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Brownout Of Electrocution

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

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
condottiera on Apr 12th 2012 at 6:19:10 PM
Last Edited By:
Arivne on Sep 5th 2017 at 4:27:33 AM
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 - Zero-Context Example
  • 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. - Zero-Context Example
  • 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.
  • My Cousin Vinny. While in prison charged with murder, Bill and Stan see the lights dim and it shows them how dire their situation is.

Literature

  • 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.

Feedback: 21 replies

Apr 12th 2012 at 6:24:37 PM

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.

Apr 12th 2012 at 6:40:43 PM

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.

Apr 19th 2012 at 10:22:48 AM

Done in My Cousin Vinny. Bill and Stan are sobered to see the lights dim because it shows how dire their situation is.

Apr 19th 2012 at 11:59:56 AM

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.

Apr 19th 2012 at 1:25:59 PM

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?

HCl
Apr 19th 2012 at 10:14:17 PM

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.

Apr 20th 2012 at 3:58:46 AM

Actually, that was an issue of The Simpsons comic book, but yes, that does indeed count.

Apr 21st 2012 at 5:11:20 PM

^ That's good, but I would say Blackout. I've never heard anybody call it a brownout.

Apr 21st 2012 at 5:49:37 PM

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.

Apr 21st 2012 at 7:55:03 PM

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.

Apr 21st 2012 at 9:21:09 PM

@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.

Apr 27th 2012 at 11:12:43 AM

^ I didn't know that. That's cool.

^^^ And thanks for that info. :)

May 4th 2012 at 11:06:15 AM

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 4th 2012 at 11:09:08 AM

  • 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.

Sep 4th 2017 at 9:20:38 AM

This happens in Babylon5, in an episode where the main character is being interrogated. He is shown an alien prisoner, who refuses to testify against him and is dragged away to a place called "Room 17." Screams and ridiculously exaggerated electric noises are heard and the lights dim. Later subverted, when it turns out that the alien was a paid actor and the sound effects are fake.

Interestingly enough, the country involved explicitly doesn't officially use electrocution or any form of execution outside of the military.

Sep 4th 2017 at 9:28:47 AM

In the film Groundhog Day, one of the ways Phil kills himself during his suicide spree is electrocution via a toaster in the bathtub. Everyone in the bed and breakfast is shocked when the lights temporarily dim as we hear the bug-on-zapper sound effect. You Tube video here.

Sep 5th 2017 at 1:58:14 AM

Alluded to in the Sensational Alex Harvey Band's Black Comedy song "There's No Lights on the Christmas Tree, Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight".

Sep 5th 2017 at 3:16:52 AM

  • Capitalized the title.
  • Examples section

Zero Context Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

Sep 5th 2017 at 4:32:31 AM

Compare Gory Discretion Shot for other forms of executions, and Bait And Switch Gunshot if the person getting executed turns out to be someone else.

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