Image via Meta.
A spider spins its web. Everything is connected. The urban society is strong because of that connection. Every person contributes to the whole, the skills of one person helping to feed any other person in the vast chain of connection. These threads come together like spider silk, connecting us all in the vast fabric of society.But that connection is also a weakness.Threads is an assault on the senses. Once you’ve experienced it, it’s impossible to scrub from memory. Threads is a kaleidoscope of disturbing images and unpleasant information, a cautionary tale to be avoided, and a revelation of truth that feels stark and unavoidable.
Here is an incomplete list of things I saw in Threads. Documentary footage of a spider. Ambulances clogging the streets of Sheffield. U.S. citizens setting fire to a Russian consulate. The sinking of the USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf. Skin peeling in the wake of a nuclear attack. A man explaining that the symptoms of acute radiation poisoning are similar to panic. Soldiers and police officers moving through cities, murdering hungry citizens. Shambling masses of bent and poisoned humans starving in front of rotting billboards. The birth of an awful mutant baby.It is the traffic warden that we remember. The symbol of order, his yellow trimmed coat shabby with nuclear dust, face wrapped bandages that seep and ooze, shotgun at the ready. More than the nuclear mushroom cloud and the screaming, monstrous baby, the traffic warden persists.Threads has already scarred many people who have seen it, which is perhaps the point. Even now, its horrors await millions, even billions of people, who with a few clicks of a button can expose themselves to the nightmarish visions awaiting within. The question before us is what lessons they’ll draw from those horrors.It’s important to emphasize that in a direct sense, Threads is a production of government—not just the technical ingenuity of an advanced society, but of the investments and policy made by elected officials. As a response to a world a few escalatory steps away from nuclear conflict between Russia and America, a prospect made all the more terrifying given the collapse of consensus reality in the face of new mass communications technologies, it’s an audacious step, a deliberate choice to reflect horror back at the user rather than conceal or hide from it.Threads tells the story of anywhere—a city in Yorkshire, the disembodied virtual metropole of the 1%, or your city, it’s all the same. It’s at no seeming risk of nuclear fire in a Russian-American exchange, nor is there any reason for its inhabitants to be directly affected by the machinations of captains of industry and technological barons, and yet they sit, waiting for something to happen, reaching out into the darkness for some fleeting connection—to other people, to distant authority, to anyone who can make sense of what’s happening.Threads shows us the world of connection and its attendant dangers. We are all so close to each other, so close that we can use the connections to wreak devastating havoc. Russia has said it deployed new nuclear weapons. Its pundits talk on TV of using nukes as a way to help the flagging nation win its war in Ukraine. Hypersonic weapons are changing the delicate balance of power between the nuclear nations. China is building new ICBM silos and increasing its nuclear stockpile. The last remaining nuclear prohibition treaties between the U.S. and Russia are in tatters.The spider weaves its web. Threads persist. We are all still connected, to our benefit and our detriment.