The National Anthem – the first of Charlie Brooker’s three-part Black Mirror series, which I take to be a dark satire on how the impact of the digital age changes the position of the individual in society – broadcast on Channel 4 last night deserves its positive reviews.
Michael Hogan in the Daily Telegraph of all places was full of praise for Brooker’s “dementedly brilliant idea” – the pressure on Rory Kinnear’s British prime minister Michael Callow to meet a bizarre ransom demand that he have televised sex with a pig to spare the life of a young royal, Princess Susannah.
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, camera-phones, and rolling television news all play a part in preventing the Establishment imposing a D-notice blackout on her kidnapping, which would have been effective in a pre-internet media world.
While one might guess Brooker would be wholeheartedly in the freedom of information camp, he is not blind to its shortcomings. Press leaks stymie a plan which would have employed video trickery to have Callow replaced by a porn star.
The public’s prurient, insatiable appetite for the salacious (Lord Levenson please note) isn’t spared Brooker’s scorn either.
Thanks to social networking, public opinion is at once fickle and powerful. From supporting the prime minister’s determination not to yield to bestiality, it soon demands he does so.
Indeed the public is so hungry to see its prime minister shag a pig that the kidnapper – a famous installation artist – releases the princess ahead of his deadline, safe in the knowledge she won’t be found quickly because the whole of Britain is glued to its television screens.
The National Anthem was well-acted with a script which given its sensational premise still managed to ask awkward questions about how we live in the everyday.