"Hang the DJ" (and other "Blasphemous Rumors")
Reflections From A Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 4 "Hang the DJ"
Huge props, as always, to Butcher Billy, the Brazillian pop-art genius who continues to provide art that deepens the Black Mirror experience. You should really check out his Redbubble site.
Sorry for all of the delays this season. I will be honest, I really didn't like Crocodile or Metalhead very much, so this is the first time I was stymied by Black Mirror. I will try to finish relatively soon (if only to complete my recap series).
God Is Good
“Hang the DJ,” as a title, is intentionally misleading.
Something to keep you distracted from the man <algorithm> behind the curtain.
Some people will suggest that Hang the DJ is one of those “happy” episodes of Black Mirror but those people are quite wrong (unless happiness, to you, is a warm gun...bang bang shoot shoot).
We are led to believe that this Black Mirror episode is about two people ditching convention and risking social disapproval to find each other again and again.
In other words, they ditch the dictates of their algorithmic Master in order to stay together.
The society believes that true love is found by an algorithm and that the only sure path to “True Love” is to follow an app that tells you who to date, for how long, and when to start dating again.
So, the protagonists, named Amy and Frank, by ultimately finding each other in the end, could be seen to be saying FU to the algorithm and finding their own way.
The problem is, the main characters don’t “Hang the DJ” at all, the DJ hangs them together (after hanging a million simulations of them separately).
All The Time
In essence, all versions of Frank and Amy believe that they are participating in an information gathering exercise so that the “perfect match” can finally be made FOR THEM while most of them are themselves, mostly, simulations participating in multiple information gathering exercises all in order that the authentic beings - the Big R real Frank and Amy - can be matched, in “real life” by the app.
The hegemony of the “really real” combined with the illusion of freedom.
Ultimately, algorithmically-created love matches happen through the digital sacrifice of a million uncanny valley’s full of feeling, caring, crying, fucking, and loving digital sheep.
Who are none the wiser for the experience? Kind of like Charlie Brown’s who just keep having to accept that all the Lucy’s in their life will continually pull away the football at the last moment.
Only it isn’t just bad luck, it is designed. Digital sheep led to algorithmic despair.
Algorithmic Amy says it herself in the scene where she and algorithmic Frank are taking a walk, she says:
“What if we are stuck in a simulation”
During that same discussion, it becomes clear that the Amy and Frank that we know for most of “Hang the DJ” are actually “Cookie” Any and Frank.
<In case you forgot, Cookies were first introduced in White Christmas and reintroduced in USS Callister>
So, ultimately, the key to compatibility, the way the algorithm ultimately decides who is perfect for each other is when the “cookie” Frank and Amy (or any other cookies) decide they want to be together more than they worry about the consequences of not following the programs dictates.
But in order to be sure, thousands upon thousands of simulations are run and when 99.8% of them suggest compatibility, a “Big R” real-world couple is created and directed to meet.
Hang the DJ indeed.
Which arguably begs one larger question, is God a dating algorithm?
I am not kidding by asking that question, one interpretation of Hang the DJ could be an answer to the rhetorical question implied in Depeche Mode’s song “Blasphemous Rumors:”
If there is a God, doesn’t he have to be a Cruel God?
What if, for instance, after a million Frank and Amy’s were sacrificed to ensure the real Frank and Amy found each other...the Real Frank was hit by a bus.
That happens all the time, doesn’t it?
And if a double-decker bus crashes into us
To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-tonne truck kills the both of us
To die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine.
- The Smiths (There is a Light That Never Goes Out)
So, in the end, I wonder if what Charlie Brooker was intending was to suggest at that moment when Algorithm Frank & Amy climb the wall and see that they are simulations (hanging out with millions of other simulations) was that they found heaven?
Was that Charlie Brooker's heaven?
So, What Does "Hang the DJ" mean?
So, Morrissey, in the Smith's song "Panic" (where the title originally came from), says:
"Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life"
Remember the movie Groundhog Day? The one where Bill Murray's Phil keeps re-living the same day over and over again just so he can perfect himself enough to win the heart of Andi MacDowell's Rita.
Phil had to realize that the goal of his life was to be with Rita, then spend every minute of what seemed like tens of thousands of days trying to become whatever was needed to convince Rita that he was worthy of her love.
But if the game, the millions of simulations, was never free and "goodness" was only following programming instructions, what is freedom?
You can either do what Cypher did in The Matrix and embrace being King of the Slaves (or like Phil, accept the pre-programmed prize) or you can give the God program the finger.
So, I suspect what Charlie Brooker might be saying is that when confronted with the evidence you are part of a gigantic cosmic conspiracy and that conspiracy is about ensuring you engage in a love connection...protest in the only way left to you, refuse to participate in the "love economy."
As I recall, Morrissey himself was famously celibate.
Or, maybe it the point is truly dystopian and like algorithmic Frank and Amy, all you can do is look at each other for the few seconds before you are dissolved into a memory bank. Maybe we have no options, and all we can do is play along.
Regardless, this episode was anything but an optimistic vision of the meaning of life.