Anyone else watching The Orville, Seth MacFarlane's new semi-spoof on Star Trek? Like Star Trek, the series takes place in space in the distant future. Also like Star Trek, the crew of the ship – filled with Earthlings as well as a cluster of species from made-up planets – spends each episode embarking on diplomatic and exploratory missions on behalf of The Union to planets and galaxies beyond our wildest imaginations.
Anyhow, also as Star Trek sometimes did, The Orville delights in making thinly veiled social commentary via its plotlines.
Last week’s episode hit especially home for me – and should for anyone working in digital communications, or perhaps even politics.
In an episode titled “Majority Rule,” a team from The Orville is tasked with sneaking onto a planet similar to Earth to help two anthropologists from their Union escape. Upon entering said planet, it seemed – even to the viewer – just like Earth.
With one exception.
Every human being on the planet wore a device with both a digital “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” button. The buttons, think cross between emoticons on Facebook and Instagram, could be pressed by anyone on anyone for anything – be it a “thumbs up” from a girl to a cute boy, or a “thumbs down” to a politician engaging in dirty dealings. They can also be accessed remotely via their version of Wi-Fi.
But here is the thing – the buttons determine all the rules in the entire society. Meaning, if you get too many “thumbs down” for even the silliest of offences, like dancing with a statue (as happened in this episode), you go to jail and get “re-programmed” aka lobotomized. In order to stave off too many “thumbs down” votes (10 million gets you the lobotomy, by the way), you get assigned a “press agent” rather than an attorney, who takes you on an “apology tour” to local talk shows, media outlets and even helps you put together a positive social media presence (think dogs) to help save your life.
Seems silly, but as I clicked “like” and “hate” on Facebook to various friends’ posts – not to mention public pages – I realized it really isn’t that far off. I’ve also been asked by media to help get comments from clients involved in crisis situations and issues management. And I’ve certainly watched “apology tours” from everyone from celebrities to business leaders.
It was the ultimate depiction of the court of public opinion – and scary as hell.