Exploring 'Demon 79' as a Reflection of Our Times

26 juli 2023  door
Ömer F. Gürlesin

In a world increasingly captivated by the specter of global crises, apocalyptic narratives have found a prominent place in our collective consciousness. From ancient prophecies to modern science fiction, these narratives have long served as a mirror reflecting our deepest fears and anxieties. But they also do more than just scare us - they shape our understanding of the world, influence our actions, and even define our identities. One of the most potent vehicles for these narratives is popular media, where they are often intertwined with religious symbols to create stories that resonate on a deeply personal level. A prime example of this is the 'Black Mirror' episode, 'Demon 79'. While 'Black Mirror' traditionally engages with themes such as the societal implications of advanced technology, the erosion of privacy in a digital age, the dark side of virtual realities, and the consequences of unchecked social media influence, 'Demon 79' stands apart. This episode breaks away from these usual themes to delve into the realm of the supernatural and the apocalyptic.

In this episode directed by Toby Haynes, we're taken back to the 1970s Britain, a period profoundly influenced by fervent nuclear discourse and its looming ramifications. The atmosphere is thick with discussions on nuclear armaments, heightened by the Cold War tensions and the ever-present threat of a nuclear apocalypse that could be triggered by political miscalculations. We're introduced to Nida, an immigrant of Indian origin, residing in a Britain teetering on the edge of xenophobic ideologies. The rise of far-right discourse is palpable, with anti-immigrant policies taking center stage. One day, she witnesses her colleague engrossed in a pamphlet that reads, “stop immigration, protect British culture.” Moreover, she observes firsthand the discrimination by her boss, coworkers, and even customers. Such experiences evoke feelings of revenge in Nida.

As the story unfolds, an emotional scene encapsulates Nida's experiences. Colleagues complain about the smell of her food, and she's advised to eat in the basement. While there, she accidentally cuts her hand, discovering a marked talisman. As her blood drips onto it, an entity named Gaap emerges, proclaiming himself a demon. He asserts that due to blood contact, they are now linked. At this juncture, it's essential to appreciate the significance of talismans and religious artifacts. Historically, these symbols, imbued with spiritual potency, serve as conduits between the human and divine realms, emphasizing the interface between the tangible and ethereal worlds.

When Gaap first emerges from the talisman, he is a monstrous entity, a representation of pure terror that petrifies Nida. His grotesque appearance is symbolic of the raw, unfiltered evil that many religious texts and mythologies describe demons to possess. However, Gaap doesn't remain this terror-inducing creature for long. Recognizing Nida's fear, he delves into her psyche, searching for a more persuasive form. Tapping into her memories and desires, Gaap undergoes a transformation. He adopts the guise of someone Nida recognizes and holds dear, a cultural icon of her times: Boney M. This metamorphosis from a horrifying demon to a beloved figure highlights a theological perspective on the nature of evil. Evil, as some beliefs suggest, often manifests in familiar, even alluring forms to deceive, seduce, and manipulate its targets. By becoming something or someone comforting and recognizable, evil can more easily sway its intended victim.

Gaap's use of fear is another proof of his manipulative talent. Presenting Nida with a vision of a fiery apocalypse, he ensures her panic is both intimate, with her home in flames, and grand, showcasing the world's doom. This dual-pronged approach magnifies her dread, pushing her towards compliance.

The victims she targets, and the justifications for each, underscore her state of mind and the demon's manipulative tactics. While the first is portrayed as an abuser and the second a harasser, her third target, a far-right political candidate, symbolizes the xenophobic ideologies she's battling against. However, she's apprehended by the police before she can complete her mission. The apocalypse ensues, and unlike many post-apocalyptic tales, no one survives. This episode's conclusion, where every individual perishes, speaks to the absolute and irreversible consequences of our actions and decisions, reinforcing that there may be no second chances.

The narrative, set in 1970s England, doesn't just exist as a historical echo but reverberates loudly in the present day. While the imminent fear of nuclear tension has somewhat decreased, today's world finds itself on the precipice of another, possibly even more devastating, global catastrophe: climate change. In Nida's world, the threat of nuclear annihilation was an intense, immediate dread, shaping actions and fueling extremist ideologies. Fast-forward to today, and the approaching image of climate change serves a similar role. Just as Nida struggles with the external political unrest, we find ourselves caught in a maelstrom of environmental consequences: rising sea levels, erratic weather patterns, and mass extinctions. The question thus arises: How does such a macro threat mold our personal and collective psyche?

As Nida navigates the tumult of right-wing extremism, we see a reflection of our own world where extremism often takes root in the fear of change and the unknown. Climate change, with its vast and unpredictable impacts, has become fertile ground for extremist views and ideologies, some denying its existence, others capitalizing on the ensuing fear, and yet others advocating for radical and immediate actions. The episode serves as a lens, magnifying the process of radicalization, which, in today's context, can be triggered by the overwhelming discourse on our changing planet.

Furthermore, Nida's personal experiences of discrimination and othering give us insights into the scapegoating tendencies that arise during times of societal stress. Today, as nations grapple with the complexities of climate change, we see similar patterns. Vulnerable communities, especially those in developing nations, are often blamed for problems they did not create or are left facing the impact without the means to adapt or mitigate.

Nida's story and her interaction with the demon also bring to the fore the ethical challenges of our age. Just as she faces the moral dilemma of choosing three lives over a nuclear holocaust, we too are constantly making choices. How many species are we willing to let go extinct for our conveniences? How much destruction are we willing to witness before making lifestyle changes or demanding policy shifts?

Is it possible that this narrative serves as a metaphor for the difficult choices and sacrifices we may face in addressing the pressing issue of climate change? Could there be a deeper meaning behind the demon's unexpected role in preventing nuclear catastrophe? While it may seem far-fetched to consider taking guidance from a 'demon,' perhaps there's a metaphorical message underlying this peculiar premise. Could the demon represent the uncomfortable truths we must confront? Might it be urging us to consider the extreme actions that may be necessary to combat the looming threat of environmental catastrophe? Admittedly, it's a complex and thought-provoking concept. The episode challenges us to delve deeper into the moral and ethical dilemmas we face when addressing global crises. Rather than providing clear-cut answers, it encourages us to question our assumptions and explore alternative perspectives.

Ömer F. Gürlesin 26 juli 2023
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