Questioning Our Morality Through TV Shows: Ethics in Technology Era
by Ege GAZİTEPE
Disclaimer: This article includes spoilers for Black Mirror, The Good Place, and Upload.
TV Shows are not cheesy timekillers as some people make them out to be at least not all of them. Some TV Shows are capable of tackling moral questions or even create their own interpretation of the afterlife even though how blasphemous that can be to some people. There are three particular TV shows which displayed a great success on what we mentioned previously. These are Black Mirror, The Good Place, and Upload. All of these shows are great series standalone but when you dissect them and see how they are actually pretty interconnected you will see much more.
Before we dissect the shows we should explain their basics shortly. Black Mirror is an episodic show which started airing in 2011 and it is still on. The show is known for its success in blending technology with ethical problems or questions. The Good Place is a show started airing in 2016 and ended in 2020 after four seasons. The show is known for its original afterlives interpretation and its constant usage of moral philosophy. Upload on the other hand is a new show with only one season. It has its own afterlife interpretation albeit a digital one this time. It is a promising show with many more seasons to come.
One of the common themes of the shows is morality and ethics. While their approach to the topic is different they all uniquely bring something to the table. Black Mirror generally shows the deterioration of morality in society as a result of near-future technology. Good examples of this deterioration of society can be seen in many episodes like Fifteen Million Merits, Nosedive, Men Against Fire and Hated in the Nation. The topics in these episodes range from a reality in which your social media rating literally translates to your worth in society which is shown in the episode Nosedive or reality where the military, implants augmented-reality chips to its soldiers to make them perceive an ethnic minority as humanoid monsters to make it easier on the public eye to genocide them as it is shown in the episode Man Against Fire. Show also wants us to see individualistic struggles and moral dilemmas against future technological development rather than social in some episodes. Episodes like the Entire History of You, Be Right Back or Arkangel are great examples of this. In these episodes, we see the struggles of how recording our every memory can lead to some unfortunate discoveries, how A.I can never hold the same value as of our lost ones did or how controlling and watching your child's every action via technology can lead to some unseen consequences respectively. While it is an episodic show it still has many great characters that are perfectly portrayed in the dark and gritty reality presented in the show and even though the show takes place in near-future realities it makes us realize those realities are just one step away from today's world. On the other hand, The Good Place has a more cheerful tone and the show is more about becoming a better person through the understanding of ethics and moral philosophy. Characters in the show face numerous moral dilemmas as a means of torture but in the end, they all become better persons because of it. It should be noted that the reason people are trying to be better persons in the show is that they are trying to escape eternal damnation but more on that later. Lastly on this topic Upload shows us a possible future where the digital heavens gate is only open to the rich and their sins do not matter anymore. The show paints a reality where morality is totally thrown out of the window for capitalistic gains. Sadly even though the show is greatly futuristic it is the one out of all the three which hits the home closest.
Another common theme all of this shows share is afterlife interpretations though The Good Place and Upload have put much more emphasis on it compared to Black Mirror. In The Good Place humans can not enter heaven or in shows terms Good Place anymore. The reason behind it is really interesting. According to the show, we all gain or lose points by our actions in our lives and after death, our combined points determine where we go in the afterlife. The Good Place(Heaven) or The Bad Place(Hell). There is a catch though, the show tells us that because of the complexity our modern world has there is no way for anyone to earn enough points to go to the good place. Buying roses for your grandma brings negative points because there is a good chance that the rose is cultivated by a modern slave or even helping African children bring negative points. After all, you can not know how they will turn out in the future and their wrongdoings are your wrongdoings after that according to the show. The butterfly effect is so big in our global modern world that no action can escape being a sin. For 500 years any human that is ever lived ranging from Hitler to Gandhi found themselves in Hell because of it. While most certainly Hitler deserved his place in Hell millions of innocent souls are also in Hell because of the violent crime of helping others(!). Without getting into too much depth this system of the afterlife eventually changes in the series with a much more promising one. The new afterlife system consists of physiological tests for humans to pass in order to become better versions of themselves instead of eternal torture. After humans pass their tests they can live happily ever after in the Good Place. There is another catch though, in the show it is seen that as much as eternal damnation is not good for humanity eternal bliss is also not good. People became dull shells of their former selves when they spend too much meaningless time in bliss. So to solve that a gate is added for people to pass through and leave the Good Place and return to the universe basically end their existence whenever they think they are ready to pass on. Alternatively, Upload has a much different afterlife interpretation. In the Upload citizens who can afford a digital afterlife upload their consciousness and memories into a virtual reality by a machine just before death hence the name of the show Upload. There are many different virtual realities someone can choose to go to depending on their wealth. The wealthiest of the wealthy can spend an eternity in a giant mansion with their every whim being catered. Poorest of the poor though spend their eternity in small cellar rooms with only 2 GB of storage given to their consciousnesses to live on monthly and with nothing to enjoy in their afterlife. Even thinking too hard can deplenish their storage very quickly and can leave them frozen until the next month. Your expenses do not end with your acceptance into these realities though you constantly have to pay your virtual reality company for commodities. We do not know what happens when you can not pay. We will leave you to decide for yourself if this kind of afterlife sounds more like heaven or hell. Our third show Black Mirror does have an episode dedicated to the afterlife though. The episode's name is San Junipero and the afterlife is also a digital one in here. The episode wants to put more of an emphasis on characters’ personal tragedies and that love is still possible after death. So we can not say that how capitalistic and immoral this version of the afterlife is but it seems that in this version of the afterlife there is not as much of a disparity compared to the one in Upload. The episode also took notice of how eternal bliss can be a danger just like The Good Place does.
After all these possible future realities shown to us by the shows, we can clearly see a pattern. All three shows lean towards dystopian futures due to changes in human psych brought by the modern world. Possibly due to the rapid development rate of technology and maybe due to the ease of life the modern world has provided people became more individualistic than ever in most of these possible futures to the point of creating capitalistic afterlives in the Upload series. Black Mirror’s representation of dystopia though definitely shines at the episode of Nosedive. Where your social media rating which was given as 5 point system stars from your peers controlled everything in your life. From store discounts to whether you were allowed to buy houses. Everyone had to smile and be polite all the time to keep their rating up never showing who they really are but always judging people and controlling their lives with the stars they give. While this might seem good to the naive, series perfectly showed how destructive it was to the human psyche. It made them corrupted to their very core or maybe it just laid the grounds for people to show their corruption. In some other episodes, the series chose to show people who can not cope with what technology may provide in the future as it is already said it is not easy to accept an A.I shaped as your husband's personality to took your husband's place after his demise. It is still a question of how and even if humanity would be able to integrate this future tech into their daily life and to their psyche. In The Good Place’s version, dystopian factors could be attributed to the complexity of the modern world causing everyone to go to hell. While the show took a lighter approach to this issue compared to others it is still in there in the background. Dystopian futures represented in the shows not being authoritarian most of the time is a truly refreshing approach too. Although it is certain non-authoritarian dystopias existed long before the shows, Brave New World being the best example of this, they still showed many viewers the other side of dystopias and what we might live in, in a few decades.
To sum it all up these three are all great shows tackling many questions some of us would not dare to tackle ourselves. How technology may corrupt society or individuals, how morality or lack of morality changes everything, how a digital afterlife will workout for humanity. We briefly tried to tell you how these shows explained and worked on these issues. True experience though can only come from watching them yourself.