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Black Mirror's 'Nosedive' Could Be Your Guide To De-Pinteresting Your Life
Lisa Schmeiser is not a crackpot. She just thinks this episode illustrates that the primary peril of social media is not how it warps your social interactions, but how it muffles your sense of style.
Back when I was watching the first season of The Girlfriend Experience, I got to the final two episodes and thought, "My God, this is a savage indictment of how modern society commodifies different flavors of female identity." And I thought about pitching Tara and Sarah on a piece explaining how this show's central thesis is that call girls are essentially mommybloggers without the nagging concerns of either pageviews or children. Both jobs essentially come down to taking money in order to play-act a very specific female role. The point was that different performative roles come with different price tags, and there's neither genuine intimacy nor authenticity in either profitable venture.
I'm glad I waited, because this episode of Black Mirror is far more savage than anything The Girlfriend Experience did -- and ten times funnier, as to be expected when Mike Schur and Rashida Jones are involved. (They wrote the teleplay.) Google is mum on which one of them spent forty-eight hours in front of Instagram, A Clockwork Orange-style, but the signs are everywhere, from latte art to weddings with perfectly-iced cakes. Honestly, the only things missing were a slice of avocado toast and a shot of a girl wearing an enormous shaker-knit sweater and Hunter Boots while standing pigeon-toed in a pile of crimson leaves.
Although "Nosedive" is ostensibly making a point about how social media metrics are stifling authentic social interaction, the real message I got in this episode is that we really need an aesthetic revolt. The relentless good taste on display in "Nosedive" is so very specific to the most popular -- and commoditized -- types of Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards. Think of it as Kinfolk for beginners: light-washed interiors with spare, clean lines and plain wood surfaces, as if suggesting that whomever decorated the space had just lived through the Great Depression, only with elan and a strategic reserve of soy candles in mason jars. And the clothes! Everyone is dressed like a preppy Instagrammer who spends a week posting pictures showing how she styles every color of Vineyard Vines button-down she has in her closet.
What this episode shows us is not that social interaction is distorted when it's performed for an audience. ...Okay, fine, it shows us that too, but the real thing the episode shows us is that aesthetics are distorted for the same reasons. As a result, every meal is blandly virtuous, but nothing really satiates. Every interior is carefully staged, yet never genuinely delights the eye or tells a real story about who lives there. Every outfit is beautifully tailored and says nothing about the person wearing it. And through it all thrums a low-grade current of conspicuous consumption: nothing is beloved, nothing is old, nothing is deeply personal. Everything is new and meant to be seen by others, not to give pleasure to the person who bought it and uses it.
The one area where "Nosedive" differs from real life is that men are equally subject to the tyranny of taste; in real life, the people who commodify their very existence on social media tend to trend heavily female. And the fact is that they're attracting money formerly spent on women's magazine advertising -- it's no coincidence that fashion advertising pages have declined as Instagram personalities get paid six figures to change clothing at Fashion Week. Social media is where we go to see how people get paid to sell definitions of womanhood to consumers.
It's as it ever was: back in the print days, there were Sassy girls and a branded clothing line. Vogue has a sewing pattern collection at McCall's. But the thing about social media as a sales conduit is that so much of the popular stuff has no specific point of view. As a result, it is duller than a spelt salad.
Scroll through Instagram or Pinterest sometimes, check out the most-trafficked feeds and boards, and you'll see the same aesthetic neutering -- an abundance of serif fonts, white backgrounds, tasteful nosegays next to a cup of latte (with a leaf drawn in the foam on top), delicate jewelry. It's all so exceedingly neutral. It's all so boring. It bleaches out any semblance of independent thinking or personality -- so it's a very safe, very corporate form of female expression.
If this episode of Black Mirror does nothing else for you, let it be your guide in breaking the shackles of Instagram conformity. All you have to do is look at the decor and dresses, then do exactly the opposite. Nobody is grading you on your conspicuous consumption. Yet.