Men Against Fire (Black Mirror):
an excuse to talk about the formula of hate and how to overcome it.
The author would like to warn the readers that in this article, there is an analysis of some elements of the Black Mirror episode “Men Against fire”. There are spoilers. Don’t shoot the piano player.
My name was Caterina.
He was Alec.
Now we are just a roach
The Man against fire, Black Mirror T.3
What if people who do not think like us –have a different background, was born in another country or live on another gender perspective- becomes “invisible”, as Eli Pariser said that happens with the “filter bubble” (TED, 2011) is an online reality? Or, what is even worse; what if they become “pale, snarling, humanoid monsters with sharp teeth”? Black Mirror chapter “Men against fire” can be a valuable example of what happens when propaganda (“every voice, the TV or the computer”), or a science fiction implanted chip, make people feel fear to a collective ‘s determination of the society!.
“Black Mirror” and “Men against fire”, three words about it
Figure 1: Netflix (2011). Black Mirror cover image presented on Netflix.
The British TV series “Black Mirror”, a title that refers to the screens of electronic devices that was created by Charlie Brooker and launched in 2011. Since this moment, every plot is exploring how could be the extreme consequences of technological progress related to human psychology and behavior. A modern society represented with stories written under the premise “the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we are clumsy.” The chapter analyzed down bellow, Men Against Fire, is about a soldier called Stripe, set in a post-war future. His team mission is to hunt and wipe out something that they call roaches. With his battalion, he is having his premier encounter, inside a farm, and he kills two roaches. Even though that means an honor according to his crew, he starts felling altered; symptoms are a headache, a noisy sound, and sensibility to inputs such as smell –which he had lost in the army because of a Mass implant.
Figure 2: Netflix, T3 (2016). Stripe in the chapter Men Against Fire.
Although there are a lot of elements that could be analyzed, such as the military psychological strategies (for instance, there is an interesting article published by vox.com, “Men Against Fire” is a warning from the past about our future), what stand out is the attention of the author, and the inspiration to do the current article, was how hate is created specifically among the use of language in propaganda- and how to overcome it.
The chemical formula of hate
Let us take one of the first scenes when Stripe faces a village where roaches have been hanging around. People are afraid and a woman, who is carrying a little child, said to the soldier “Stop them coming. I have a child who is scared”. Furthermore, soldiers burn all the food that was supposed to be touched by these roaches, like it was contaminated. But, who are the roaches and from where this fear comes?
The chapter needs almost 20 minutes more to make the spectator realize that the so-called roaches are human beings; however, they are from a community group who has been pointed out by society –otherness is created because they are different somehow; it is not openly explained but seems that they were migrants and poorest (Wilkinson, 2016). In other words, the fear of people who is different, in many ways of representing this difference -e.g. other skin colors, speak an unfamiliar language or have unknown traditions.
Figure 3. Giró, Xavier. (2016).Chemistry and geography in hate speech, presented at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Barcelona, December 2016. Observatori de la Cobertura de Conflicts. OCC
Like is represented in figure 3, fear of the unknown –to outsiders, “the others”, people from a different background- appears. Moreover, as a natural extension, ignorance starts feeding prejudices. Back to the chapter: villagers can see this roaches like humans. However, “they hate them because it is what they have been told”. It is also noteworthy that these others are not known by most of the villagers, they have never spoken or see each other in similar situations –for instance, sharing a coffee or meeting in the supermarket line. Fear plus ignorance is the perfect formula to make hate born.
Figure 4. Pyramid of Hate based in Giró, Xavier. (2016). Pyramid of hate, presented at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Barcelona, December 2016. Observatori de la Cobertura de Conflicts. OCC
Pyramid of hate, represented in figure 3, can be seen in what says Caterina, the woman saved by Stripe (almost at the end of the chapter, when the solder MASS isn’t working and allows he to see human beings instead of roaches).
- Prejudices: it is not clearly specified but can be guessed that roaches are from a migrant and poorest background. Prejudices to this person who comes from another culture, the fear to lose “the national identity, or to who is living in the poorest situation, which sometimes is intrinsically related to criminology, start flourishing among the society.
- Individual incidents of prejudice: “10 years ago it began; first with the screening program and the DNA checks”, says Caterina. The first finger points to this group of people as “different, weak or ill”.
- Segregation and discrimination: the government takes “emergency measures” such as a “register” to all of these people selected.
- Violence: “soon everyone calls us filthy creatures, say that we have a sickness in us, in our blood”. These people start losing their “humanity” because the vocabulary used is making them be critters instead of human beings.
- Genocide: as we can see, Stripe as solder is in charge of wiping out of the society this group.
Language matters to see who count as human
Figure 5: Netflix, T3 (2016). Caterina in the chapter Men Against Fire.
“My name was Caterina. Now we are just a roach”, says the woman saved by Stripe. With language, as it is seen among the episode, is possible to dehumanize people. Losing a name means to stop being a human being and take part in a generalization. Another example is in a conversation between Stripe and the military psychiatrist. When the solder is referring to a roach by “He” the psychiatrist is surprised: “he?” Then Stripe corrects himself using “it”. It does not have gender, as it is a thing. Perhaps some examples from our reality can exemplify how language can be a powerful weapon –and a double-edged sword. Media use vocabulary, specific words, that make determinate social groups, for instance, be “illegal” (would be another debate the question if a person can be illegal itself or are their acts what is considered illegal). Migration topic, as it is being these latest years in the eye of the storm, is an example of how some media can contribute on rising fear to a determinate social group. Figure 6 shows an example from an article that is using expressions such as “illegal migrants, or immigration in Britain is out of control”.
Figure 6: expres.co.uk. Number of illegal migrants in Britain RISING by 70, 000 a year –shock report finds. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from Screenshot by the author.
Despite this fact, there are also media taking care of coverage that does not make hate grow. By way of example, Al Jazeera has taken a position –and accurately explained-, why they are not going to talk about “Mediterranean migrants” as a concept. The reason is that “it has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanizes and distances, a blunt pejorative”, as they explain in an article entitled Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants’ (Malone, 2015).
Figure 7: ethicaljournalismnetwork.org. Moving Stories. International Review of How Media Cover Migration. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from Infographic created by the author.
How to create a green light
Stripe receive a flash of green light that makes him see roaches like human rights –actually, what they are. The question is: there is any formula to fight this hate, made by ignorance –stereotypes and prejudices- and fear? As the military psychiatrist says in the last scene of the episode analyzed here (Man Against Fire), “we (humans) are genuinely empathetic as species”. But to be empathic first there is the need to meet “these others”, different from us, and see them as human beings. “The stairs of Prevention” can be the contra-formula to struggle against “hate”.
Figure 8: The stairs of Prevention, from Escola de Cultura de Paul (UAB). Infographic created by the author.
“Prevention means equipping individuals and groups with the skills they need to confront conflict. Prevention is not the same as prevention. Whereas to prevent conflict means to avoid it, to prevent it means to learn how to confront it. Prevention is built up gradually from the most superficial to the most penetrating aspects of oneself and interpersonal relations” (Escola de Cultura de Pau). As it is said in the Escola de Cultura de Pau (Peace Culture School, from Autonomous University of Barcelona), understand the difference is important; conflicts happen, more when we have different ideas. But it is important to contextualize, know and recognize this diversity to transform it in a respectful exchange of knowledge –not in a fight.
In this episode Stripe, the solider, and Caterina only had time for the first steps. They introduce each other. She is Caterina, not a roach anymore, and he is Stripe, not only a solder. After it, she shares her story. A different point of view makes Stripe realize of his bigger mistake while killing roaches. They don’t have time to continue going up the Prevention stairs. However, in real life, it is possible to do it.
Escola de Cultura de Pau (n.d.). Prevention. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from
Malone, B. (2015, August 20). Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants’. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from
TED (2011, March). Eli Pariser: Be careful with the filter bubble.[Video file]. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from
Wilkinson, A. (2016, October 31). Black Mirror’s “Men Against Fire” is a warning from the past about our future. Retrieved January 20, 2019, from
About the chapter Man Against Fire: ‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: Men Against Fire
About Migrants on Media: Refugees arriving to Europe. Media coverage: TV, radio and press coverage.