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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch exposes the dullness of Choose Your Own Adventure books

How else could a drama as knowing and meta and arch do anything other than disappear up its own bottom?

January 18, 2019

9:42 AM

18 January 2019

9:42 AM

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

dir: David Slade, 2018, MA

What I watched: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

What I turned off: re-runs of Arrested Development (it’s great but my son has been making me binge watch with him and you can have too much of a good thing)

What I’m going to be tuning into: Trigger Warning with Killer Mike. He’s a rapper and activist but I get the impression that politically he’s like the anti-Kanye-West. I’m really looking forward to HATING this series

Bandersnatch – the most recent episode in Charlie Brooker’s dystopian future-shock series Black Mirror –  is a drama about an early Eighties video game designer called Stefan working on an interactive game based on an interactive novel called Bandersnatch, whose outcome you, the viewer, decide by making Stefan’s choices at various intervals in the program. How else could a drama as knowing and meta and arch as that do anything other than end by disappearing up its own bottom?

Though the reviews have not been good, I’d still recommend giving it a go for novelty’s sake. (I had to watch it on my computer which was a bit annoying: the interactivity function doesn’t work on a normal TV) You may especially enjoy it if like me you remember those original interactive story picture-books which came out in the late 1970s. You’d find yourself in a room with perhaps some stairs leading to a cellar (go to p68) and a door in the far wall (go to p14) and you’d have to decide which one to take.

At first you’d choose the option that looked most likely to give you the best adventure. After about half an hour’s increasingly listless flicks back and forth through the text, however, you’d find yourself trying to second guess which option would most likely to bring the tedious book to the quickest end possible. Charlie Brooker – as you’d expect from a connoisseur of retro kitsch – captured this meandering pointlessness and frustration rather well.

For example, the first choice you had to decide for Stefan was whether he should eat for breakfast a) Sugar Puffs or b) Frosties. Obviously I clicked on Frosties because a) Tony the Tiger and b) because Sugar Puffs are too weird. Was it the right decision? Haven’t a clue. And I certainly wasn’t going to back to find out.

On and on it went. While I don’t want to spoil your fun by giving the plot away I’m not altogether sure there’s much plot to spoil. Should you kill Stefan’s dad? Well I did, certainly because he’s annoying and weird and sinister and you hope it might finish off the story. But no, it just makes it more complicated because then you have to decide: should Stefan bury the body or should he chop it up into pieces?

Apparently the publisher of those original interactive books – Choose Your Own Adventure – has launched a $25 million copyright suit against Netflix for giving its product a bad name.

In its suit, it calls Bandersnatch a ‘dark film’ that ‘can include references to and depictions of a demonic presence, violent fighting, drug use, murder, mutilation of a corpse, decapitation and other upsetting imagery.’ All this is perfectly true. But that’s really not the main reason it should worry about reputational damage. Far more worrying is that – accurately – Bandersnatch shows that the interactive book is a dull, sterile, frustrating, unsatisfying, gimmicky experiment which really should have been abandoned shortly after it was invented in the late 1970s.

Still, I remember them fondly. We were content to entertain ourselves with so much simpler things back then.

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