'Men Against Fire' Is the Best 'Black Mirror' Episode About Donald Trump
The episode isn't about war, it's about how rhetoric and fear mongering can dehumanize people.
This episode contains spoilers for "Men Against Fire," the fifth episode of season three of 'Black Mirror.'
After Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president, the Black Mirror episode in which a politically incorrect cartoon bear ends up as a terrifyingly plausible political candidate no longer seemed quite so outlandish. But while "The Waldo Moment" has been most closely tied with the rise of Trump, the episode is not Black Mirror's best critique of the candidate.
For that, turn to "Men Against Fire." The third season's fifth episode follows Stripe, a soldier fighting a high-tech war against a series of vampiric hell zombies in a bombed out village somewhere in what seems to be Eastern Europe. The twist, as you know by now, is that the "roaches" are actually human beings. Stripe and his fellow soldiers perceive them as vicious subhumans because of an army-issued implant that changes the soldiers' vision and other senses: "You don't hear the shrieks, you don't smell the blood or the shit," an army official explains to Stripe.
The best episodes of Black Mirror take its social commentary more than surface deep. "15 Million Merits" was seen by many as a takedown of American Idol and the pursuit of fame. But its satire of free-to-play games with a strong subtext of technologically-induced inequality made the episode one of the series' bests.
The underlying cause of the atrocities in "Men Against Fire" is not technology, but a politician who has decided an entire class of people are dangerous to our way of life
Most reviews of "Men Against Fire" are focusing on the episode's explicit commentary about the US drone program and battlefield automation, which is a fine place to start analyzing the episode. But the more important message is in the justification for Stripe's war and the dehumanization of our enemies.
"They look like us," Stripe says.
"That's why they're so dangerous," the army official responds. "Do you have any idea the amount of shit that's in their DNA? Higher rates of cancer. Muscular dystrophy. MS. SLS. Substandard IQ. Criminal tendencies, sexual deviances. It's all there. The screening shows it. Is that what you want for the next generation?"
Just as the fictional implant technology can dehumanize enemies, so too can rhetoric, propaganda, and fear mongering
And that brings us to Trump. Nothing about the war depicted in "Men Against Fire" suggests it's a just one—there is no talk of terrorism or atrocities committed by an enemy. In fact, it's not even obvious that the "roaches" have waged any sort of violence toward the nation that's currently slaughtering them. Instead, the episode depicts an army committing genocide against a thoroughly dehumanized group of othered people.
The underlying cause of the atrocities in "Men Against Fire" is not technology, but a politician far removed from the realities of the battlefield who has decided an entire class of people are dangerous to our way of life. Just as the fictional implant technology can dehumanize enemies, so too can rhetoric, propaganda, and fear mongering that paints vast swaths of people as inherently different from us. The roaches in "Men Against Fire" are Trump's "bad hombres," the Syrians his son referred to as a bowl of poisoned Skittles, the immigrants branded as drug dealers, criminals, and rapists, the people of color who must be monitored at the polls, the disabled, the people who don't share his exceptional "bloodline."
"The Waldo Moment" shows the political mechanisms that can lead to a Trump-like figure rising to power. "Men Against Fire" shows the outcome. It shows the potential consequences of making decisions based on fear and hate. Neither episode is about technology. Both are about us.