S 4:E02 Synopsis: ‘Worried about her daughter’s safety, single mom Marie signs up for a cutting-edge device that monitors the girl’s whereabouts – and much more.
Ostensibly, this is a story about an overprotective parent suffering the natural consequences of that parenting style taken to its logical extreme. The triggers are twofold; first comes the difficult birth and stillborn scare, second is single mom Marie losing young Sara, her shiny new munchkin, whilst at the playground. The kid is found fast, but it’s too late: the fear has taken hold and Marie believes, ardently, that she needs help.
This help arrives in the form of Arkangel, an experimental new subscription program where at its most basic, a camera (optic feed) and vital monitoring system are installed in her kid. All this collected data is then funneled to the child’s guardian via an intuitive interface on a small tablet. This control center allows the parent to not only see what the child sees, but limit and change that child’s perspective as well. Too much violence? They can blur it out. Too much sex? Not anymore.
Grandpa is the voice of reason; he voices his protest, with an open door ‘let kid’s be kids’ philosophy. This does nothing to sway Marie. She progressively gets more comfortable overseeing her child’s every move, turning even a simple game of hide and seek into a creepy experiment where the kid is reduced to the mouse in a maze and the mom is the scientist watching all from above. No bueno my friends, no bueno.
Now this is paragraph four and you may be asking yourself, ‘self, did I miss the mention of God? He was in the title, wasn’t He?” Well, yes, and I’m getting there, I assure you.
Fast forward through the mini human almost letting Grandpa kick the bucket because his heart attack was blurred out due to potential trauma, and her aging up to pre-teenage years unable to view a crying face or a barking dog, unable to hear a graphic story, unable to draw a tragic scene. The kid straight up has no understanding of the full range of human experience (so says a psychologist) so mom gets rid of the tablet for fear of what the program’s lingering effects may be. But much like anything taught to children at a young age, it’s too late. Sara has already internalized too much of the omnipresent monitoring as we later learn.
Back to the point and away from the plot: How is Arkangel a replacement God? Well, the similarities, from someone who grew up Catholic, are eerie. Like legitimately horrifying. I was taught God was all the things the Arkangel actually turned out to be: all seeing, all judging, all punishing. More than simply ‘do no wrong’ it was ‘do nothing I, your Lord, tell you not to’. In the case of Arkangel, Mom plays the role of judge, but the program itself acts as all the powers we have given God. Scary. Needless to say, Sara’s youthful transgressions are punished to the max, hurting her and those around her in one fell swoop.
Her crimes are the curiosity of growing; humanity’s crimes can be much the same. When I believed in God, this was the God I knew to be true. I’m in the midst of reading Dan Barker’s godless right now, and I’d be lying if I said the following passage didn’t influence this post. Here it is:
‘In the minds of Christians, authority equals morality. God is sovereign. “Do this because I said so” is the kind of thing you say to a small child. A toddler may not be mature enough to follow a line of reasoning, so parents might have to exercise authority to prohibit something dangerous. But the ‘authority’ in this case is not what determines whether something is right or wrong. It is simply an exercise of the minimum restraint necessary to enforce protective, rational guidelines until the child is old enough to reason independently. The parent who treats a toddler in such a manner, temporarily emphasizing authority over rationale, still should be able to explain to another adult why the child’s action would be dangerous or undesirable. The child, in later years, should be able to obtain a reasonable explanation from the parent. If not, the parent is a petty tyrant.’ pg 169
In the case of Marie and Arkangel, it’s easy to see that she has become exactly that: a tyrant, exercising complete control over her daughter’s every move, every potential decision. Sara isn’t given a choice; every ‘solution’ carried out behind her back, without her foreknowledge, hidden away in smoothies or in secret threats to teenage boys.
In the case of God, it is much the same. Everything is punishable, including thoughts, so it’s best not to do anything out of invisible, constantly shifting, lines at all. God exercises the same threat over every move, every decision. The primary difference to my mind is merely in timing. Arkangel works real time, instantly, whereas God lies in wait, the repercussions yet to come.
Gervais’ story is not uncommon; it’s not even restricted to his Christian upbringing. And perhaps that’s why Black Mirror is so haunting; in each episode, technology has replaced a niche once filled by a deity or two. This is particularly scary in the realm of childrearing, but only because they, much like technology, are the future. Secularism and atheism are on the rise. This is a fact. However, my concern is that this is inspired not by reason and truth and concern about evidence, but rather by the new god-of-the-gaps: technology. Are we merely trading out one ‘miracle’ maker for another? One role model for another?
‘Why be good if there is no punishment, no reward, no all-knowing police officer to enforce the rules? They believe that if there is no god, then there is no accountability. Since human nature, they insist, is intrinsically corrupt (look at history or current headlines), the tendency will be toward destruction and evil unless there are strict laws and absolute enforcement. We are rambunctious children who need to be broken like wild horses, or reined in and controlled by our wise parents.’ pg 209
There is much I could say about the common wish to find a superior being to give us clear guidelines to life. On the flip side, there’s much to be discussed about Sara’s inability to carve a healthy path after so much early guidance. It’s so hard to live in this world, with its endless problems and opportunities and choices and factors. But. But what makes this world hard is also what makes it beautiful, and I believe that even though it’s difficult, sometimes we must find the answer for ourselves, starting with the obvious:
I believe we need no replacement.
I believe we need no substitute.
I believe we need no gods to tell us how to live, only careful consideration and willingness to try.