Tag: television

Roald Dahl: Macabre Sensibilities, for Young and Old

Plenty of children’s stories tend to be thought of as light and fun. In truth, they are not all fun and games. There is normally some darkness that lurks within these stories, darkness that helps to make the light and its messages shine brighter. Even the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, regarded as some of the original tellers of children’s stories, contain plenty of mentions of cruelty and violence. Now, some might feel that this could be too intense for children, that these should be scrubbed clean according to a certain set of standards. In truth, there is a certain value in not talking down to children about this. One such author who understood this was Roald Dahl. His stories for children, remembered for whimsical touches and adapted in plenty of media, also possess plenty of darker elements. Perhaps it might be worth looking at what inspires an author to not shy away from these darker elements.

Born on September 13th, 1916 in the town of Cardiff, Roald Dahl was the son of Norwegian parents. When his sister and father had both died when he was three, his mother had the choice to remain in Wales after their passing, even when she had the option to return to Norway. Dahl first began the life of a schoolboy at the Cathedral School in the district of Llandarff. It was that time that he and his friends had gotten into trouble for putting a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers (also known as jawbreakers) owned by Mrs. Pratchett, a local sweetshop owner who was mean to the boys. He would go on to be transferred to St. Peter’s boarding school, where he and other students endured a fierce faculty. However, the school which would be a pivotal place to Dahl was Repton School in Derbyshire. Beginning his time there at age 13, he endured cruel treatment at the hands of both students and teachers. From the brutal corporal punishment he suffered and witnessed dealt out by the teachers to the demeaning work of having to serve senior students, Dahl’s experiences there would develop a definite cynicism in him about humanity. His main joy in that time were the candies and chocolates that the chocolate company Cadbury would send to the school for students to test.

As Roald Dahl got older and World War II began to roll in, he would come to join in the Royal Air Force as a pilot. Among the many missions that he flew in, one flight would bring him to Libya. Having trouble finding the airstrip as night approached, He was forced to make a landing in the desert. The result was a crash, one that landed him in the hospital with a fractured skull and blindness. Eventually, he would regain his sight and continued to serve as a pilot, until he was grounded for suffering from a series of headaches serious enough to cause blackouts. After that, he was made an attache to serve in the British Embassy in Washington D.C. From there, he would come to serve in the intelligence division alongside such noted officers as David Ogilvy and Ian Fleming (best known as the creator of James Bond). During this time, Dahl would come to meet the famed novelist C. S. Forester. Forester had been approached by The Saturday Evening Post with writing a story, and he in turn wanted to write a story about Dahl’s experiences as a pilot. Dahl wrote and compiled a number of anecdotes from that time, then provided them to Forester to work from. Instead, Forester provided the story exactly as Dahl wrote it. Thus was born Roald Dahl’s first story, “A Piece of Cake”, which The Saturday Evening Post had published as “Shot Down Over Libya” in order to have a more exciting title. It was also the story that would go on to launch Roald Dahl’s writing career.

Before he became renowned as a writer of children’s stories, Roald Dahl first began as an author for adults. Most of his early work came in the form of short stories. Plenty of these stories concerned deadly gambles, acts of revenge, and bitter spouses. Most of all, they frequently came with endings that served as a macabre punch line to the proceedings. There is no doubt that Dahl’s more cynical view of humanity comes through in stories like “Lamb to the Slaughter”, about a wife who murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and tries to cover up the deed, or “Parson’s Pleasure”, about a deceitful antiques dealer who poses as a clergyman for his cheats. However, it is actually his children’s novels where Dahl really cranks up this cynical attitude. While a few stories concern monsters like witches or giants, nearly all of the villains in his children’s novels are rotten, vile adults.

Sometimes they may lord their wealth over others, sometimes they may be verbally abusive to those they see as weaker or lesser, and sometimes they may simply be sadistic with physical cruelty. In any case, these parents are the sort of commonplace evils of which even children are familiar. As dark and imposing as such cruelty may seem, Dahl balances things out with how he presents goodness. The children that serve as the heroes in his stories are not generally portrayed as extraordinary. In fact, they frequently are presented as rather average. Instead, they possess an innate goodness, recognizing the wickedness around them and rising above it. In that way, Dahl offers a way to challenge and overcome the commonplace evil in their own lives. He also delivers it in a more playful, slightly morbid manner than the squeaky-cleaned stories that some believe children should be given. The result is a more naturalistic approach to teaching children about the cruelty of the world and preparing them for it, treating them with respect and understanding they can grasp it without being directly moralized.

For those who have never read any of Roald Dahl’s stories, there are two avenue I might offer, depending on if you wish to try his adult work or his children’s stories. For those who wish to explore his more adult-oriented work, Tales of the Unexpected is an anthology that collects some of his yarns of the macabre. With such stories as “Lamb to the Slaughter”, “The Man Down South”, and “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”, this collection will help to show how Dahl’s writing career was launched thanks to his clever writing. As for his work for children, the best example I would guide new readers to would be Matilda. Centered around an intelligent and kind-hearted girl named Matilda and her challenges overcoming her obnoxious parents and a cruel headmistress named Agatha Trunchbull, this novel stands to me as a great example of the kind of whimsical yet morbid stories that he crafted for children.

GLOW: Grappling with the Glass Ceiling

Back in the 1980s, wrestling dominated on the airwaves with the excitement from the WWF (these days known as WWE). Fans watched as big personalities like Hulk Hogan, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, and “Macho Man” Randy Savage would take to the ring and battle it out. However, there was one outlet that promised something different. This was a group known as GLOW, or Glorious Ladies of Wrestling. Created by David B. McLane, GLOW ran from 1986 through 1990. It featured plenty of high-flying wrestling matches, along with some comedy sketches for a bit of added fun and an off-color attitude to stand apart from the Reagan-Era wholesomeness. The bigger feature, however, were the wrestlers. All of them were women, made up of actresses and stuntwomen who were looking for their big break in a field that barely gave them any. For them, this was their chance in the spotlight, a big thing considering how women’s wrestling was for the longest time viewed as nothing more than a sideshow. It is this outlet which had caught the attention Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, creators of the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Seeing the potential in crafting a tale about a fictionalized version of the wrestling group, their new Netflix series GLOW serves as an effective look inside the world of wrestling and of women struggling to break out of the restrictive mold.

In the city of Los Angeles in 1985, Ruth Wilder is desperate for her break. She spends day after day going to auditions for minor bit roles, then goes to a scene study workshop where even the other students are bored. For all of her work, she is stuck in a dinky little apartment with barely any cash in her bank account. Then, she gets her opportunity when she is informed about an audition for “offbeat women”. This audition, it turns out, is for the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling, led by skeezy B-movie director Sam Sylvia and rich manchild Sebastian Howard. Amid the tensions over just how to present this new wrestling show, Ruth and the other women (such as the serious-minded stuntwoman Cherry Bang and kind-hearted Carmen Wade) see this as their opportunity to make something of their own. However, there is an additional wrench in the works. Brought in to be the show’s star face is Debbie Eagen, a former best friend of Ruth who now hates Ruth for sleeping with her husband. Now, they must deal with their tension as they fight to make something of this shot, that tension being fodder to Sam as the makings of a great in-ring rivalry.

As their follow-up creation to Orange is the New Black, Flahive and Mensch have a wonderful to series on their hands. The show expertly weaves its way through comedy and drama, relishing in the fun of developing its big spectacle world of wrestling while looking at the grit in the lives of its performers and creators. The series is well-acted, with a cast that is ready to deliver. Alison Brie, for instance, works well in capturing the well-rounded nature of Ruth Wilder. She displays her desperation, playing her with an exhaustion in her form but a spark in her eyes that lights up at the merest performing opprtunity. Marc Maron also works well as Sam Sylvia, delivering all the rough edges of a filmmaker who justifies his vulgar and sleazy B-movies with artistic pretensions and wears his sexism on his sleeve. Even as he has his moments when he recognizes his own dickish behavior and tries to act better than that, he serves as a sort of reminder of the hurdles that these women find themselves facing.

For a lot of the women in this series, the struggle to have something of their own is all too real. For instance, Ruth’s attempts in auditions have her purposefully misreading a man’s part in a desperate play to be notice, only to find it already given to someone else. For Debbie, she finds herself trapped in her marriage, as her husband tries to mend things but from a viewpoint concerning himself and finding herself without a home if she tries to go for a divorce. Even a chance with GLOW has hurdles of its own, with Howard and Sylvia’s guiding practice of stereotypes for their wrestlers. This is particularly a problem for women like Arthie Premkumar and Jenny Chey, whose respective wrestling personas as Beirut the Mad Bomber and Fortune Cookie are all wrapped up in negative racial stereotypes. Still, even as this chance possesses shades of exploitation, this is their shot. As these women practice their moves and develop their wrestling personas, there is a satisfaction in watching them be able to create for once. Whether or not this chance in wrestling is truly empowering or merely exploitative, this is still a chance where these women stand in the spotlight. They are the ones who get to lead, and not merely play bit roles. For them, when they step into the ring, they get to be the headliners.

In real life, GLOW stood apart from the pack thanks to its particular focus on presenting women wrestlers as major talents. In this new series, GLOW looks outside of the ring at the impact of these women getting their chance to make something of their own and shine at a time when they were still being kept aside.

The Evolution of Harley Quinn: From Abuse Victim to Vivacious Anti-Hero

If one were to examine the numerous rogues galleries and collections of villains throughout comic books, it would be easy to say that Batman has one of the greatest rogues galleries in the realm of superhero stories. Over the years, plenty of memorable villains would arrive in the comics and capture the attention of readers. One of these villains, however, was a foe who had first appeared in the cartoon Batman: the Animated Series. That villain’s name is Harley Quinn. First appearing in the episode “Joker’s Favor” as a mere henchman, Quinn would grow in prominence with future appearances, becoming the right-hand woman of the Joker. However, something interesting began to happen when she began to appear in comics. She would not simply be limited to a villain that served the needs of another. Though she has not gone full-on hero, Harley Quinn has gone on to develop into more of an anti-hero. Not only that, she’s even grown to be able to stand on her own and not simply lean on the Joker. How did this happen? What was the path of evolution for her? Well, let us first begin with a graphic novel called Mad Love and the origin it presents for Quinn.

Once, Harley Quinn was better known by her real name of Dr. Harleen Quinzel. An aspiring psychologist, Harleen leapt at the opportunity to try to understand the criminal mind. Her subject: the Joker. Thus began their sessions at Arkham, with her trying to understand him. However, something began to happen. Harleen began to fall in love with him. She was twisted by his words, growing more and more attached to him while unaware of his manipulation. Eventually, she busted him out of Arkham Asylum. Not only that, she took his word about her name sounding like “harlequin” to heart. She got herself a harlequin costume and began calling herself Harley Quinn, becoming a major accomplice to the Joker. With that laid out, part of the appeal of the character does come through. Though she possesses a bubbly and fun personality, she is also a victim of abuse. Their relationship has no true tenderness to it, with the Joker treating her as nothing more than a tool for his schemes. The result is a tragic character lurking beneath the vim and vigor. However, Harley Quinn would not simply spend her time as a suffering pawn of the Joker. She would make a change that would expand her. She would get a friend, and that friend was Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy is a character who serves as an excellent foil to Harley Quinn. Ivy is a character with a serious edge who hates men and their abuses, while Harley is a more easygoing character who was utterly obedient to the Joker. They were a comic match to be made, though certainly an odd couple pair. However, this pair helped Harley to grow as a character. Though she would have moments where she reverted when around the Joker, she began to take more stock in her self-worth. Her confidence grew as she hung around with Poison Ivy. This confidence and self-reliance would grow as she began to have her own adventures, even forming a team with Poison Ivy and Catwoman as the Gotham City Sirens. Throughout this time, Harley herself showed more initiative in turning over a new leaf, improving herself and even making parole. However, the next big step and current phase of Harley would not arise until a major event known as the New 52.

As part of the New 52’s new roll-out of comics, Harley Quinn received a new title of her own, one written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. In this new series, Harley finds that an old patient of hers had a surprise set aside in their will: that Harley would gain ownership of an apartment building at Coney Island. Now serving as a landlord in Coney Island and as a member of a roller derby team, Harley seeks to improve her neighborhood and fight crime. No more is Harley Quinn just the abused pawn of the Joker. Now, she stands tall as an anti-hero, certainly just as quirky and rough as before but now saving lives from threats like a zombie outbreak or a super-strong sailor addicted to weird seaweed. Free from the shadows of Gotham, she blossoms as her own character, becoming an irreverent but good-hearted anti-hero. In a way, it is understandable how Harley Quinn could develop like she has. In the dark and shadowy world of Batman, she was a foe with a lighter personality than most that was twinged with tragic corruption and a good heart beneath. Now, written as more of an anti-hero, she stands out as a more irreverent face in the crowd among the many more serious-minded heroes of the DC Universe. In short, her quirky antics and gray yet benevolent morality stand out against the more black and white nature of the classic DC heroes and villains.

Ever since her first appearance on Batman: the Animated Series, Harley Quinn has grown fast in her popularity. Along with that growth has been a growth of character, evolving her from the abused pawn of the Joker into the quirky anti-hero that calls Coney Island her home.

Power Rangers: Solid Might and a Little Morphin’

In 1993, a new superhero series hit television that would strike like lightning in a bottle: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Taking action footage from the Japanese Super Sentai series and mixing it with American footage and dubbing, the series captured the attention of viewers with its tale of five teenagers with attitude using martial arts and super powers to battle the forces of evil. The show’s mixture of martial arts action, giant monster battles, and somewhat cheesy teen stories landed it with a fanbase fast. In fact, the Power Rangers franchise has grown and the show persists to this day, with new variations and iterations to each new season. In fact, there have even been films of the Power Rangers. Most of those films, however, were specifically tied in with the television shows. Now, a new film has arrived to hit theaters. Though it draws its inspiration from the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers television series, this new film serves as the start of potentially a new line in the Power Rangers franchise. Simply titled as Power Rangers, it proves to be a solidly entertaining new entry in the prolific franchise, avoiding certain pitfalls even as it does not rise to greatness.

In the town of Angel Grove, five teenagers come together in a moment of pure chance. Their names are Jason, Billy, Kimberly, Zack, and Trini, and they all have their frustrations and problems that plague their lives. One night, they all end up converging at the same location at a local gold mine. It is there that they discover something in the rocks: power coins. These coins grant them super strength, and inspires them to investigate further. What they find is even more amazing: an alien spaceship, buried deep in the ground. This ship is the home of an alien named Zordon, once a powerful warrior and member of the Power Rangers. He had set out the power coins long ago to find those who would be worthy to continue the mission of the Power Rangers and protect the Zeo crystals. Now, the Zeo crystals on Earth are threatened when Rita Repulsa returns, a former Power Ranger now seeking to collect the Zeo crystals for nefarious ends. These five teenagers must learn to work together and grow as a team, if they are to become the newest team of Power Rangers and stop Rita’s plans to summon a gigantic monster known as Goldar and bring destruction to the Earth.

This film makes for an entertaining new entry in to the Power Rangers franchise. Elizabeth Banks looks like she is having fun as she plays Rita Repulsa, delivering some menace along with a playful demeanor to show off the sadistic nature in this take on Rita. Likewise, Bryan Cranston delivers a solid, serious take as Zordon. He captures Zordon’s devotion to the mission of the Power Rangers, while tempering it with concern and frustration over having a group of teenagers become the newest members of this team. Along with that, the movie also delivers on some of the fun action that most people remember with the show. From battles with henchmen monsters known as Putties to a giant monster battle between Goldar and the Power Rangers’ giant robot the Megazord, the action fare which most people think of with Power Rangers is on display. Some viewers might be a little disappointed that the Power Rangers do not fully morph into their armor until around the last twenty minutes of the film. That said, the movie delivers more on an aspect of Power Rangers that some might not think about as much: the teenagers.

In the series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, the teens are a solid group of friends and general do-gooders. Though the characters are nice, the writing for that series tended to present them in the sort of shallow presentation from which a lot of teen-centered programming at the time suffered. They were heroes and had a few traits that helped them stand up, but they could come across as dull to some viewers. For the film Power Rangers, however, more time and development is given to the teens themselves. For instance, here they are portrayed as somewhat flawed but with heart beneath the cracks. For instance, the film’s version of Jason is a star football player who’s punished with weekly detention sessions after a failed attempt to prank a rival team, but he also stands up for Billy and protects him from bullies. Along with that, the teens are not presented as friends right away. Instead, their friendship develops over the course of the film as they share in the experience of becoming Power Rangers, growing past their labels and their issues along the way. In a way, the approach is essentially to take these teenagers and make them a sort of super-powered Breakfast Club. The result is a take on the team that can offer more substance beyond the original do-gooders from the television series. The writing for these characters might still potentially seem a little shallow, but it at least offers more meat to the characters and a bigger development to them as they rise up and take on the mantle of the Power Rangers.

Though the film might not be anything stellar, Power Rangers offers a take on the superhero franchise that is solidly entertaining. Good performances and a more developed take on the five teenagers with attitude help to give a concrete foundation for its entertainment. Besides, in the wake of bad movies based on similar nostalgic properties, isn’t there something to be said for competency?

Things I Can’t Explain: Growing Up Darling

Back in the early ’90s, Nickelodeon first began to explore having their own original live-action shows in their line-up, alongside their cartoons. Among these shows was a series known as Clarissa Explains It All. Starring Melissa Joan Hart, the series follows Clarissa Darling as she navigated the murky waters of adolescence. Along for the ride were her eccentric parents Janet and Marshall, her scheming little brother Ferguson, and her easy-going confidant Sam Anders. The series struck a chord with audiences, offering a fun take on a teen sitcom with a style that incorporated fourth-wall breaking and info graphics, while also dabbling in a subtle touch on more risque subjects like sex and teen partying. In fact, the show’s popularity even proved that a series with a female lead could garner a male audience, paving the way for numerous Nickelodeon shows which would be centered around female protagonists. In the many years since, the show’s creator Mitchell Kriegman has decided to revisit his old creation. In this case, it is not with a television series. Rather, it is with a novel. With his new novel Things I Can’t Explain, Kriegman gives a look at Clarissa’s life that feels like a natural progression from his show.

Though she has left her hometown in Ohio for the energy and excitement of New York City, Clarissa Darling is finding that life is not quite as understandable as she expected. Her parents are exploring the realm of a separation, an aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Her brother Ferguson is in prison, the result of insider trading and messing with Russian mob money. Even her dream of being a journalist has hit some snags, as newspapers have begun to fall out of prestige. Still, she has managed to find some positives. For instance, she finds herself with a golden opportunity at an internet news source known as Nuzegeek as a potential financial reporter. She has also met a local guy named Nick who shares a spark of desire with her. Unfortunately, even these perks have their hurdles. The financial editor is a snobbish jerk who looks down upon Clarissa, while Nick is plagued by a punk rocker ex-girlfriend who knows just how to sink her claws into him. That is not even mentioning Clarissa’s ex-boyfriend, a slacker named Norm who insists that they are still together. Even with all of life’s hard curve balls, Clarissa sets out to persevere and achieve her dreams.

Mitchell Kriegman’s new novel makes for a fun read. Even for those who might not have seen Clarissa Explains It All, the book works well in hooking readers with its world and characters. There is a sense of history to Clarissa, whether she is talking about her old newspaper internship or when she is hanging out with her group of friends. The lived-in sense is also complimented by the novel’s breezy prose, which does not drag on and allow the pages to flow by for the reader. The result is a novel that is easy to pick up and get into, something to enjoy. Now, there is the occasional reference or character that is made to be topical that comes off a little rough, such as a friend of Clarissa’s who speaks largely in abbreviated words. These moments come off as more stereotypical and cartoonish of current-day elements, but such lapses are generally outweighed by the positives over the course of the story. As for people who have seen Clarissa Explains It All, then the novel will make for a fun return for that familiar audience.

Even as the novel works for those who have not seen the original show, the novel works well as a continuation of Clarissa Explains It All. Stylistically, it carries over a lot of elements from the show. For instance, the info graphics return with their familiar appearance. The writing and presentation of Clarissa’s challenges are also akin to the approach to the show, which had a more irreverent take on teenage issues than most teen sitcoms of the time. That slight irreverence is now used to examine the hurdles of adulthood, from romantic relationships to workplace struggles. Along with that, other characters from the original series turn up. In addition to her family members, the book also explores the unsteady relationship history between Clarissa and her confidant Sam Anders, which traveled an unsteady path between friends and something more. In fact, that is part of what works well with this novel. It feels like a natural progression from the original series. The strengths of the show are allowed to bolster and develop, thanks to the room of a novel. It allows itself to explore more mature problems for this older audience, while still maintaining the spirit and voice that had made Clarissa Explains It All such a hit. In essence, the audience for the show has grown up, and Clarissa Darling has gotten the chance to keep up pace.

Back in the early ’90s, Nickelodeon had a hit on their hands when they began airing Clarissa Explains It All. Now, the show’s success is continued with Things I Can’t Explain, which ages up and tackles more adult issues while preserving the winning voice and spirit of the original show.

A Christmas Carol and Endless Adaptability: The Hallmark of Humbug

When it comes to stories involving Christmastime, no story has had quite the impact as that of A Christmas Carol. Who hasn’t heard the classic tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich man visited by three ghosts of Christmas who help him to see the error of his ways and become a better human being? Not only is this classic piece of literature still remembered, it has become fodder for numerous adaptations. From films to live theatre, television shows to comic books, nearly every medium has had some take of A Christmas Carol. Of course, with all of these numerous adaptations, there is something interesting to consider: why? After all, there are plenty of great works of literature that only possess a few adaptations to their name, or even none at all. What inspires people to turn to the story of Scrooge and craft a new telling of the familiar story, when plenty of other storytellers have trod down the familiar path? Before I discuss the elements of the story itself, I feel it would be worth discussing the world from which this story emerged. After all, context can offer an interesting viewpoint.

In the early 1800s, Christmas was not the widely celebrated holiday that it is today. In fact, it seemed to be on its way out. The Puritan era had possessed a displeasure in Christmas, seeing it as a Pagan holiday due to the elements that had been incorporated into the holiday. Likewise, Protestant reformations shared a similar dislike in these Pagan elements, leading to infighting among how best to handle the holiday. As for Christmas itself, it was seen as a secondary holiday, merely a religious celebration for churches and communities that was second to Easter. That would change in 1843, with author Charles Dickens. Horrified by the reports of the conditions endured by children in factories and mines, he sought to write a story that would serve as a sledgehammer to the public consciousness. To that end, he had turned to nostalgic thoughts about the past of Christmas and its traditions, merging them with his concerns for the poor. With this combination, he crafted a narrative that not only moved the hearts and minds of his readers, it fundamentally reshaped how Christmas was seen. No longer was it merely a community holiday. Instead, it was reformed into a time about good will and helping out the fellow man. In fact, this story ended up inspiring a movement to revive Christmas, setting into place many of the traditions and philosophies that remain entwined with the holiday to this very day.

The impact when it was first written cannot be doubted, but there is still the question of why it is so adapted. Part of it, I believe, stems from its structure. The story is written in five parts, which can easily be translated into a three-act structure. Its first act lays down the introduction of Scrooge, along with the ghostly visitation of Jacob Marley. Its second act brings the visits from the Ghost of Christmas Past (who presents Scrooge’s past and shows how much he has changed) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (who shows the meager home life of Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit). Finally, the third act brings the Ghost of Christmas Future (who offers a haunting vision of a potential future) and Scrooge’s redemption into a more caring person. It is a lean structure, but an effective one. It offers a core structure that is steady in the trajectory of its character arcs, while offering plenty of room for tailoring and adjustments when it comes to exploring Scrooge. The story can be adapted into a darker tone that captures the ghost story nature of Dickens’s literary sledgehammer, or a lighter tone that leans into the heart and appeal for the betterment of humanity. Really, the overall structure and flow of the story is incredibly well-crafted. Paired up with the memorable characters and evocative imagery that flow from Dickens’s words, it is no wonder how it would catch the eye. However, the structure is only part of it. The other part is its heart.

Charles Dickens had seen firsthand how terrible life was for the poor. At a young age, he had to endure harsh working conditions to help his family survive. The harmful and humiliating conditions he had to go through planted that formative seed which would become a recurring theme in his work, namely the conditions and suffering that the poor endured. It was not until that report on labor conditions, along with witnessing conditions in a Manchester factory and a ragged school (a charitable organization that offered free education to poor children), that finally launched Dickens to craft this literary sledgehammer and swing. The passion in wanting people to look towards helping out those less fortunate can be felt all throughout the story, such as in Scrooge’s growing change as he sees the misfortunes that plague Bob Cratchit and his son Tiny Tim. In fact, that growing change is a fundamental key here. That potential of change, that idea that people can grow past their flaws and see beyond their selfish desires, is a powerful ideal. People want to believe that individuals can change for the better. Whether in the bitter stings of the past or the concerns of the present, they want to see things improve. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his change from cold miser to big-hearted gentleman is a powerful story that takes this nebulous idea and paints a very personal picture of it. It offers a face to this idea, giving it life and a tangible form. In that way, a general desire to see things change for the better is granted a sharper clarity and thus makes for a stronger impact.

Ever since Charles Dickens first crafted his immortal tale back in 1843, A Christmas Carol has found its way into nearly every form of media with a multitude of adaptations. With its well-founded structure and a powerful appeal to helping others, it is no wonder why the story still moves the hearts of many to this very day.

Black Mirror: A Dark Reflection of Humanity

Science fiction is a genre that can offer plenty of rich material to appreciate and enjoy. Not simply in terms of the same sort of storytelling as most genres, but rather in its potential for speculative exploration. It is a genre in which the spark of some scientific idea or technological concept can become a central focus. Through this focus, the story can then use that development as a way to examine a current issue or problem. This potential for exploration has allowed for science fiction to crop up with powerful material time and again, such as in the works of sci-fi author Isaac Asimov or in the anthology series The Twilight Zone. Now, a newer talent to take advantage of science fiction’s capability for examination is Charlie Brooker. A British satirist who has worked on numerous shows, he has now made his name in science fiction with his own anthology series called Black Mirror. Using ideas both inspired by plenty of current-day technology and by all-too familiar problems plaguing humanity, Brooker uses the series as a rather bleak outlet for examining the dark side of people and how they use technology.

The future is a time of great possibility. Of course, are all possibilities such great wonders? For instance, imagine a future where a piece of tech known as a “grain” can allow one to play back their memories with clear precision. Though this would be helpful in reviewing one’s mistakes, imagine the madness it might inspire in a husband paranoid about the idea of his wife cheating on him. Imagine a teenage boy caught in a moment of intimacy, his secret in the hands of hackers forcing him to comply with their demands or else they expose his secret. Imagine a woman buying a robot designed after her dead husband, only for the robot to not perfectly match the man she misses. It is situations like these that make for the meat of Black Mirror. Within these situations, the show examines how these technological developments impact people in their lives. Most often, though, the show sees how people can misuse technology. What should help to improve our lives and connect each other instead becomes a tool to disconnect from each other and harm others. Of course, it is not the technology that is inherently rotten. Rather, it is the people who use this tech that bring the real harm.

Black Mirror is a great new addition to the realm of science fiction. Its stories offer gripping narratives that tap well into our current world. From the concept of “blocking” people to internet shaming to influencer culture, the series taps into these concepts and uses them to craft rich stories. It also benefits from excellent performances and direction that work well in delivering the material. However, the series can sometimes get rather blunt in the messages and critiques that it delivers. Subtlety is not necessarily an aspect of the writing here. That said, it proves to be powerful even in its bluntness. Even if it is clear that the message is delivered in a blunt manner, the passion behind the message is clear. Its delivery comes through a well-crafted narrative, even when the central delivery point lays out the message in a heavy-handed manner. It is clear that the foibles and failures of humanity are all too clear to Brooker, and his series makes for a way to address these issues. Now, where should one introduce themselves with this show? After all, it is an anthology series. For me, I would recommend beginning with episode 1 of season 3, an episode known as “Nosedive”.

In this episode, it presents a future where life is rated on a five-star scale. Not only are one’s pictures and posts rated like this, but a person is rated this way in reaction to their day to day interactions. Of course, the better one’s rating is, the better their life is. One such person seeking to raise their rating is Lacie Pound, who seeks to earn a discount on a new apartment only granted to those with a great rating. She finds that she has her chance when an old friend, one with a stunning rating, wants her to be maid of honor at her wedding. Lacie leaps at the opportunity, seeing this as her shot for a better rating. However, incident after incident begin to chip away at Lacie’s rating, as this desperate trip progressively rips her life apart. I consider this a good introduction because it has plenty of the sharp punch that most of the show brings. It is a sometimes chilling view that offers not only a critique of how desperate some may be to receive “like”s in social media, but also of how people can downvote and reject the truth online in favor for only supporting cheery but fake images. However, its ending offers a more bittersweet note in its resolution in comparison to the usual bleakness and cynicism of the series, which means an easier attitude for new viewers.

Science fiction has always offered that ripe opportunity to explore human issues through the lens of technological development. Black Mirror is the latest offering to show that perspective, this time in a rather bleak approach showcasing how people can misuse and abuse technology.