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The Commodore 64 Keyboard in Black Mirror as Social Commentary

Screen capture from S04E01 featuring the Commodore Keyboard

[1] If you look closely, you can see the painted-over Commodore key


Season four of Black Mirror was released just a few days ago and, like any proper anti-luddite, I chose to indulge as soon as possible.

Hollywood has a long history of featuring computers in their movies, as they well should. Given the ubiquity of computers starting in late 20th century life, leaving computers out of scenes would be akin to a movie lacking phones and instead having characters use carrier pigeons to communicate. The phenomenon even has a website dedicated to it: Starring the Computer.

However, this specifc use is a bit more niche, considering the prop and set designers chose only to incorporate the 64's keyboard as part of a large Star Trek-inspired spaceship console. In addition, they replaced the iconic 'Commodore key' with a square box [1]. This is to be expected, most brand logos are replaced in films so as not to give free advertising to companies. This makes it all the more obvious when a company like Apple pays big bucks to feature its iconic backlit fruity laptops in movies to make characters look hip and attractive.

Our case is a bit different though: Commodore International went out of business in 1994. A dead corporation reaps no brand recognition. This begs the question about why the crew didn't leave the keyboard in its virigin state as an Easter egg for eagle eye viewers. Perhaps they just wanted to retain in-world consistency; explicity leaving the Commodore logo on the key gives fans some way of relating this Black Mirror episode to our reality, instead of some alternate one where a Silicon Valley startup nerd can terrorize those co-workers whom he deems worthy of his wrath.

What is interesting here is that these Commodore keyboards in the ship's terminals are noticeably absent after the crew is rid of their power tripping captain. Everything feels "fresh" and more like modern sci-fi, as opposed to the fantasy of a repressed adult emulating his affection for Star Trek, among other things (at one point the malevolent captain mimics Darth Vader using the Force to choke an underling). This quick blog post won't go into detail surrounding the film's commentary on workplace harassment, but these little nods to nerds make it painfully obvious that somebody in the crew wanted to simultaneously call out and pay homage to a certain demographic.

Although Season 4's first episode's writing was lackluster and the plot felt half-baked, I was at least tickled about somebody on the prop team deciding to use old Commodore 64 keyboards, if only because they are plentiful and cheap to acquire.

It gives this dweeb something to amuse himself with while attemping to use Jedi mind tricks to pursuade his cat to snuggle on his lap.