‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: Crocodile
This episode elaborates on the new age panopticon and urges us to not blindly place our trust in technology.
‘Black Mirror’ is a satirical anthology series that examines the dark aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to our relationship with technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a world that’s futuristic, yet believable; cool, yet horrifying. Each of these study guides will touch on some of the themes the episode explores.
The New Age Panopticon
“Crocodile”, on the surface, may seem like it has very little to say about technology, compared to other Black Mirror episodes, but this is not the case. The episode follows Mia, who goes from reluctantly covering up a hit-and-run to murdering a friend and an entire family to preserve herself. (That’s 4 murders to cover up a hit-and-run, in which she wasn’t even the driver BTW.) She eventually gets caught by what may appear to be sheer (bad) luck — looking out the hotel window at the wrong time — but that is not the case, at all. Mia was caught by the panopticon, one of themes of a previous episode, “The Entire History of You.”
The Panopticon is a surveillance institution in which a single observer can watch over a population without them being aware of it. Because they can’t tell if they’re being watched at any given time, the surveilled have to assume they are being watched at all times. In “Crocodile”, everyone plays the role of the observer, and the Recaller ensures that nothing goes unseen. The sequence we see is just one possibility. In the new age panopticon, Mia would’ve gotten caught one way or another, sooner or later.
Our Trust In Technology
When insurance claim corroborator Shazia first introduces us to the Memory Corroborator machine, she says “they’re subjective; they may not be totally accurate.” She then goes on to trust almost everything she sees from the machine, and based on the context she provides about the role of those machines in society, it appears that they’re treated similarly to how we treated polygraphs back in the day: trustworthy and accurate, more often than not.
This is particularly interesting because it seems that the machine doesn’t actually do anything to improve recollection. All it seems to do is take the subject’s memory and digitally recreate it, allowing people to see each other’s memories, somewhat bypassing the “Problem of Other Minds.” It’s essentially the same as witness testimony, which we now know is quite unreliable, except visual. The only thing it adds is the ability to confirm whether or not the subject is lying about what they saw.
What “Crocodile” highlights, then, is our predisposition to trust technology. Because there exists a barrier that prevents many of us from understanding how technology works, when it is wielded by a trustworthy figure — law enforcement in the case of polygraphs; the insurance company in the case of “Crocodile” — we inherently trust it, even if its fallible, which the Memory Corroborator clearly is, as shown when Shazia influences the dentist’s recollection of the jacket. Once again, the technology isn’t to blame; we are. The lesson here: question technology and understand it before you trust it.
Bonus: What Does The Episode Title Refer To?
Some speculate the title refers to the brain structure of crocodiles that gives them above-average memory. I’m of the believe that the title refers to the, more common, phrase of “crocodile tears”, which refers to a disingenuous display of emotion. Mia is shown with tears several times this episode, and most of them come after she commits murder, but we never see her openly weep or sob. Her willingness or kill and overall lack of emotional displays, paired with the abundance of tears, makes it much more likely that the title refers to Mia’s crocodile tears.