A military state where soldiers protect citizens from the state enemy- terrifying, dangerous and contagious ‘roaches’, is the premise of ‘Men against Fire’, an episode in season 3 of the anthology series Black Mirror. The narrative traces a young recruit’s journey from emerging a ‘hero’ on his debut roach hunt in the army, to his unravelling triggered by his seeing more than he was supposed to. In a dystopic setting not too far removed from reality, ‘Men against Fire’ succinctly explores the role of ideology in the formation of our beliefs at a basic level, drawing attention to the State’s location in this process.
After carefully editing the episode to fit the class’s duration, I made my way to Chowringhee High School on December 14th, to screen this for the class. The act of watching, following and interpreting a film at however rudimentary a level can often be a far more engaging and impactful exercise than the most meticulously planned of lessons. After our last class where we tried to take a closer, more nuanced look at the Holocaust, and more widely, violence, than most school history textbooks allow for, this episode seemed like logical progression.
For thirty-five minutes, the students as well as their teacher were engulfed by what unfolded on the screen—alert, observant, gasping, commenting and reacting to the suspenseful turns of the narrative. When the episode ended, the responses burst forth. Some were unsure if they had understood the ‘twist’, others found it difficult to believe what was revealed. Since the end was something most of the class was uncertain about, we started there—what do you think happened at the end of the episode?
This proceeded into an animated discussion of what the students (and their teacher) thought had happened, who they thought the roaches were, why the army thought the food touched by the roaches was diseased, why the other soldier did not stop hunting roaches, what did they think of the choice the protagonist makes, did the students relate to this in anyway- if so, how/what/where—numerous avenues that unfortunately had to be cut short by the bell.
While I did wish we had had more time to discuss the students’ responses, I left heartened at many of their expressions of irritation and mild dismay at the sound of their last bell for the year.