The Devil in Metal: 3. Black Mirror and Masculinity

If you’re confused by what’s happening here, feel free to refer to my introductory post which kicks off this whole thing.

In the first episode of Black Mirror’s very good fourth season [*SPOILER ALERT!*] “USS Callister,” Robert Daly is the CTO and programming whiz that has helped put gaming company Callister on the map. Yet, he is unrecognized and belittled by the CEO and every other member of the staff. Instead of being applauded and honored for his accomplishments, he is subjected to a daily racket of low-level abuse. The women think he is a creep, the men think he is a joke, and even would-be admirers are quickly apprised of his sketchy status on the company’s social totem-pole. They quickly modify their behavior accordingly.

All of this develops Daly as a sympathetic figure who we are rooting for, yet things change course rapidly. See, Daly has developed a VR-simulation of his favorite tv show Space Fleet where he is ported into the role of the brilliant and charismatic captain, while his coworkers are in the role of his adoring crew members. Sure, it’s a little unsettling, but it seems like a relatively benign bit of role-playing. That is, until we see Daly snag some of new intern Nanette’s DNA to port her into the game.

The despicable significance of all of this only becomes fully apparent when we see Nanette show up in the world of the tv show. Instead of being a character that is in on the plot and tracking with what is going on, we see her nearly lose her mind as she tries to process what is happening. Even encountering her coworkers drinking on the bridge of the starship does little to sooth her nerves. Because Daly has created digital clones of each of his coworkers, they have all of the memories and experiences of their real-world selves; they know they do not live in a starship adrift in a galaxy far, far away; they know they are 21st century people working in 21st century America where Daly is a peripheral actor in his own company. As digital clones, they have the same preferences and personalities and hopes and dreams and memories as their actual counterparts.

Crucially, this means that Daly’s coworkers have not suddenly become adoring fans of this “captain” who was so unimpressive in real life. We quickly discover that their devotion and physical affection are completely coerced. Daly has ultimate power and authority; he can inflict actual pain, suffering, and trauma on his coworkers. Because they are digital copies, they cannot die, which means that their Creator can do truly devastating and debilitating things with none of the relief that death would bring to people undergoing the same torments in our own world. He uses pain and its threat to break these people, bending them to his will and drawing forth the behavior he desires and feels their real world selves owe him.

What we find in Daly then, is a resentful and bitter man, who, yes, has experienced shame and humiliation—sometimes real, sometimes imagined—at the hands of his coworkers, but who then develops a scenario in which he can play God and get back at them in a limitless way. His resentment and pride, when channeled and unleashed are able to bring unending and absolute pain and suffering on those he believes “owe” him respect, adoration, and access to their bodies.

And here is where things converge with Behemoth’s Satan.

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We saw in The Satanist, Behemoth’s 2014 album, that the Devil was the one who had been wounded, cast down, and whose rule and authority had been stripped away. In retribution, he strikes back at the cosmos itself, wrecking devastation and destruction, honing in on humanity to inflict pain and suffering, drinking in the ecstasy and bliss which this conquest and domination brings. He seeks a partner, but one who he can contend with and degrade as he sees fit. This Lucifer shifts between egomaniacal declarations of his greatness and supremacy, and admissions of his own bondage and brokenness. In response, people raise their cries of adoration and praise to him in hopes that he will, likewise, subdue peoples, places, and things beneath their will. This Accuser creates broken and little people who will be broken and little like him, resentfully lashing out to punish those who are not responsible for their plight.

Underneath the supposed radicality and blasphemy of an album of praise and exaltation for Satan, then, we find a tale, like that in “USS Callister,” as old as creation itself: that of fearful and resentful men nursing their grudges and using what power they do have to dominate and inflict their will upon others. Far from creating a sympathetic or exemplary figure to root for, Behemoth have inadvertantly held up for us the pure embodiment of masculinity gone awry and all of its fantasies and fevre [sic.] dreams.

Within this scope, it is no surprise that many of Behemoth’s most vitriolic and specifically abusive lines are targeted against women,[1] and, indeed, against a specific woman: Mary, the mother of God. Here she is depicted as a tramp, who is cosmically violated and annihilated by our protagonist and his hoards. Her body is ruptured and undone by the power of the serpent. Rather than being something unexpected, it’s obvious that this is where the album had to go: for a woman who would have a central role in overturning the order of domination and submission, whose body makes possible and channels the liberation of the world, the toppling of the powers and principalities, she is the ultimate threat to the fragile ego of male snowflakes. She is the one who must be wiped out of existence; her kind cannot be tolerated, and they must be cosmically annihilated.

Far from Behemoth’s Satan being transgressive or subversive, then, we must admit that he is typical, all too typical. And that this is precisely why he is so seductive and compelling. He is simply the Feuerbachian deification of how business as usual has operated, year after year, world without end, in toxic masculinity’s relentless attempt to subdue all who would get in its way. Like Captain Daly and countless others before him, this devil is simply the wish fulfillment of resentful men who dream of having ultimate power and authority to inflict their unfettered wills on all around them, with no consequences, and with only the ecstatic rewards this promises. Calling all of this “Satanic” in an attempt to make it sexy and to hoodwink us into believing it’s anything other than a bit of unoriginal and tired libido dominandi is simply a great misdirect.

In a time awash in school shooters, incel terrorists, #metoo, #churchtoo, and a president bragging about violating women without repercussion, haven’t we had enough of this nonsense already?_____________________________________________________________________________

[1] It’s also not surprising that nearly every gorgeously shot video for The Satanist cycle involves some sort of extremely NSFW degradation of women.