The Female Gaze: ‘Black Mirror’ explores the gendered expectations of social media

In Arts & Entertainment, Columns
In the 'Black Mirror' episode, 'Nosedive,' Lacie (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) lives in a world where class ranking is determined by social media, bringing to attention the societal pressures often on women. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Picture perfect. That is Lacie’s goal. It is the only way she can increase her social media ranking, and the quality of her life depends on it.

Lacie lives in a world where social media ratings control every form of capital in “Nosedive,” an episode from season three of the science-fiction anthology television series “Black Mirror.” She tries to be more likeable in order to earn her dream house. At its surface, Lacie’s tale critiques the disingenuity of social media, but underneath is a puddle of assumptions about women and social approval.

Characters rate each other with their phones, which is also connected to their eyesight and can easily view anyone’s social media feed. It is a dark satire of today’s social media apps that have hooked millions of users.

However, this fixation on social media popularity is treated as a feminine trait. Even the setting of this world is filled with soft pink and pastel colors. Lacie is obsessed with positive ratings. She practices smiling in the mirror, she compares her life to her more popular acquaintances and tries to be extra sweet in order to earn high ratings. All this in an effort to get more stars.

By no means are these stars like those found in Super Mario Bros. They can determine real life consequences.

Her brother Ryan doesn’t share Lacie’s desperation for high ratings. He criticises the entire concept as a fake way to socially interact, but he also has a lower rating than her, and that is all the credibility Lacie cares for.

Approval from “high quality” people is what improves her social ranking, and that is what compels her to impress a cruel, but more popular, childhood friend named Naomi at her wedding. It is an attempt that leads to her social and economic demise.

The moment Lacie expresses her frustrations—her true emotions—in public, she is punished. Lacie is flooded with low ratings throughout her trek to the wedding. As the poststructuralist social theorist Michel Foucault would argue, punishing abnormal behavior and rewarding desired behavior is a powerful form of regulating people. Therefore, this social media ranking system is an effective method of scrutinizing.

When she is finally offered a ride from a friendly truck driver, instead of showing gratitude, Lacie is leery of this older woman because she is ranked a startling 1.4. Susan, the truck driver is the only character who rejects the social norms of this society. But she says that she too was once like Lacie: desperate to be liked.

Now, the truck driver is unafraid to swear in front of strangers and speak her mind. She warns Lacie of the harms of living a life governed by star ratings, but Lacie is not convinced.

Despite being condemned by this unfair system, she strongly believes it is the only way she can attain happiness.

“Until I get there I have to play the numbers game,” Lacie said, as she cannot afford resisting this powerful system.

But Lacie’s obliviousness is exaggerated. She is wrapped in a coat of naivety on top of her pastel pink outfits. Feigning rosey-cheeked smiles until she ultimately cracks and becomes emotional and irrational.

Discourses present a certain assumption about young single women and their need for social approval. This episode equates this desperation with feminine qualities.

Ryan and Susan, both share disdain toward the ranking system. Susan adopted an occupation that is commonly associated with masculinity and drinks a lot of whiskey while Ryan seems to spend most of his time playing video games and not working.

Due to their low social media ranks, they cannot escalate economically. This show plays with the ideas of behavioral norms and class. Candid or blunt attitudes lead to lower economic status while absolute cheerfulness, no matter how ingenuine, leads to success.

This is noted with Lacie’s engaged friend Naomi, who presents herself as a beautiful happy woman but is actually a caustic person; a common trope to say the least. Nonetheless, she is obsessed with social media stars as much as Lacie is. It is a never-ending cycle toward perfection and complete social approval that is based on beauty and desired feminine traits.

This episode presents a satirical world that is not so far-fetched from today’s social media-indulged period, but the rating system is certainly influenced by gender norms and most importantly, the repercussions of it.

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