In a world where television ratings matter above all else, and legal ramifications fade under the banner of "entertainment", how dark can television become? What becomes normal? What if death and destruction were overlooked providing the viewers were satisfied. What if the end always justifies the means...
It starts with two neighbouring towns located on the outskirts of the Midlands. Two teams of actors/actresses start work on a cold Sunday morning, beginning a week of what will inevitably be chaos, injury, and most likely death. Hired from a pool of the barely-known to ensure they aren't recognised, and so nobody realises they are part of a reality show. Their identities scrubbed from the internet; no photos, no videos, no trace. Their purpose; to instil hate and violence into the minds of those around them, to achieve the inevitable violent confrontation that the views love and desire.
The teams have been prepped, briefed on the history of each town and the dark parts of their past. Every conflict exposed, every council decision known, every clash between these towns familiarised, no matter how small. Their approaches meticulously planned, knowing exactly what buttons to push to trigger the fear, to trigger the loathing, to get their desired result. An escalation so carefully planned in advance, with cameras poised to capture each moment in high definition. Nothing is left to chance, the ratings come above all else.
Day 1 begins the descent, with each team spreading misinformation to the locals in the most subtle of ways. An overheard conversation here, a fake newspaper article there, the deceivers pretending to be drunk and disorderly while criticising the town and how better their neighbouring town is, just enough to plant the initial seed. The little sparks of fire that will grow in those that observe, that listen, that feel. The balance of those around starts to drop one second at a time with nobody the wiser.
Day 2 increases the effort, with deliveries to supermarkets and shops prevented, alternating between each town from now on. Words carefully calculated, shouted across a supermarket floor, echo the anger of how the other town has claimed priority due to their higher-class status and have received the essentials, and how people shouldn't accept this injustice. The misinformation spreads to those who hear, spawning conversations to those they know, of how they feel devalued and disgusted. Social media becomes alight with the irrational, fueled further by each team. Anger is born in the minds of those who follow, and even the thoughtful struggle to stay impartial. Nobody ever questions the authenticity, or why the deliveries were stopped, they follow what they are told to the letter.
Day 3 targets even the most patient of people, those that would be calm in most situations. Schools are closed under emergency order due to a potential outbreak of a new variation of the flu that is more deadly to the young. Social media becomes flooded with targeted posts discussing how the deceivers "children" were rushed to the local GP to be checked, spurring others to do the same. The GP helpless, considered out of the loop as they know nothing about what is happening. No rivalry is needed at this point, only the fear and helplessness of each parent. Parents are advised to keep their children indoors and away from others, rising tensions of each parent who cannot go to work, cannot leave the house, cannot be in peace.
Day 4 attacks the pride of each town. Vandalism takes place during the previous night, defacing a building or object of significant importance. One town finds their wartime statue spraypainted with graffiti calling the towns people weak. The other finds their horticulture exhibit destroyed, each flower torn from its roots and left crushed for all to see. Each incident blamed on the teenagers from the other, propelled by carefully edited videos making the common sites. Never any faces, never any identities, only the audio of how the other town deserves it and shouldn't exist. The flames grow within everyone, feeling betrayed by those considered to be harmless. Those on the boundary share glances of distrust at each other, casting doubt on their honestly and views of peace. The show progresses, but must increase peace.
Day 5 takes the situation to the next level. Teenagers within each town are assaulted in an evening by other teenagers proclaiming to be from the opposite town, left beaten and badly bruised. The parents furious that nothing is being done about the entire situation and now their innocent children have paid the price. The police are left none the wiser, with no trace of the assailants and no DNA to recover. Tempers rage over how everything is being handled, and timescales of what began only days ago blur into memories of long-standing contention and anger.
Day 6 applies the fuel to the already burning fire, targeting all that live in each town. The fake adverts are deployed, detailing proposed closures to local factories and plans for each towns opposite council to take over their own due to a stated number of failings. Reading becomes painful for all, feeling belittled the more they read, feeling concerned the more they understand. Increases in tax rates and reductions in common services are proposed, way over what most can afford. Predicted closures of the popular shops are listed, depriving those of their regular distractions. The more they read, the more people see their way of life disappearing, their happiness they have worked for reduced to nothing. The anger crows, social media becomes chaotic.
Day 7 begins braced for the inevitable conclusion. The hidden cameras placed, the teams ready to act their final scene, the powder-keg of emotions ready to explode. The clock is ticking for all, before most have woken up from the little sleep they've had since the start of this endeavour. Talks take place the night before between local groups, discussing how a show of force is required to "set things right". The leaders, unfamiliar faces that are all part of the plan. Their victims, all that blindly follow and unknowingly take part in deceitful entertainment for the masses. As coordinated as clockwork can be, those from each town converge at the mid-point, ready for the worst to happen. The cast play their part, throwing the initial punches that spark the riot. Men, women, teenagers, a free-for-all that showcases the worst in all, with no concern demonstrated and no positive end in sight. As carnage ensues the police march in from both sites, attempting to break up the ongoing violence. Ambulances arrive shortly after, overwhelmed by the amount of injury. As the dust settles and people disperse, still no questions asked as to the origins of it all, no thought around how this happened so sudden, no resolve.
As people tend to their bruised egos and battered bodies, the truth is carefully released for all to see. Everything digital, no people to meet, no masters to dethrone, just a trail of information detailing how they were all part of a TV show soon to be aired with prizes for the best clash. Some question the morality, more question the prizes and their chance of 15 minutes of fame. The fractures will heal, the towns will be repaired free of charge, and the minds of those involved will be as distracted as ever, with the inevitability of forgetting the last 7 days a certainty. The local police powerless, the local government inclined to do nothing under the views of "individual responsibility", "local area improvement funds", and "plans for neighbouring town relationship improvements". This act of the show is over, with the personnel and equipment removed as fast as it was deployed. The only traces in the ever-fading memories of those involved, and the blood stains left in the grass.