The Blackout Experiments

There is a secret group called Blackout that meets from time to time in New York City and Los Angeles. People who wish to participate sign up and after answering a series of very  personal questions about their lives, Blackout sends them a date, time, and address. Participants show up at that place at that time, and they are taken into a world of darkness and terror. Participants report that the experience is life changing.

The Blackout Experiments is a documentary about Blackout and the people addicted/devoted to it. We learn about this men and women, why they are attracted to this kind of “theater,” and follow them as they go deeper and deeper down this mysterious rabbit hole. The more we learn about Blackout, the more troubling it seems and the more troubled the people participating in it seem.

The Blackout experience involves things that border on mental, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Participants are gagged and bound. They are screamed at. They are forced to strip naked and then run through dark hallways. One person is forced to molest a chicken carcass. Another is waterboarded. Throughout, the Blackout crew uses the personal information they’ve gleaned from the questionnaires to punch at participants’ anxieties and personal demons.

Why would anyone want to participate in this? Why do many return again and again and again? Some even form selective groups called “Survivors” who meet together to discuss their Blackout experiences. These groups are member-facilitated, but the Blackout staff directs their formation.

Blackout is a fear cult. The participants are addicted to fear. Many of them have experienced trauma in the past, and Blackout is a way to recycle that terror. They hope to overcome it. People can be addicted to fear. The rush of adrenaline, the feeling of overcoming something, the bliss of surrendering oneself to the control of another (a few of the participants mention obsessive compulsive disorder among their infirmities) – all these feelings can be addictive. Blackout guarantees these feelings.

Surrender is a big part of what these people like about Blackout. They abandon themselves to these unknown people. They let them take them to extreme emotional states, because deep down they trust them. As one woman said, “I paid for this.” At one point, one participant feels like Blackout violated that trust, and he is devastated. (There is certainly a masochistic aspect to this. One former participant mentions Blackout’s similarity to S&M.)

People can worship anything. They can form communities around anything too. Some of the participants claim to have gotten something good out of Blackout. Their surrender was worth it. They could surrender to love too though. I wish they knew that.