Bandersnatch

Every second, we make the choice of whether to consume or to produce – it’s infinitely easy to consume and incredibly difficult to produce. Finding the perfect ratio in which you’re consuming enough to stay sane while producing enough to stay relevant is damned near impossible. It’s a constant struggle, and it’s becoming more and more difficult as the content we consume becomes better catered to that-which-we-desire.

Netflix is maybe the easiest way to consume content and stay entertained without having to produce anything whatsoever. The content never ends, and it becomes ever more adapted to the content consumer, and now, with Bandersnatch, they’ve given us even more material to consume.

Bandersnatch is the newest of their Black Mirror blockbusters, and I finally got around to watching it / experiencing it this weekend. Yes, I’m a maybe a week or two behind, but that’s fine with me. I value being a bit behind – I’m not tanking for pop culture, just staying as involved as I need to be.

Based on the amount of analytics Netflix collects on their users, and the amount of pseudo-nostalgia they have us hooked on (think Stranger things), it only makes sense that the theme would be mid-to-late 80’s video game culture.

The main character is an indie game dev living with his father, navigating a British city in the mid-80s. The episode is unique in that you can pick the path of the episode. You’ll often encounter cutscenes where you have to quickly choose between two options. The first cutscene lets you choose the cereal the character eats. After that, you get to choose things like kill the other character or don’t act. There seem to be an infinite number of paths. If you guide yourself down a losing path, you restart from a previous path in which you were making positive progress.

I’m not going to provide any spoilers here (although I’m not sure if it is even possible to spoil a choose your own adventure story?)

I wanted Bandersnatch to be good, to be a wholesome mind-changing experience. To bring new insight and deep thought. I remember the first Black Mirror episodes did this. ‘Fifteen Million Merits’, the episode in which characters bicycled for hours on end to make enough fiat to get a chance to be a star changed my perspective on technology, gave a bit of insight into our thirst for fame and power.

In Bandersnatch, however, after a few minutes into the episode, it all started to feel like a spectacle. Yes, you are given the ability to control the outcome of the episode. What becomes apparent though, is that the ability to choose a path is a type of control in and of itself, one that Netflix, I think, completely understands.

It’s a meta-episode. The content consumer has been programmed to consume programmed content.

Bandersnatch gives the illusion of control (and free will for that matter) as time slips away from us and as we get further invested into the systems Netflix is creating. Pair this with the sense of nostalgia we all crave, and it’s almost as if we’re spending our time being pacified into an aesthetic that never existed.

Sophocles said, “We long to have again the vanished past, in spite of all its pain.” Netflix understands the thirst for a past that never existed, and the desire to control the present. The desire to experience a world that is catered to our needs.

I think we’ll see this more often with content creators. The ability for the content consumer to choose a path and to passively live through the eyes of the content creator. Netflix does this with Bandersnatch, but so can YouTubers, Twitch streamers, and anyone out there doing real things in the world, in a world that many of us fear interacting with.

We’re burned out, I’m sure you’ve read the millenials are burned out article by now. We’re in a constant struggle with burnout, and by consuming content, we can create the illusion for ourselves that we are not burned out.

Content creators can benefit from our burnout. All it takes is a poll. Bandersnatch is, after all, a glorified interactive poll. The content creator need only to direct a few questions to the content consumer: ‘What should I wear today’, ‘What should I eat today’, and ‘Where should I go today’. From there, we, as content consumers, can cater the experiences we want without having to truly interact with the world.

It’s not far of a jump to imagine this reality. I think this reality already exists, or is coming-to-existence. That could be why Bandersnatch feels boring.

Our content naturally adapts to us now, and the content that doesn’t yet adapt soon will. We consume it to fill our free time, to fill the void. With the purpose of pacifying ourselves in an increasingly chaotic world. We value the individuals that choose to live in the world, that document and share their adventures. They become our ideal selves, our heroes, a nostalgia for a present that will never exist.