Claire Voltarel, Campus Carrier Managing Editor
In late December of 2018, Netflix released a movie-length special as part of their original series “Black Mirror.” The special, titled “Bandersnatch,” played into the usual dark, futuristic, technological and societal critique-like vibes of their other episodes, but incorporated an innovative, mind-blowing twist: the viewer calls the shots. Using a sophisticated program with video-game-like qualities, “Bandersnatch” allows for the viewer to choose the path of the main character, Stefan. Some choices seem insignificant (like which cereal Stefan should eat for breakfast), while others are drastically morbid or path-altering; but they all add up to 5 main endings with a variety of subplots within them.
Finding each combination of possible results would take hours of viewing, and the episode allows for viewers to return to decisions and find these alternate endings. So it is no surprise that, according to an article by Wired.com, preparation, production and filming took 18 months for the single episode, significantly longer than a typical television show.
I found “Bandersnatch” incredibly entertaining, and (as usual with Black Mirror productions) the show left me with critical reflections about society and my own role as a television consumer. Diving into the important messages and takeaways from the episode would take a whole newspaper of its own, but I, as many other viewers and storytellers did, walked away with one question worth digging into: is interactive television the future of entertainment?
According to Netflix, yes; Greg Peters, Netflix’s chief product officer, told DigitalSpy.com that they are continuing to pursue more interactive storylines. Vulture noted that choose-your-own-story plots are not a new concept, dating back to books, movies and video games that have incorporated this approach.
However, the article stated that “Bandersnatch” allows viewers to make “compulsory decisions” with choices popping up every few minutes, a practice new to interactive entertainment. The episode also includes meta choices even mocking their own production of the show, increasing the entertainment for viewers.
The self-reflexive atmosphere of the plot in combination with the frequency of choices make it widely controversial among the industry today. Various potential problems, from the time and financial burden of production to effects on viewers’ mental health, are being debated among television producers and consumers alike.
While I was widly entertained and moved while watching “Bandersnatch,” I hope this is not the direction future television producers are taking. The show plays into two main concerns about our generation today: instant gratification and the constant consumption of self. With devices in our hands and constant connection and affirmation from peers online, interactive television only heightens our expectation for instantaneous self-involvement. The push toward interactive television shows that we cannot even sit through an hour of television without having immediate say in the show and watching our own decisions play out. Social media has already given users the ability to watch their lives play out online. As comedian and director Bo Burnham stated in his special “Make Happy,” social media is the market’s response to our demand to perform.
“The market said, ‘Here, perform everything to each other all the time for no reason,’” Burnham said. “It is performer and audience melded together. What do we want more than to lie in our bed at the end of the day and just watch our life as a satisfied audience member?”
Interactive television is just a reinforcement of our demand to perform, be involved and watch our decisions unfold. It blends producer and consumer to extend instant gratification onto other platforms. It establishes our expectation to see ourselves in everything we do.
This reflection also removes the beauty of television and film, or any form of entertainment, that allows us to escape from our own lives into a universe we are obviously not a part of. If we continue to demand that the individual have a say in anything he or she does, our expectation of life’s processes will be highly unreasonable, disconnecting us from reality and setting us up for disappointment.