Black Mirror: 'Striking Vipers' blurs the boundaries between fantasy and reality
This piece contains spoilers for Black Mirror, Season 5, Episode 1.
As a show which dramatises, parodies and analyses the unforgiving, addictive and inescapable relationship with technology, we - as a #femtech company - are always intrigued to see what Charlie Brooker and his cohort might come up with. This season’s first episode did not disappoint, and to no one’s surprise, it was particularly appropriate for us, as it tackles porn, sexuality and the blurred boundaries of fantasy and reality.
We are introduced to Danny and Karl as video game-playing, nightclub-attending, hetero-sex-having, virile male best friends. 11 years later, Danny is married with kids, responsibilities and a house outside of the city limits. Karl is still single and dating, but we see a lack of fulfillment in the monotony of disinterested dates and sex with no intimacy. Karl and Danny game together and one night tap into a new experience which enables them to leave their bodies behind, and takes them into a virtual reality. In this new reality, Karl is Roxette, a feisty fighting femme, and Danny is Lance, a lean and well-oiled karate king. An inexplicable attraction ignites: Roxette and Lance rough and tumble and end up having sex.
Throughout the episode, we see both Danny and Karl struggling to confront their feelings about this ‘virtual’ encounter, confused about whether it ‘meant’ anything, if it was even real, or what it might say about their own sexuality, their friendship and how they operate in the outside world.
For me, what resonated about this internal struggle was less a comment on homoerotic desire or queer shame, but more about how we approach sex and the parameters we put around it,of where we define the boundaries around fantasy and reality when it comes to sex - and more importantly, how we feel about it.
We have been led to believe that fantasy is a representation of what we want in real life. In this story, Karl and Danny (in particular) seem to be challenged by whether this virtual reality means that they are secretly gay or want to play out this in real life. It begs the question: why are we so uncomfortable with fantasy?
Rape fantasy is a popular stimulus for many womxn, and it comes with its own baggage. Am I a bad feminist, is this wrong, why do I like this, do I secretly want this to happen in real life? What we need to understand, is that there are psychological boundaries that we can create which allow us to indulge in this fantasies in one place, yet allow us to operate on our ‘normal’ (whatever that means) terms the rest of the time. We don’t have to choose between the two, nor do we have to blur those lines so much that we can’t escape.
For Karl and Danny, perhaps they were using this ‘fantasy’ as a way of escaping reality. Perhaps the mistake they were making was bringing the baggage of this fantasy into their day to day lives, rather than just allowing it to be exactly what it is: a fantasy.