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Black Mirror's first season three episode, "Nosedive", imagines a future dystopian world of enforced politeness. Society is structured around a quasi-facebook like mobile app that allows everyone to rate everyone else all the time. Folks who have mastered the art of constant weaponized pleasantness have high scores and numerous perks, like better airplane seating and mortgage rebates. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) is trying to get to a friend's wedding to rack up a ratings bump, but things end up going badly astray. Finally she is picked up hitch hiking by a salt of the earth trucker who (shades of Thomas Friedman) tells her home truths. Lacie realizes that being nice to everyone is a betrayal of her true self, and the show ends with her engaging in an extended round of insult comedy. Niceness is authoritarian; rudeness is resistance.

Of course, as recent events have underlined, rudeness isn't actually resistance. On the contrary, systematic violation of social norms in the name of atavistic anger looks a lot like a fascist state. Defining "authenticity" as brutish hatred and violence doesn't lead to a free land in which everyone can express their true selves. It leads to a thuggish rule by the strong in which prejudice is validated and the weak have no shield from hatred.

"Nosedive" is dystopia as envisioned by someone who in their entire life has  experienced at most moderate inconvenience. Even as a portrait of social meida, it's ludicrously optimistic. In a world in which social status depends on crowd-sourced ratings, how do you think neo-Nazi trolls are going to entertain themselves? There is a subplot in the show where a man who breaks up with his boyfriend gets downrated, but no one seems to have ever heard of gamergate, or thought about the joys of crowdsourcing misogynist harassment. 

A certain brand of free-speech liberal/libertarian thinks liberty means the freedom to fart loudly in public. They feel stifled by feminized codes of basic decency, and long to let loose a barbaric burp. That's how people convinced themselves real-estate baron Trump was a refreshing thump in the face for the elitists. Being mean, spewing bile, hurting people for no reason—isn't that what freedom means?

It's telling that in "Nosedive", there is no racial prejudice to speak of, no homophobia, no misogyny. All the actual ways in which people single each other out for hatred and abuse are carefully side-stepped. The only oppression is the oppression of niceness. And if you think niceness is the only oppression, chances are you don't know, or don't care, about oppression at all.






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