Ok, this just needs to be talked about. There is so much to unpack in this episode of Black Mirror. Brace yourselves, this is probably going to be a long one. If you haven’t watched the episode, go ahead and come back to this (usual spoiler alert warning).
As a straight black man, supporter of the LGBT community, non-monogamous, and a proponent of gaming and virtual reality (VR), this episode touches on so many subjects that I’ve come across in my life. I’d be remiss if I didn’t write about this.
I’m not going to rehash the entire episode so I’ll just make some key bullet points and then we can discuss:
- Danny, Karl, and Theo (woman) are long time friends, all people of color
- Danny and Theo are married with a family
- Danny and Karl used to play video games as a pastime when they were younger
- Karl gives Danny a new VR fighting game called Striking Vipers
- Karl plays as a female in the game named Roxette, Danny plays a male named Lance
- They play the game initially and eventually start having sex with each other
- Karl starts to let this effect his relationship with Theo (not as affectionate, less sex, etc.) and Theo notices
- In a conversation, Theo reveals she enjoyed the attention of a man who approached her (important detail for later)
- Danny decides to stop the sexcapades, Karl flips out and goes into withdrawal
- Theo invites Karl over for dinner and Karl reveals… (this isn’t important but funny af)
- Danny eventually gives in to have another session and Karl says he loves Danny
- Danny flips and demands to see Karl to see if there are real feelings or anything by having Karl kiss him
- They both say they feel nothing in the real world and end up fighting
- Police grab them and Theo bails out Danny
- Cut to the future, on Danny’s birthday, Theo gives Danny the VR game, making it clear it’s only for one night
- In exchange, Theo takes off her wedding ring
- Danny and Karl enjoy their sexcapades, Theo has a night on the town
Alright, I know that’s a lot but you really have to have everything laid out. Let’s start with the VR aspect of it.
This whole thing is a step above masturbation and porn. I mean, you’re engaging in digital sexual acts with someone else. But does it count as sex if it’s all digital? And would you want to know who’s on the other side of the character you’re fucking? I mean, this is where the future is going eventually. They already have VR porn (look it up) and it’s only a matter of time before you can feel what’s happening in the digital world.
Like other things, such a technology could cause problems. We saw in this episode how it started to effect Danny’s marriage but let’s say he could keep it under control, would it really be that big of a deal? Would it be any different than getting yourself off every now and then? Which leads me to my next question:
Would this count as cheating?
I mean you’re not actually having sex with someone else, but you are engaging in a sexual activity. Honestly, I think such a technology might actually reduce “cheating” in the real world. I mean think about it, a person may want something different, even if just for the moment but doesn’t want to step out of their relationship, this tech would be a way to get their rocks off without doing it in the real world. Of course, though, there are those out there who think masturbating is cheating (for those who do, you need help). I’m sure there are many out there that wouldn’t be okay with this, nevermind whether it’s cheating, but rather because for them… it’s weird. And I get that. Engaging in a sexual act with a polar bear? That’s a bit much for me, but eh, to each their own. But I digress, would you be okay with your partner engaging in this activity?
Which is a great segue to the final scene of the episode. It’s clear that Danny told Theo everything and that they found a compromise. Danny gets to have his night with Karl, Theo gets to go out and have a one night stand (she said “see you in the morning” and remember she likes the attention of others). Now this is super interesting to me and as a poly individual, I feel like is the right solution. Unfortunately, it took for this entire situation to blow up before the two could have a candid conversation about their desires (how many people pretend they don’t have desires outside the relationship?). Why? Because typical monogamy doesn’t allow for any sort of romantic/sexual connection outside of the relationship. There are very few monogamous relationships where it’s safe for a partner to say, “hey, I want the attention of someone else, just for a night every now and then”. Does this make them poly? Honestly, it doesn’t matter but what does matter, is that they’ve reached another level of trust, communication, and connection (that is actually a prerequisite for poly). They were both honest with themselves, then with each other, and secure enough in themselves and their relationship to let the other have their desires met. Theo, as a black woman, needs to be applauded for being understanding and sticking by her man through this; but let’s not pretend she doesn’t benefit either, cause she gets to have her fun too.
And now for the biggest metaphysical question:
Are they gay now?
Let’s deal with Danny first, because his case is easier to examine. In the digital world, Danny assumes a male character and is fucking a female character. Yes, Karl is controlling that character but the character is female. When Danny looks, touches, hears Karl’s character, he’s experiencing those sensations as if they were coming from a female. If no one knew that the person controlling Roxette was male or female, we’d be able to easily say that Danny is straight. I mean, he’s a male, assuming a male character, fucking a female character. Open and shut case as far as I’m concerned.
BUT, that isn’t the case here… Danny is KNOWINGLY engaging in these sessions with a male on the other side. You could argue, “well yeah, but he’s fucking a female character”. And yes, you could, but let’s not forget a subtle detail here… Danny could engage in this with ANYONE ELSE besides Karl and yet, he keeps going back to Karl. He could have these sessions with other players around the world, and they could even choose Roxette, and yet, he goes back to Karl. Does this make him gay? I’m not sure, but it does push him a little bit on the sexuality spectrum.
And let’s not forget here, Danny demanded to see Karl and that they kiss to see if there’s anything there. So Danny was definitely having some sort of feelings that he wasn’t clear on.
Now Karl… there is so much here. Here you have a black man who dates women in the real world, yet assumes a female character in the digital world to engage in sexual acts. It even got to the point where he was unable to get off with a woman in the real world. Karl clearly likes to be on the receiving end of masculine energy (obvious pun is obvious) and on the flip side, likes to express himself using feminine energy. Further, he says that he is only fully satisfied when he does it with Danny (as he’s clearly tried with others). Yet, in the real world, he felt nothing when he kissed Danny.
So what does this mean? I mean clearly he’s getting aroused by male characters in the game, engages in sexual acts with these characters, and clearly enjoys it. For the sake of argument, let’s just say he likes being fucked as a woman. I mean, that’s a new sensation (I mean who doesn’t want to know what sex is like for the opposite sex?). So alright, we’ll give him a pass on wanting to experience sex with a vagina and clit.
However, there is one sexual act that really makes you wonder about the both of them: oral sex. When Roxette is giving Lance head… as far as sensations go, Karl is sucking Danny’s dick (and Karl feels this in his mouth). Now I’m not going to say that this 100% makes Karl gay, but he’s definitely closer to that end of the sexuality spectrum than Danny. You can (kinda) give Danny a pass because his perception is that of a woman giving him head (even though a male is behind it). But Karl? His perception is that of a man’s dick in his mouth and it’s a man behind it. You can draw your own conclusions from that one…
But now having delved into that, let me ask a deeper question…
Does it really matter?
So these two black men like to have sex with each other in a digital space. So what? It’s no coincidence that the characters of this episode were black. Hell, I wouldn’t be writing about it if they weren’t because in the black community, there is still a stigma about black men being gay, bi, on the downlow, or whatever. This is a safe (and private) way for black men (or anyone for that matter) to explore their sexuality. How many people would be able to handle this situation the way Theo did? How would you have handled it? And again, why does it matter? Black men are the least encouraged or allowed to explore their sexuality, and thus are sexually oppressed. This episode touched upon the future of gaming and sex, a small step away from strict monogamy, and most importantly, the non-heteronormative sexual desires of black man.
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