Nosedive: Social MIRRORing & the phony "Instagram Lifestyle"

The Psychology of Black Mirror's "Nosedive" Season 3, Episode 1—Podcast & Narrative Analysis was created and recorded by Psychotherapist, Michael Drane and Graphic Designer, Corey Stewart. Together, we have analyzed the psychology and visual creativity of all kinds of movies and television shows. Please enjoy the full transcript and notes of our November discussion on one of the best episodes in the Black Mirror series, "Nosedive."

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Michael: This is a total representation of the downfall of our society, and I'm elated to talk to you about it, Corey Stewart. 

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Corey: Nosedive marks a turning point in the series, as the first of Season 3, Black Mirror's debut on Netflix and to an American audience, as opposed to it's previous local station, channel 4 in the UK. Many consider the episodes in season 3 to be among the best in the series, but....that's for you to decide! 

Corey: For our Black Mirror series and any television/movie recaps in the future. Let's reestablish the rules for spoilers on the show. We will not be spoiling any episodes after the current one being discussed. So, for example, as of this episode on "Nosedive," we will be spoiling all of the episodes before it, but none of the rest of season 3. But don't worry—we'll get to "Playtest" very soon for all you gaming nerds! *So excited*

Corey: This episode of Black Mirror was directed by Joe Wright, who also directed "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement." It originally premiered on Netflix on October 21, 2016, about a year ago. This episode was written by Rashida Jones and Mike Sherr, who have both worked on the "Office" and "Parks & Rec."

Michael: Every character is British up until the character played by John Hamm in the White Christmas, and now, again, with Nosedive's main character, Lacie Pound being played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

Corey: I think she has really crazy and mesmerizing facial expressions.

Michael: Maybe Lacie Pound's name being what it is represents her currency, like "Lacie Dollar," because "Nosedive" is all about your value in society. 

Black Mirror's Season 3, Episode 1: "Nosedive"  environment/style

Black Mirror's Season 3, Episode 1: "Nosedive"  environment/style

Corey: The environment of Nosedive is very pleasant. Suburbia with birds chirping and bright green grass. As the viewer at the beginning of the episode, we are still blissfully unaware of the LACK of dust and dirt in this world, as the immediate impression of this world is an overwhelmingly "NICE." Similar to maybe "The Truman Show" or "Pleasantville."  The way they are dressed is overly modest...

"Pleasantville"  environment/style/clothing

"Pleasantville"  environment/style/clothing

"Truman Show"  environment/style/fakeness

"Truman Show"  environment/style/fakeness

Michael: Visually, they're at an Easter Morning brunch.  The phony-ness is beautifully expressed in the facial discongruency that we can see. So they're saying one thing and their eyes or their mouth is saying something else. In real life, a way to study somebody's true emotions is to study their facial discongruency. Are they smiling but their eyes look sad or scared or mad. Your true emotions find a way to express themselves. 

Corey: In the opening scene, Lacie is exercising while taking pictures of herself and obsessively rating other people as five stars. I wonder if she's doing it to make herself feel better and dignified about  exercising.

Michael: She's liking everybody else's stuff hoping that they'll like hers back. She's posting selfies and trying to publish content that will get more attention and likes. These are the two main components of what social media really does in our life. 

The Phony "Perfect" Online Profile

Credit: Independent.co.uk

Credit: Independent.co.uk

Corey: The interface looks like Instagram, representing a mockery of the Instagram lifestyle that we'll see throughout the episode.

Michael: I think more than it's blatantly mocking Instagram, it's a blend of Instagram and Yelp or Tinder, because of the rating aspect. Yes it's visual, but it's also about judging people. It's tethering two concepts in existing social media together. 

Corey: Lacie's apartment and belongings as well as her brother's space and belongings are color-coated. As members of this highly "NICE" society, they are used to representing themselves simply, cleanly, easily understood as people. The pastels are everywhere, and the pink=Lacie and blue=Ryan color system symbolizes their typical gender roles and lack of individuality. 

Michael: Also, Ryan is a nice anti-thesis to Lacy, and this entire social situation because he blatantly denounces the system. But even this guy who judges Lacy for trying to fit in, has a few of his own social norms. Regardless, he becomes her conscious in some ways as a figure throughtout the "Nosedive" story. Without him, we'd have no one who challenges Lacy. 

Corey: Well, we have the trucker, Cherry Jones, of course. 

"Only the Nice Parts"

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Corey: We have the iconic scene where she is laughing in the mirror and it becomes clear to the viewer that a large part of Lacy's societal imprisonment is self-inflicted.  She takes joy in tasting a cookie she doesn't even like..... She takes the perfect online picture and titles her post, "Brushed suede with cookie...heaven." She only shows her followers the nice parts. 

Michael: I think, personally, I have an inner-Lacy and an inner-Ryan, ya know? Part of me that wants to represent myself as I am and part of me that wants to be, what people want ME to be. 

Does YOUR profile represent you OR is it a highlight reel?

Corey: THOSE are the two parts that make up the Great Debate of the Connected Internet: Ask yourself this question: Is your online profile WHO YOU ARE or is it a highlight reel? This is the choice we are all faced with. From what I've seen personally, it feels like there is a NEO movement (especially on Instagram) of staying genuine with your followers online. This includes the Posed VS. Not Posed side-by-side photos. I want to put a megaphone on this movement to STAY GENUINE. But, do what you will. I did not become a podcaster because I have vanilla opinions.

Michael: Lacy is the walking opposite of what you just said. She is always looking for an opportunity to post something that will get her a bunch of likes and high ratings which will increase her status in society, her self-esteem and how much people like her.  

Corey: The elevator scene with Joan is so fake and awkward. They have the same purse. 

Social Mirroring

Michael: Here's another genius of this episode. The two characters as they're standing in the elevator, are exhibiting a lot of social mirroring. Something you do when you're trying to get someone to like you more, when you're trying to engage with them in a conversation. Whoever is controlling this dance is usually the person who has the most influence over the other. In this scene, Lacy conforms the way she talks to the lady in the elevator.

Corey: Lacie is THAT GIRL that is a pure sponge. She wants to be whatever the person she's with needs. 

Michael: Lacie's more like a chameleon, she just adapts to whatever she needs to...

Corey: It's not natural for her though. Lacie is constantly fighting and wanting things to be perfect when they're not. This elevator scene is a perfect representation of how genuine interactions are gone in this world, all that's left are the forced social mirroring of each other out of fear and conformity. 

Michael:  IRL, we see people not even going this far! Commonly, when i'm in an elevator with people these days, I am on my phone, like everyone else around me, we don't actually talk to each other. It's na easy way to escape small talk. You don't really have to talk to people if you don't want to anymore. This escape mechanism feels great for the short term but I wonder what this lack of communication is doing to us long term. 

Corey: At this point in the story, we see Lacie is trying pretty hard to impress other people, but she slowly starts to try harder and harder. There are two elevator scenes with the same Lacie and Joan characters using their squeaky voices. In the first interaction, she maintained—they were at least on good terms and then rated each other favorably afterward. In the second interaction, Lacie was "trying too hard" according to her "RepUtelligent."

Corey: The First Transgression—Lacie takes a green smoothie from an adorable Chester at her workplace. People pop up from their cubicle on stare at her and whisper about her. They send her downvotes of 2 stars, 2 stars, and 1 star. And a very emotion "wamp-wamp-wamp-waaaamp...." sound happens. 

The Future of Advertising is TOO CLOSE

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Corey: In the scene where Lacie is futuristically apartment hunting, she is faced with a hologram of herself, in a bath robe, being loved on intimately by a beautiful man she doesn't know—standing in the kitchen in front of Lacie and the Apartment lady. Apartment hunting and advertising in general these days gets information from our social profiles, just like the agent for this apartment in "Nosedive" gets enough information about Lacie in order to create and project a hologram of her. This is similar to the technology we see in a previous episode, "Be Right Back" where AshBot was created for a grieving wife who missed her dead husband and so created a simulation of him using his social media profile.

Michael: Is this the way the world is going? Does our Facebook profile create our digital representation entirely? Nowadays, we sign into other apps using Facebook. They are starting to create larger and more detailed security and identity measures....

Corey: Yeah, like we learned from the episode, this is a real thing. Eterni.me is a website that turns a social media profile into a chatbot. One of our Patrons recently shared a cool story to the Facebook group about a grieving son who did the same thing to interact with his dead father. 

INCENTIVES to Keep Up Your Rating

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Corey: The first incentive we see is when the apartment agent tells Lacie that if she were a 4.5, she could get 20% off the apartment, and Lacie needs the discount, considering how pricey the place is and how badly they made her want it (with that over-the-top hologram of her in the kitchen.)  They truly made her believe she would be a happier person if she lived in this apartment—that she could have a better life. This is something we see all the time today with apartment websites, showing us stock photos of happy people hugging instead of the apartment, as a way to subliminally make us feel as though we'd be happier there too. Imagine if they could upload a video or hologram of YOU, the potential tenant, as a scheme to make you feel happy and give them your money by manipulating your emotions and perception of your worth.  

Michael: Imagine they could put a video of you driving a certain car or inside of a store window as you walk by—it's almost an invasive way to sell something. As for the discount on housing—this is the first time we're seeing that the rating of a person is tied into the economy. You're ability to get a discount on a house is akin to having a good credit score in our world. It would be proving yourself financially, but the difference is this this is being socially acceptable. So it's an interesting marriage of these two ideas. This speaks a lot to themes of class, even a cast system. Where you have the more liked, more socially acceptable people in better housing. 

Corey: In the scene where Lacie is in the kitchen eating and surfing social media (and stalking Naomi)—we see a PRIME USER button next to her name. We see this IRL with the Twitter verification badge, or the checkmark on Instagram or Facebook. Youtube does this and incorporates "creator marks" so that posts from the creator shows up first.

"Prime Users" exist IRL

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Michael: See! More incentives to be "verified" ... This concept seems like it might cause trouble, I bet there are some many benefits to being verified as a person, public figure or brand. Your comments get filtered to the top on Facebook. Who's to say you can't probably pay for them to be "boosted" as Facebook calls it. 

Corey: What seems to constitute a "Prime User" Status on the global (seeming) interface used in "Nosedive," is not class or status explicitly, but probably a marriage of the two as it is probably derived from highest ratings, like everything else in this world. Naomi at this point in the episode is a 4.8.

Michael: We might need to have some sort of civil rights movement down the road. Any time in society when you have a class of people who have risen above other people who feel disenfranchised standing next to them, you have problems. It could be small and griped about or causing riots in the street. Someone could complain that their voice isn't heard as loud as a verified person on twitter. They should have the same rights in the eyes of the constitution. The more perks they give to their "elite" status. 

Corey: RepUtelligent is the company that gives her "a report and analytics." This agent is fascinating and like an agent. He wants Lacie to do well socially, he advises her to up her ratings by expanding her "sphere of influence" to higher rated people and essentially cut ties with lower rated people.

Michael: This is similar to an "eco-map" that exists in reality in Systems theory in Psychology. It's something therapists use to visually map and assess all of the different relationships a patient has with all the different people in their life.  Your sphere of influence, mapping out all the ways these relationships are affecting the client. You can see visually what is going well and what needs to change. This is similar to the RepUtelligent agent in "Nosedive."

Corey: In trying to analyze a person's psyches through their relationships, healthy constructive discussions can be had. But let's not get the two confused, as the RepUtelligent agent is assessing her social-acceptance online, not her mental health. He tells her to "impress the upscale voters" which is not what a therapist would say to a patient. 

Michael: It's discouraging free speech to put this societal judgement so blatantly in everyone's face. Especially when it becomes physically enforced to be socially acceptable, like when Chester is kept out of his job for having a low rating. Kept out of his job because people don't like him!

Coming 2018: China will RATE citizens on individual "Trustworthiness" 

Credit: Kevin Hong & Wired

Credit: Kevin Hong & Wired

Corey: I have a bombshell for you. According to this Wired article, the Chinese government is enforcing a Social Credit System (SCS), based on an individual score of trustworthiness.

  1. Credit History
  2. Fulfillment: a users ability to fulfill his/her contracts. Maybe a lease or even a marriage contract?
  3. Personal Characteristics: Phone number and addressed fully registered. Socioeconomic factor for people who can't afford phone and address (which is true IRL for good credit).
  4. Behavior & Preference: Shopping Habits, Internet History. If you're buying diapers, you're probably a parent, and therefore more.... responsible? We're unsure...
  5. Interpersonal Relationships: Your online profile—"Sharing Positive Energy Online", and ultimately what is said about the government.

Michael: We should be watching the relationship between the government and these social platforms. Also, just watch out for what you're doing on line. We don't respect people when they're too artificial. In spite of it all, they love when something seems genuine, like Mr. Rags being the most popular post of Lacie's. 

Michael: In the video above: Enter Naomi. They squeal so loud and for this video chat, have both staged their situation so much. Naomi asks Lacie to be a bridesmaid and give a speech at Naomi's wedding. Lacie is overjoyed to do this (and secretly motivated by the chance to be upvoted from a bunch of highly-rated people). This whole situation is full of fakeness, on both of their parts. And brother Ryan points this out, per usual. 

Corey: In what could have been an actual genuine moment of happiness and friendship—they are both incapable of being real. In what is the most gruesome scene to endure of the episode, we are forced to watch Lacie give her over-the-top dramatic and embarrassing wedding speech. 

The airport scene of this episode is notoriously funny and horrifying as Lacie is thrown out of the airport for "Intimidation and Profanity." for saying "Christ, I mean Surely."

Michael: Society has come to a point where there is such a standard set in society for how you should act, that  saying the word "Christ" or raising you voice is considered "intimidation" which is a criminal offense! One of my favorite parts of this show is when this massive imposing looking security guard says with a giant smile, yet very intense eyes. Talk about facial discongruency.

Michael: We see another one of those incentives (or restrictions) where only 4.2's and above can get on the next flight. She is given a crappy futuristic car. She has to drive for hours, ensuring that she will be late. 

Corey: Lacie continues to spiral downward—as far as both ratings and mental-state are concerned.

Michael: The true antithesis enters, a trucker named Suzie, who is a real, genuine and nice person. 

Corey: She used to be a 4.6, and her husband got sick. She 5-starred every doctor and hoped that their social credit would save him, but it didn't. She also said they lost all their friends when he got cancer, because no one wanted to be around them because they were sad and dying. Suzie, played by the beautiful Cherry Jones is a breath-of-fresh-air for Lacie, giving her a pep-talk about honesty and genuine friendship. 

Michael: What is a friend if not someone you can count on? These relationships seem more like professional relationships.

Michael: In the wedding scene, Lacie goes crazy in front of everyone, steadily being less and less pleasant. You can hear all the down votes happening as she is slowly losing her mind, cursing and being brutally honest for the first time. 

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Corey: In the very last scene, Lacie is thrown in prison (that looks remarkably like the hive-world of "Fifteen Million Merits")..... for what? For intimidation and profanity? Maybe only really trespassing. One of the most visually powerful scenes in when Lacie has her grain and contact/implant removed, and she is finally able to see the dust, and sobs and reacts genuinely, liberated by the dirt and the realness of the prison cell. 

Michael: We are stronger with diversity. The world needs creative, interesting people—not sheep. Beware of "Nosedive." We need other people, to function, to feel normal. It's a need for your health to have people around. But food is also a need, and a need that can be taken too far. So, we could mirror this with society, and try not to take a social conformity too far.