Created By: condottiera on April 12, 2012 Last Edited By: elwoz on May 4, 2012

Brownout of Electrocution

When the lights dim in the prison, everybody knows that some poor sap's been executed.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Rolling Updates, Needs a Better Description, Needs Examples

In a prison setting, sometimes there'll be a character on Death Row. The other prisoners by no means get to go watch the execution, but they'll know when the guy is dead when they see the lights dim.

Once upon a time this was Truth in Television, as the requirements of an electric-chair were so massive that if you decided to go with an over-engineered single generator for the prison instead of a dedicated one for the chair, the lights would dim when you used the chair. Nowadays, though, this no longer happens, as they almost always have switched to dedicated units in the few states that still allow electrocution.

Examples:

Comics
  • Subverted in one of The Simpsons comics. When the lights dim suddenly and Bart says it's because some sucker is getting electrocuted; cut to the break room where Chief Wiggum has in fact just overloaded the prison power sockets.

Film
  • Manhattan Melodrama: As Jim walks down the hall, the lights dim overhead and we know that Blackie is dead.
  • The Green Mile
  • Subverted in I Want To Live! Barbara asks an inmate if the dim lights mean somebody got killed, but she replies that it's just the warning for lights out.
  • Escape from L.A.
  • Top Secret!: Nick Rivers is being led to the electric chair with a priest going before him spouting fake Latin. It cuts to a man pulling a switch and the lights dimming, only to reveal that the priest is in the electric chair.
  • In My Cousin Vinny, Bill and Stan see the lights dim and it shows them how dire their situation is.

Liturature
  • In the book The Green Mile, this is averted. When the generator was turned on, the lights in the prison got a little brighter; this made everyone think that the execution had just ended (thinking that the lights must have gone slightly dimmer a few seconds beforehand), when in fact it was just starting.
Community Feedback Replies: 16
  • April 12, 2012
    JonnyB
  • April 12, 2012
    condottiera
    Which Top Secret? The page has 2 possible things it could mean. Also, I just noticed that we somehow don't have a trope page for Manhattan Melodrama! I just had to build the entire I Want To Live! and now this.
  • April 12, 2012
    JonnyB
    Oh sorry, the film Top Secret. Nick Rivers is being led to the electric chair with a priest going before him spouting fake Latin, cut to a man pulling a switch and the lights dimming, then it shows them having put the priest in the electric chair.
  • April 19, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Done in My Cousin Vinny. Bill and Stan are sobered to see the lights dim because it shows how dire their situation is.
  • April 19, 2012
    LeeM
    Obviously a case of artistic licence, because it would be daft to have an execution device that could short out the building's electrical system.
  • April 19, 2012
    condottiera
    I am almost positive that the lights in the whole prison wouldn't be effected, but I do know that sometimes the lights dim in my house for a second whenever somebody uses the vacuum cleaner. It could be possible that the lights in the room where the execution takes place could dim, and I don't want to write what happens in Real Life until I'm sure. Does anybody know an executioner they could ask about this?
  • April 19, 2012
    HCl
    Hazy example I'm afraid: I think there's an episode of The Simpsons where the lights dim suddenly and Bart explains to [some people?] it's because some sucker is getting electrocuted; cut to the break room where Chief Wiggum has in fact just overloaded the prison power sockets.
  • April 20, 2012
    tvtroper98
    Actually, that was an issue of The Simpsons comic book, but yes, that does indeed count.
  • April 21, 2012
    Stratadrake
  • April 21, 2012
    condottiera
    ^ That's good, but I would say Blackout. I've never heard anybody call it a brownout.
  • April 21, 2012
    ZonMundhenk
    Once upon a time this was Truth In Television, the requirements of an electric-chair were so massive that if you decided to go with an over-engineered single generator for the prison instead of a dedicated one for the chair it would do this. They almost always have switched to dedicated units in the few states that still allow electrocution, so it no longer happens.
  • April 21, 2012
    IlGreven
    In the film version of The Green Mile, this happened. In the book, it was actually averted. When the generator was turned on, the lights in the prison got a little brighter; this made everyone think that the execution had just ended (thinking that the lights must have gone slightly dimmer a few seconds beforehand), when in fact it was just starting.
  • April 21, 2012
    Stratadrake
    @condo: That's because "blackout" and "brownout" are actually two different (but closely related) things. A brownout is only a temporary or partial loss of electrical power (e.g. the lights dim), while a blackout is a total loss of power.
  • April 27, 2012
    condottiera
    ^ I didn't know that. That's cool.

    ^^^ And thanks for that info. :)
  • May 4, 2012
    elwoz
    Description should mention that electrocution is now very rare; according to The Other Wiki, the most common technique nowadays is lethal injection, with electrocution a distant fourth to that, firing squads, and hanging.
  • May 4, 2012
    TheEvenPrime
    • Happened in Prison Break, not during an actual execution but during a test round of the electric chair that Michael had sabotaged. The dimming informed Michael that the chair had been fixed and he had to come up with something new.

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