“This is virgin territory Prime Minister, there is no textbook…”

Black Mirror is the unholy trinity drama mini-series, from the ever-controversial Charlie Brooker.

The first of the three installments, subtitled The National Anthem, is satire in its devoid, most brilliant form.

Black Mirror lives up to it’s title, as it is a dark reflection of the society that is watching it. Much like the screen of a TV, or a mobile phone that is switched off.

For 60 minutes, it’s as if The Twilight Zone came back darker and more bizarre than ever. And who wouldn’t want that?

The story surrounds the main character, rather than follows him.

Prime Minister Michael Callow, played by Rory Kinnear, battles an unknown enemy, along with his pride, in order to save the life of the countries Princess. Princess Susannah, depicted very much as a modern day, young Diana, with references to her being the ‘Princess of Facebook’ after she announced her engagement online, has been kidnapped and held hostage, with a demand video uploaded to Youtube.

The kidnapper has only one demand – for Prime Minister Callow to appear live on every TV station in Britain at 4pm, and have sexual intercourse with a pig. And not an undesirable woman, a literal, squealing, pig.

This brilliantly absurd plot is like a sketch that only Brookers friend and former writing partner Chris Morris could dream up.

The main focus of the story, is less about Callow, and more about the media. Social media at that. The demand video was uploaded to Youtube, rather than conventionally delivered, and a million miles away from the much less chosen method these days of cutting letters from a newspaper and Pritt-Sticking them to a piece of paper and popping it through the letter box.

The press have a ban on breaking the story, yet the whole country, and world, know what is going on. It trends on Twitter and overloads Facebook.

Is this reflective of reality?

How many of us FIRST heard of Michael Jacksons death by seeing it on the news or in the morning paper?

Throughout the entire 60 minute show, there is very rarely a shot that doesn’t include a screen of some sort. Be it a TV, computer, phone, we are looking at a screen, that is looking at a lot more screens. It’s impossible to avoid them. You’re reading this on one now. And you just looked at one a few minutes ago to see what time it is, but read a text message instead, then had to look again because you forgot to actually check the time.

The art aspect to the programme (I’m tip-toeing to avoid spoilers), has been compared by many to Damien Hurst. This seems to be the first name on the publics lips when ‘contemporary art’ is mentioned. Personally I first thought of Guillermo Habacuc Vargas and his dying dog.  Brooker however, rather enjoys Caitlin Morans likening of it to the KLF.

In all, the programme is set in a present dystopia, and while grim, is gripping viewing. The reactions of the public on screen, are exactly what we are watching them… laughing and recoiling in horror in equal measure.

The National Anthem is well made, well acted, and very well written, and it may leave the audience to think about the way that modern technology can remove direct control from society, and create a form of ‘cyber-anarchy’.

That is of course if they’re not too busy re-Tweeting their opinions on their smart phone.

Advertisements

I remember meeting Gary Speed in a local pub not all that long ago. It wasn’t the first time I’d met him, but I hadn’t realised he was stood next to me at the bar and double took when I realised. I apologised if I seemed rude, and told him I’d never get used to being stood alongside a childhood hero. As cheesey as that sounds, I genuinely meant it. He smiled and thanked me, and stood talking to me for a good ten minutes…before he’d even got himself a drink. This sums up how I, and I’m sure everybody else, saw him. A true gentleman.

On Sunday lunchtime I saw a tweet saying ‘RIP Gary Speed’, and assumed that it was some sort of twitter rumour. You know what they’re like. But I checked BBC news straight away anyway, and when I read it there, I genuinely felt a little dizzy and sick. I still do.

I was confused, because like a lot of people, I’d seen him a day earlier on Football Focus, alongside his old pal Gary McAllister, in what seemed to be a genuinely upbeat mood. I’m not going to say anything about the incident because I refuse to speculate, because he deserves nothing but upmost respect, as does his family.

There are a lot of what the media like to call ‘characters’ in todays game, personally I think they’re confusing that word with ‘idiot’, getting themselves reputations for being daft pricks in one way or another, whether it’s shagging grannies, beating up taxi drivers, setting their house on fire because of fireworks… But Gary Speed had the best reputation of all. That of being a genuinely nice guy.

I won’t pretend I knew the man, but I have met him a few times, seeing him in his local pub, or just generally out and about. I’m not overly confident with disturbing celebrities and speaking to them, but, y’know, it’s Gary Speed! Each time I spoke to him, he spoke to me, eye contact, not trying to swerve conversation. I’ve always found that very humbling.

The tributes prove that everybody liked him. He played for Everton, yet last night Liverpool fans sang his name. This touched me, and I’ve got nothing but respect for those fans at Stamford Bridge last night.

He played for Leeds, but was and is respected by United fans. He played for Newcastle, and is respected by Sunderland fans. He managed Wales, yet Englishmen are singing his name.

On a personal level, to see Gary, a local lad who I’d seen out and about, captain for Everton… MY team, was just amazing. The area has produced some great players over the years, some REALLY great players. But Speed has always been my favourite, because he captained my team when I was growing up, and he scored THAT header against Liverpool.

I can’t explain how I feel, even now, at gone midnight Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I feel… numb.

I honestly never thought that the death of somebody I don’t actually know could ever hit me hard. But then I never thought anything like this would happen, none of us did. As a sufferer of depression, I found it particularly hard hitting and sad.

It’s not often I agree with Mark Lawrenson.. in fact this may be a first. But, on MOTD3 on BBC red button, he summed Gary Speed up perfectly. “He was just a normal bloke.” This at first may seem to downplay Garys status as a player, but I don’t think that it does. If anything it congratulates it. All of his appearences, achievements, international caps, great start to his managing career, yet he remained humble. This is just his professional life too. Away from the pitch, as I’ve said, he was a genuine, decent bloke. I feel like I may be repeating myself here, but that’s because I cannot stress the point enough. I’ve read comments from local football teams on how he helped them out. I’ve seen comments online from old schoolmates, who as a teenager, he went out of his way to check they were ok when they seemed down, despite him not even knowing them.

For this many people, to be this upset by his death,  Gary Speed truly was something special.

Since Sunday I’ve seen grown men choke up, and shed tears, and people who weren’t football fans, but had met Gary, express their sadness over the tragic loss of not just a former footballer, or a young manager, but of a great human being.

Don’t get me wrong, he was great on the pitch. His left foot was ruthless, and there are very few who could head a ball like he could. But it’s his professionalism, and all round nice guy personality, that people will remember him most for.

That is something his family should be proud of, and I have no doubt that they are.

I hope that the Welsh national side continue to work on the foundations that he has laid, and there will be no better fitting tribute than for them to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Gary Speed was a gentleman first, and a footballer second.

And for the record, after that ten minute conversation, I apologised for taking up his time (which he assured me was no bother), and bought him a drink. I left shortly after that, so, if after all there is a heaven up there, I’ll let him get me one back while I talk about that header…Image