Sometimes it is necessary to look at a phenomenon or an event from an opposite perspective in order to better understand its true characteristics. Looking at crime from a utopian point of view sharpens the receptors of one’s mind and, consciously or subconsciously, one starts to oppose such a view because it is either unnatural or unacceptable by social norms and/or moral codes. Likewise, in a film Black Mirror (White Bear) by Charley Brooker our attention is sharpened and our indignation is growing as we see cruel attitude of the crowd towards Victoria Skillane, the protagonist of the story. Even in the end, when her guilt is revealed and we understand it is such a method of punishment and execution of justice, most of us would disagree with such an order of things. Similarly, in a short story “The Country of the Kind” by Damon Knight, the reader sympathies with the protagonist until a particular moment in the story. He has committed a crime and cannot be forgiven.
Since utopias are abstract fictions by their very nature, their content appeals to human mind like no any other type of literature. They represent provoking ideas for human mind digestion. Main characters of the both works, the film and the short story, are devoid of American Dream: Victoria is constantly being punished for her crime, while the narrator of “The Country of the Kind” is being made an outsider in his society for killing a girl by violence. Both seem to live in a democratic and free society. And both seem not to have any rights to be forgiven, tolerated or put up with.
Thus, looking at the plot of “The Country of the Kind” we can clearly see unnaturalness of character’s behavior. From the very outset, the protagonist seems to be superior and possessing more authority than others: “I thought I was the king of the world”. Having compared the short story and the film, we can see both similarities and differences in the punishment being carried out. Hence, the reality of the film as well as the short story seems to be unnatural, therefore it presents utopian views on society as a whole. However, while Victoria is haunted, the narrator of the story by Knight is simply an alienated individual whom everyone dislikes, ignores, and keeps away from. When at the beginning of the story Victoria is unaware of her guilt, the Knight’s character thinks he is the king even though he knows he is guilty in murdering a human being. Yet, at the end of the story he realizes that “[T]hey were all against me, people, wind and all”, while Victoria also realizes that because of her crime people are indifferent to her sufferings. Obviously, in both cases the protagonist is unlike the rest of people and thus is opposed to the other members of society. In a film, the guilty person is haunted, while in the short story the protagonist who committed crime is deliberately alienated and ignored by all the members of community.
People seem to be cruel and indifferent
Thus, the participants or visitors of the White Bear Justice Park seem to be neither just nor compassionate. Even though this is a punishment, a psychologically healthy individual cannot simply watch and record human suffering as it is demonstrated in Black Mirror (White Bear). Inviting people to participate in an act which is considered to be a part of Victoria’s punishment cannot be perceived as a norm. People watch and record human suffering (even if it is suffering of a criminal) does not make them better. Obviously, Victoria deserves good punishment for what she had done. However, making people partake in such a way of punishment only shows that they are not better than the criminal from moral perspective. There is no justification for the main hero of this film and she deserves confinement in a prison for several years.
Furthermore, when she is begging a crowd for help, she screams, “I’m a human”. This phrase indicates that human qualities are natural in her understanding and she appeals to people who she thinks possess such human qualities as compassion, acceptance, and tolerance. However, she does not recognize such characteristics in people who are constantly recording her.
Correspondingly, in the short story “The Country of the Kind”, the main hero is also a criminal like Victoria. Moreover, his very nature is criminal and he remembers his violent action. His punishment is the negative attitude of the rest of society towards him and, as a result, the feeling of loneliness in the whole world. The members of society are ideal people who cannot punish a human even though he may deserve it. The solution to the problem (in other words, punishment) is some changes done to his brain so that he cannot commit any vehement act in the future. Finally, the emission of the awful odor makes other people alert in his presence (a part of three-fold punishment: social exclusion, bad smell, and inability to commit any violent actions). Thus, his hands are tied by invisible rope and he is unable to do what he wishes. He is not free in a free society and this is the major punishment for his criminal nature and his ruthless character. Like Victoria in Black Mirror (White Bear) the protagonist of the short story finds out about the essence of his nature as well as his place in the society only at the end of the story. Even though people do not seem to be bad or cruel in this short story, they are indifferent and intolerable to the member of society who has committed a crime.
Victoria’s guilt vs. ruthlessness of Knight’s protagonist
Let us compare level of Victoria’s guilt to that of Knight’s character. As it has been already mentioned Victoria’s guilt can be neither denied nor justified. At the same time, however, every time her memory is wiped off with the help of electrodes she becomes a person with clean consciousness. She does not really understand attitude of other people towards her. In the end, when she recalls the sad events and the crime itself, she seems to regret doing what she has done. Even the flickers of memory do not help her to recall what happened. Destroying her memory the actors who execute the penalty simply torture her physically and psychologically. If there was such a justice system and if there was such a method of punishment, I would not wipe person’s memory. Without memory she does not feel guilt and does not really know what is going on. Hence, the events of the film remind some cruel scenario where a person is tortured not for committing a crime, but out of humans’ desire for violence. If her memory was not destroyed she would constantly think and remember what she had done. Then, the necessity of such punishment would be more appropriate. Every time she is tortured, humiliated, recorded, and cursed by other people she would know that this is the punishment for the crime she committed. Victoria does not know what is going on until the end of the film. Lastly, she did not actually commit the crime, so her guilt is lesser than that of her fiancé.
Likewise, ruthlessness of the Knight’s character does not necessarily mean only cruel wishes and attempts. Being creative he looks for his talent realization. The punishment in this short story is called a three-fold solution in a form of a sanction, a precaution and a warning. However, the main hero does not perceive it to be a punishment, but he thinks of it as nonsense. He ignores the rest of society calling them “the dulls”. The question which comes to mind here is how that could be a punishment if a person feels as a king of the world. It seems like other people are punished by tolerating such an individual as this one among them.
Therefore, it may be concluded that both, the film and the short story, show us a utopian view of justice. The vision of American Dream in both stories is twisted that is quite obvious for a utopia. In our understanding of justice, it is difficult to imagine scenes of cruelty done to a person like one sees at the beginning of Black Mirror (White Bear). A person is not guilty or, at least, she does not know she is guilty, but she is being hunted, humiliated, and tortured. Consequently, no punishment should be applied to such a person. Furthermore, even when the audience as well as Victoria herself gets to know about her guilt, the methods used as instruments of punishment cannot be justified, at least in a democratic society where tolerance and individual freedom go first.
Similarly, the protagonist of “The Country of the Kind” does not seem to be literally punished. However, he is excluded from the rest of society and made an outcast. Till the end of the story he thinks he is the best or the unique human being unlike the rest of humans. With the help of utopian society one sees the opposite of the real world or what it would look like if the evils of society took over. Through the imagined world of utopia one can better understand the real world because the boundaries of moral laws in the utopia are pushed much further than they exist in the real world. The feelings are exaggerated and the vision of the good and evil is twisted in these imaginary worlds. Such representation of events helps to better understand the true purpose of human justice and just punishment. Seeing our society from an opposite perspective helps to see it a new light, to see the things which are in a shadow, to find out the nuances which seem to be hidden or masked. For instance, it is unacceptable to watch and even record other human’s suffering for a normal human being. If this is so, even if it is a part of punishment, it is still intolerable according to human moral laws. Finally, both in the film and in the short story it is indifference of the other people which is killing. As humans we expect others to react also as humans to what we do or say. No one wanted to look at the figurine made by the Knight’s hero the same as no one wanted to help Victoria who seemed to feel guilty for what she had done.