15 million merits is an episode of the Black Mirror series, giving us a dystopian glimpse of everyday life in the future.
Hi this is Nykole and Welcome to ChromaFilm. In this video, I'll be covering Black Mirror's 15 Million merits episode - exploring the deeper messages and comparing the episode to our world today to see how much it got right.
And without further ado, let's get into it.
15 million merits is in a world with cubed living quarters, vending machine fruit and only 2 forms of employment.
As the episode opens, we meet Bingham "Bing" Madsen, a resident of the building. We're not told his age or exactly how long he's been in the building, but he's a young man that's able to live off of the merits his brother left to him after he passed away.
His life is a simple one. Wake-up, work and go to your quarters. His cubed home is outfitted with panels that provides all the information he needs for daily life
The only two types of employment for this community is cycling, which powers the city and trash clean-up. Those that are able to fit into the standard uniform cycle and those that can't clean up after the cyclists. A person can change their job by losing or gaining weight.
After living the same mundane life, a new resident arrives. Her name is Abi and Bing is taken by her beauty the first time he sees her.
After getting to know a little about each other's backgrounds, Abi expresses to Bing that she wants to sing and he convinces her that she should compete in the Hot Shot talent competition - reminiscent of talent shows like American Idol or the X Factor.
Abi competes and sorta wins. She has the opportunity to be a star but at a cost. She can have success, but she'll have to compromise her body and a singing career to live a life that's better than the one she has in the cube community.
Bing, furious with how his friend was treated devises a plan to enter the competition. After making it on stage and doing his two step - he gives the judges a piece of his mind.
Shocked, but impressed with Bing, the judges decide to make him an offer as well. His choice will decide whether he goes back to the cube, or if he lives in luxury like the very judges he's accusing of abusing their power.
Like many Black Mirror episodes, this one is layered and probably has an many interpretations - But I found some points that stood out to me. Not only does this episode portray a society very similar to our own, it also predicted a lot of things that have metaphorically come true with others that may literally come true.
WHAT IT GOT RIGHT...So far
This year, December 2021 will mark the 10 year anniversary of the series. With the upcoming milestone, I'd thought it'd be cool to see what the episode got right so far.
The Residents Don't Leave the Building
The only time we hear of anyone leaving the building, is when we first meet Abi after her transfer. Otherwise, the residents live, work and play in towers. It's never explained why life is this way, but based on the lack of concern shown by the residents about their living conditions - it's implied that this is the only life the residents have ever known.
The living quarters and the gathering rooms were the only places we saw the residents. It was never shown, but there's an impression that no one can or will go outside, unless it's necessary for transfer.
This may one of the most relatable points of the episode. After 2020, we've all had to deal with being stuck in the house - with some of us waiting until the day we can spend time with our friends while the rest of us enjoy the fact that we can freely reject social get-togethers, no longer needing to make up excuses to stay home.
Depending on how long these restrictions last or if this is the way of life from here on out, the kids born today and future generations may only know this type of reality and being prompted to live in this type of environment will not only be accepted, it'll be a normal way of life.
The Rat Race
Life was a never ending cycle for the residents, literally. Get up, work, eat, go to your box and sleep - repeat. The same type of schedule that most of us have today.
Work for the lower class residents consisted of cycling, or janitorial work. The cycling done by the residents generates the power for the city and the janitors simply clean up after the cyclists. No pensions, no retirement. Compensation is in the form of merits which pays for everything from daily rations to entertainment.
If you're over the age of 20, you've probably seen a shift in the work dynamic. Once upon a time, more jobs offered retirement plans and as long as you did good work and was a loyal employee, you could be rest-assured, knowing that one day you could stop working and enjoy the rest of your days doing things that are more enjoyable.
Now, pensions or retirement savings are offered by fewer employers and even if you find a job that offers these benefits - being laid off or replaced is much more prevalent. We've gotten to a point where it's almost rare to find someone that's retiring after 20 or 30 years of service to the same employer.
Avatars Represent the Residents
When they went on the American Idol type show, the audience was filled with avatars that represented their human counterparts. The residents watched this event alone and from their cube.
In another Black Mirror review I did about entertainers and AI, I talked about how we use various types of images and avatars to represent ourselves. Between the C of 2020 and the isolation, the concept of seeing an audience full of digital or generated images is not only plausible, it's pretty much here. The broadcasting style is already being used on reality TV shows - it's easy to see how this would be a common way of life in a decade or so.
Pay to Participate
In order for a resident to move from worker class to wealthy, they have to compete in a competition in hopes of being discovered and moving to the wealthier class. The cost of the competition is 15 million merits to enter, but even with that fee, it doesn't guarantee that you can go on stage to be discovered, regardless of the level of talent the person has.
During these scenes, I thought of western higher education. Most upper level positions require a degree of some sort. In order to get that degree, money is paid, in hopes of one day getting a position to make more money or work in a field of one's choosing. Like the competition, a degree doesn't automatically guarantee that you 'll be given a chance by the employer of your choice, regardless of how skilled you actually are.
Any one can participate, but it costs and success is not guaranteed.
Pay to Skip
When watching television, a fee is charged in order to skip ads or commercials. All skips may not be the same charge but around the 9:53 mark, Bing's account is seen as going from 15,015,829 to 15,004,829 or a deduction of 11,000 merits.
Today's systems aren't quite as expensive but we also pay to skip ads. Whether it's through paying for services to stream or for cable or for a service like YouTube has premium, that allows you to skip through commercials with a monthly payment.
All the food came from vending machines and based on the conversations between Bing and Abi, the dispensed food is not necessarily naturally grown.
GMOs or Genetically Modified Foods are openly sold in America. Labels separating naturally grown foods from these GMOs are not required. Like the residents of the tower that didn't grow their own food, if we don't grow our own food, we have no way of knowing which version we're getting.
NEAR, BUT NOT QUITE HERE
Some ideas of the show seem to be near, but not quite here yet...
Vending Machine Fruit
All the food they ate came out of a vending machine, including produce. Japan is renowned for their assortment of foods via vending machines, but it still isn't the main way people get their nourishment.
Cycling for Energy
The residents cycle but not just for the sake of exercise, but to earn merits and generate power. Cycling is one of the jobs completed by the residents and the energy created from everyone cycling is used to power the buildings they live in.
This concept is not a reality yet, but Bill Gates and Microsoft spearheaded a project that would allow the energy from a human to be converted into usable power.
Shortly after his departure, the system was patented that would allow the use of human biometrics to mine cryptocurrency. The patent states that with this system, human body activity would count as "proof-of-work". Maybe not literally the same system as the episode, but eerily very similar.
RFID Implants (Radio Frequency Identification)
The technology used in scenes like the bathroom where things can be accepted or denied by the wave of a hand implies that everyone is chipped.
The only chips used by the majority of people are via credit or debit cards, but the idea of people being chipped has been around for many years.
Getting this done hasn't been accepted by the majority, some people aren't even aware of it, but there are some that are currently chipped willingly. Some are trans-humans, some had it done for work and some just think it's a cool idea and want to take part in a cyberpunk world as quickly as possible.
As more concerns arise about cyber security and ensuring that people are who they say they are - it's a strong possibility that getting chipped will be a requirement at some point, at the least a prerequisite to participate in society.
This episode reminded me a little of Metropolis. The rich upper class, live in skyscrapers above ground and the rest of society, the workers - work hard to keep everything above ground afloat.
The episode doesn't take place with the workers being underground, but their living spaces are below the clouds. On these lower levels, the only views are of other buildings. Once a person becomes wealthy or famous, they get a larger, brighter box that sits above the clouds, allowing them to see what the sky actually looks like.
When I saw where they lived, the shape and the color used, I thought of the cube symbolism. When the episode opens, Bing is surrounded by complete darkness. Along with that, he lives in an actual cube.
Saturn & The Black Cube
Along with the dystopian theme about a life that has almost come to full fruition in the real world, The episode really paints a picture of despair and hopelessness in the future.
It's a story of love lost and it addresses the life that most of us have to live to survive. Working hard to keep others wealthy, while being left with choices that compromise us in some way, regardless of the direction we choose.
The episode was bitter-sweet and depending on your value system, the ending could be seen as a good or bad one. He gets all the wealth he could ever want, but at the cost of losing everything he loved first.
This is one of my favorite Black Mirror episodes and it was the only one that almost gave me the same feeling I got after watching the Matrix for the first time. It opened my eyes about certain things, while terrifying me, giving me a big push to gain a deeper understanding about everything I thought I knew.
As dismal as it is, it forces you to think of where you are in life, what you want out of life and the compromises you're willing to make to have the life you want.
If you want to watch this episode, it's available on Netflix and prime video.
On that note have an awesome day, be good to yourself and good to others - peace.