Black Mirror (2023) 6.1- Joan is Awful- Calls for One to be Alert in the Age of AI 

Published 06/16/2023, 4:44 PM EDT

via Imago

Black Mirror returned after its longest hiatus but did not seem to have missed a step. Charlie Brooker made the wait worthwhile as he observed the latest technological advancements, connected them to human lapses, and drew up a potentially damning scenario. Well, that is Black Mirror, right? But what’s different in Joan is Awful, apart from, well, Joan apparently being an awful person. 

This question itself would be a great hook to get you here, right? No one, or rather, not many, would have cared had it been Joan is *insert positive adjective here.* Nomenclature aside, human impatience is another aspect Brooker touches on in this episode. And finally, he hits home on something that is extremely relatable. 

What is Joan is Awful about? 


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In Joan is Awful, audiences get introduced to the titular character. She awakens, has breakfast, drives to her workplace, hands someone a pink slip, goes to therapy where she comes clean about her partner, catches up with an ex, and then heads back home and seeks entertainment on Streamberry. The last one is where things got interesting. 

A show that had her name caught her attention, and what she saw on the screen shocked her. It was someone else on screen with her entire day’s activities being played out. The twist was that the episodes portrayed her as a bad person with selectively altered dialogues. Joan’s personal life got destroyed. This is because her current partner and her ex are unable to cope with the betrayal and being a public figure, respectively. The prospect of a slightly altered ‘The Entire History of You‘ being available to stream is a tad overwhelming. But as it turns out, Joan had given her consent. 

After being informed of this, she decided to sue the actress. This also wasn’t possible, as the actress (Salma Hayek) had signed away her image and likeness. To spur the actress to do something they wouldn’t want their image and likeness associated with. Hence, Joan crashed a wedding with a graphic symbol painted on her forehead and pooped in a church. As that went on the Joan is Awful on Streamberry, Hayek approached her layer about how her image and likeness were being used. When said actress discovered she had allowed it, she and Joan hatched a plan to put a stop to their image and likeness being used. 

At Streamberry HQ, they saw that the streamer had the authority to create millions of such shows. The streamer justified it by claiming they were passionate about creating fresh forms of entertainment. They could do that because the subjects had given them consent. 

Joan is Awful explains why impatience is costly

Joan, Salma, Annie, and many more had signed away the rights to the streamer. This was when they subscribed to Streamberry and skipped reading the terms and conditions. It was their impatience that cost them and saw them unable to escape the watertight agreements they had unwittingly entered. Couldn’t any of the others put a stop to it?

A. Why would they stop something that aired another person’s laundry out in public? B. They had also signed deals with Streamberry permitting the streamer to use their image and likeness.

Was there no way to stop the streamer from generating data to feed the quantum creator? 

Joan is Awful is a mirror of how humans are prisoners of their phones

This is a reality. You mostly may be reading this on your phone. In the episode, the phones, when on, were what helped Streamberry get all the data they needed to feed to the quantum computer. The keywords here are ‘When On’.

Can one think of a world where everyone keeps their smartphones off and go about their day? That’s right, switching them off and keeping them off all day every day would be extremely difficult; especially for consumers of content. 

Personalized content can be harmful

There is often a feeling that there is too much content to watch. Reasons for not watching them range from lack of time to a lack of connection with the content. While the former is easily fixable thanks to people having streaming services on their phones to consume content on the go, the latter isn’t an easy fix. If one doesn’t, kudos to your self-control. Or, you are a cinema traditionalist. 

The latter (lack of connection) is a cause for concern for creators. Well, what better way to solve that than by making a series about some person? That person could be anyone, which would result in their deepest and darkest secrets being out there. The things one says behind someone’s back will catch up with them instantly. Oops. That little disclaimer of the content being fictional would mean nothing if someone noticed the similarities and reacted like how everyone around Joan did. And no one would want a real-life Joan from the post-credits scene. Ew.

Joan is Awful focuses on the dark reality of AI content

ChatGPT is something that everyone has heard of. It has been dominating conversations with two things taking center stage. 1. Speed 2. Accuracy. The speed is not under debate, but the accuracy is.  

Considering it is all CGI and developed by a quantum computer, speed is not an issue with the data collected from phones being fed into it. Also, akin to AI, it takes some creative liberties. Those who have understood the drawbacks of such content will relate to this. 

AI-created visual media would solve the time aspect taken in production. It would also cater to the audience’s demand for fresh content. Furthermore, events like the writer’s strike would not impact production. This makes the Streamberry Quantum Computer something that corporations could look to develop. This would not be breaking new ground, as some of Black Mirror’s fictional inventions have become reality. Does anyone remember the truck from Crocodile, the robot dogs from Metalhead, the contacts camera from The Entire History of You, and the interactive dolls in Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too? 


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Unfortunately, by that time, many would have clicked the accept button and could have permitted the creation of content akin to Joan is Awful. 

While such series/films will solve the complaint of people not feeling like the main characters in their lives, it would come at a cost. Imagine watching something that you have lived… you would have the same reaction as Annie Murphy. “How the f**k is this!” 


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To avoid that, read everything you sign. And while that is being done, perhaps the phones can be away for a whole.


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Reubyn Coutinho

42 articles

Reubyn Coutinho is an Editor and Film Critic at Netflix Junkie. This Mass Media Graduate from St. Xavier's has attended MAMI (2019) as a film critic.