The Ring of Gyges and Black Mirror’s Shut Up and Dance

Categories: Ring of Gyges

The story of the Ring of Gyges by Glaucon and Black Mirror’s episode, Black Mirror are quite similar in more ways than one. They both explore the depths of humans’ selfish desires and our penchant for committing unjust acts, our inclination to follow rules if it would mean not getting caught and avoiding consequence and our willingness to do whatever to whoever if it meant not suffering any consequences for our actions.

Shut up and dance tells the story of a teenage boy who is blackmailed into committing bizarre and criminal acts by a mysterious hacker possessing a video of him masturbating.

The boy is joined by a middle-aged man whom the same hacker is also blackmailing over infidelity. Later on, we find out that they’re not the only ones following these ‘rules’. Shut up and dance explores the human fear of exposure and humiliation for an act, but also what we are willing to do if it meant that we would not be caught in the act or thereafter.

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When Kenny’s secret is known to just one person, he is forcefully transformed into this petrified teenager on alert, imagine what he would do to keep this dark secret of his hidden from others.

The ring of Gyges explores the notion that justice is of self interest and extrinsic rewards. In this excerpt, Glaucon tells the story of the Lydian shepherd who finds a ring that makes him invisible, allowing him to commit unjust acts without any consequences.

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The shepherd makes his way to the palace, seduces the queen, kills the king, and seizes the throne, and because he is invisible, he is able to escape reprisal and consequences for his actions. Glaucon asks whether a just person with such a ring would not eventually follow the same path as an unjust person, leading him to think that justice is solely done in self interest and praise and benefits for being just, and we would commit unjust acts if it meant not suffering for those acts.

In the ring of gyges it can be said that people view justice as a necessary act, which we allow ourselves to suffer in order to avoid the greater evil that awaits us if we give into it. This scenario exists in Black Mirror’s shut up and dance where the main character and his accomplices have to choose between the greater and lesser evil, the former being the acts they have committed to land themselves in that situation and the latter being the acts they have decided to commit to prevent those greater evils from coming to light. According to this excerpt, justice stems from human weakness and vulnerability to indulge in selfish desires- meaning without a set number of rules and regulations we would behave unjust. And since we may each suffer from each other’s injustices, we device laws agreeing to be just to one another. We subject ourselves to the burden of justice because we know we would suffer worse without it (which is the consequence for breaking the rules).

The ring of gyges explains that no one is willingly just, and that justice is not something that we practice because it is the right path but something we practice out of fear of punishment and reward from society for being good/ just. Glaucon’s idea that no one is willingly just is supported in shut up and dance where Kenny had already committed an unjust act (child pornography) which served as a basis for his blackmail.

According to Glaucon, “justice is naturally bad and injustice is naturally good.” In other words, if you gave people the power to be unjust without suffering any penalty then they would all do it. He says that by nature, we all have selfish desires and want what is best for us. As a result we are willing to commit injustices and not worry about what is good for other people but simply to pursue our own interest if it meant there would be no consequences. This can be seen in shut up and dance where Kenny is asked to rob a bank in order to keep his act (the greater evil) a secret. To Kenny, it would be much worse to have everyone know that he fancies children than to rob a bank and potentially traumatize his victims. He disguises himself, so this way no one will actually ever know what happened and he will suffer no consequences for his act of robbing the bank, and also child pornography. This was a major incentive to go ahead with the robbery, besides the fact that it would prevent his secret from being leaked. He even killed a man because he thought that no one would ever find out. Kenny became a child pornography user, armed robber and murderer because he thought he would never be caught. This also applies to their blackmailer who gave them the sickest of instructions to follow and committed many unjust acts himself very comfortably because he knew he would remain anonymous and would not be held accountable for his actions.

Understandably, the Ring of Gyges refers to the rules we tend to follow in order to avoid punishment as ‘just’ laws of the land, while the rules in shut up and dance are the instructions of a vigilante playing games with his victims. They are still rules that in both cases, people followed in order to avoid punishment. After all, according to Glaucon, justice is unnatural and injustice is natural and good, so Kenny following those unjust instructions in order to atone his unjust acts might actually have been equatable to a man following rules (which Glaucon referred to as a burden) to avoid punishment in the Ring of Gyges. In both cases, following those rules would ensure that no punishment came their way. The point that stands for both cases is that humans will only follow rules if it mean that they would avoid punishment or if it produced some benefit for them, and that humans would commit any act at all if it meant that they wouldn’t get caught.

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The Ring of Gyges and Black Mirror’s Shut Up and Dance. (2021, Dec 28). Retrieved from

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