the Western world is described in “V for Vendetta” and “Cloud Atlas” by the Wachowski sisters; the theme of digitization of the human soul is the central theme in thousands of works, take for example “Johnny Mnemonic” and “Ghost in the Shell” as a well-deserved classic. But the writers of “Years…” persistently reproduce this mix of topics relevant to the 90-the 2010s.
Fans of all these genres can be satisfied with the series. Want a heartbreaking sitcom about the life of one family? You’ve got this kind of story at the center of the plot. Or do you want a story about initiation, growing up, the ability to take responsibility? There is entirely it. If you’re going to see the ambiguity of characters and evolution of personalities – the topic is also highlighted in the “Years.” If you wish to see a parable about the usefulness of activism and passionarity, here it is, too, 100% developed.
In short, a story that will make you wonder for six hours in which direction modern Western civilization is sliding has succeeded. What will happen faster, climate change or a wave of refugees? Is utopia waiting for us or dystopia? Realistic forecast or warning from screenwriters is ahead? We’ll see very soon. After all, we are at the peak of all the predictions of science fiction writers of the last hundred years.
You may also learn about the “Nomadland” plot and its nmodern-day traveling philosophers in our author’s column.