Exploring the impact of social medias through Helter Skelter and Black Mirror’s Nosedive
A word before we begin: A laugh and a scream are very similar”Helter Skelter, by Kyoko Okazaki
From curiously accurated Instagram feeds to perfectly crafted tweets, social media has created a culture of self-presentation that can lead people to lose their sense of self in order to meet algorithmic requirements. Of course, our constant need for validation and approval contributes to this problem as people tend to feel that they need to be seen in a certain way in order to receive likes, comments and followers, rather than simply being true to themselves and their own interests and values. And they get lost along the way.
In today’s society, the pressure to maintain a perfect image and meet social media standards is on the rise. With the emergence of different platforms and the constant bombardment of photos, stories and feed updates, we are under an enormous pressure to conform to standards of beauty, success and popularity. The need for external validation has become an overriding feature of modern life, leading to a culture of comparison and competition that can have a profound impact on the mental health and well-being of current and future generations. Obsession with meeting social requirements can lead to loss of individuality, self-esteem issues and a focus on image over content, highlighting the need for a more mature and acceptable approach to self-image and self-worth.
Luckily, or to be fairer, because of art, we can always rely on audiovisual media and literature, which play an important role in shaping our perceptions of the world around us and help us to think critically about complex issues. They provide different perspectives, they are (often) aware of social issues and stimulate our critical thinking. And so, we engage with complex issues in a more meaningful way.
Kyoko Okazaki’s heavy but wonderful manga Helter Skelter and the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” explore the results of image-perfect pursuits and the impact it can have on our sanity and society. Helter Skelter follows the story of Liliko, a famous model and actress who undergoes extensive plastic surgery to maintain her looks and status. In “Nosedive”, social networks play a significant role in shaping people’s reputation and status, with users rating each other in their interactions and behaviors. Like every other Black Mirror episode, this one is pretty bizarre.
Both works explore the idea of external validation and the pressure to maintain a perfect image in a society that values appearance and status over originality. In Helter Skelter, Liliko’s obsession with her image leads her into a spiral of self-destructive behavior and fear of losing her status. In “Nosedive”, the protagonist Lacie’s desperate need for a high social score leads her to compromise her true self and ultimately face the consequences of living in a superficial and judgmental world. Our behavior feeds society’s broad view and this view pressures us into more and more abusive behavior towards ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle of self-deprecation.
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with looking and feeling good, the problem is when image becomes the main focus at the expense of individuality and self-expression. And a lot of bad things can come from it. In Helter Skelter, Liliko’s physical transformation reflects the beauty standards imposed on women in Japanese society, while in “Nosedive” the social scoring system reflects how online behavior and image can shape our view of ourselves and people around us. The pressure to conform to these standards helps to create a superficial and judgmental society. And this is not restricted to Japan or a fictional narrative of a Netflix show. These are real problems that we face and discuss today.
In both cases, the characters obsession with appearance and status leads to a gradual loss of their mental and emotional stability.
Liliko becomes increasingly disconnected from herself and loses touch with her emotions and personality. Her mental and emotional instability is reflected physically, making her grotesque and deformed.
Likewise, Lacie becomes increasingly anxious and paranoid, constantly worrying about how others see her. Her mental and emotional instability is reflected in her breakdown at her best friend’s wedding, where she lashes out at everyone and loses complete control of her actions.
Who is the bad guy in all of this?
It’s no secret that the systems and algorithms used on social media and other platforms are designed to keep us engaged and connected in there. This systems are based on a gigantic mass of data and behaviors, such as the likes we give, the time spent on platforms and even who we follow. Netflix explains very well how this works in the documentary “The Social Dilemma”. It is worth checking.
Another way that systems trap us is by generating a sense of competition and comparison between people. And in a very subtle and ingenious way, for example, showing the number of likes on the posts, comments and encouraging its users to compare themselves and work to obtain greater numbers. And that’s what causes us so much anxiety and pushes us to meet these so-called “virtual requirements” and seek validation from people we don’t know or who don’t really care about us.
It’s the algorithms and this twisted system that drive Lacie crazy in Nosedive. And in Helter Skelter, Liliko is also hostage to another system that rules behavior: the fashion and entertainment industry. This environment uses Liliko’s image and her attitudes, transforming her into a symbol of beauty and success. Its image is massively circulated and celebrated, redefining the standards that whoever consumes that content will start to seek. And then we fall back into our vicious cycle.
Behind the scenes, we have Liliko becoming increasingly isolated, unhappy and unable to maintain any genuine connection. And so is Lacie, completely wallowing in a wild quest for external validation. No wonder, both lose their sanity.
Okay, but so what?
We can draw a lot from the conclusions of both of these stories. Both Liliko and Lacie suffer the consequences of this exacerbated attempt to meet external expectations and it is very clear that the systems and institutions that perpetuate these expectations are not on a positive side in all of this. The algorithms, the advertisements, the industry, the colors, everything is done to keep us immersed and trapped in this system that empties us more every minute we spend connected.
Perhaps what we can really take away from these two narratives is, in addition to the need for a change in values in the social sphere, in search of more meaningful connections with each other, the need to think more critically about the environment in which we live. In this sense, the true benefit of stories like these is that we become capable of recognizing the traps that a greedy world puts in place to keep us trapped in a metaphysical universe that only generates negative impacts on our mental health. The real is what we touch, hear and feel, but to discover what is behind our connections, we need to disconnect.
What do you think? Leave a comment.