Grado de dificultad: 3, tanto por el idioma como por el contenido. Es un tema interesante e importante, sin embargo.

The seak for spectacular

The movies that inspired us are British and French. This is the initial reason why present post will be in one of these two idioms.

Netflix again?! Well, yes! What can we say, we are addicts.

If you too are Netflix watchers (binje watchers?), you may have seen, in your recommendation list, an film from English illusionist Derren Brown: “The Push, also known as “Pushed to the Edge”, released in 2016. Here is the trailer of this Netflix program.

Derren Brown is well known for his repeated polemic programs. He loves shocking, and the TV channels love his work (including Netflix as it appears – no one is perfect…). It boosts viewing rating, so it is kind of logic.

There is no way to sweeten it: this film describes how to lead true people to become murderers… We think you should watch it, for so many reason, no matter its intentional spectacular aspect.

However, to understand what is going on in this film, there is a previous movie on this same subject. This other one is easier to explain and it will help us analyze how far what happens is real and possible.

This other program is a French one. Its title is “le jeu de la mort”, released in 2009, and deals with the same subject in a slightly different way. There is no trailer, but the complete film is on YouTube (it is 1H 30 long and in french – sorry – but captivating) at following address:

There is also a Wikipedia entry on this program, there:

This earlier event was about a bogus TV game where “questioners” had to punish someone in a very dangerous way, and it turned out that 81% of them accepted to do it up to a deadly point.

The exercise aims at demonstrating the power of television (TMN comment: only that?)

A hint at this point: the choice to name them “questioners” is a clear reference to the middle age Inquisition torturing process, called “Question”. This is already cynical.

Technical hints about what happens in both movies

81% is a very high and disturbing figure. In fact, it is so high that in the very film, the people who are supposed to analyze, are caught in a visible denial. This denial is one of the most interesting moment in the French film (unwillingly), together with the reactions of the “questioners”.

There is a first wrong explanation for this stunning result. Their conclusion is that television is such a powerful media, that it, alone, is the guilty entity. However, this is not about TV, or, at least, there are many other cases.

They do not seem to realize that there are reasons for the result they find.

The main one is that the experiment they are organizing is not only a Milgram Experiment (from psychologist Stanley Milgram), but is combined with the Asch conformity experiments (from psychologist Solomon Asch, who by the way was Milgram’s mentor).

To sum up in a few words, Asch’s experiments demonstrated that an individual person can be influenced by a group and behave according to what the group appears to want.

Then the Milgram experiment showed that the authority can also influence strongly the behavior or an individual to the point of accepting a criminal behavior.

In both movies, the situations are a combination of manipulations from both known experiments.

In the French film, even though they insist heavily on the “Milgram” part, which is an exact copy of the initial experiment, they seem to deny the influence of the “group” represented by the public of the fake show, which is a “real word” example of “Asch” influencing group.

In Brown’s movie, the reference to Asch experiments is more evident, while the influence of authority is more insidious and personal. In both cases, the modifications to initial experiments are cunning improvements that explain why the results are so much more disturbing than the clinical ones.

However, in both movies, there is a key information missing, even though they briefly mention it. To be able to reach the startpoint they need, they had to perform a selection. What was it? Was it something specific or was it something commonly used?

We are not sure we want to know.

A few additional things to end this post

These two movies are a window opened to our soul. No one can feel safe from what it shows about us. Denial is the classical reaction to divert the painful hit.

Even Milgram misses the point when he categorizes the excuses questioners finds. The point is that doing so is demonstrating that he is among them.

When Derren Brown says at the end of his film that “we must push back”, this is a very weak excuse compared to the huge operation that he participated in.

If you are thinking on what you would do in those circumstances, you have already lost. Yes, because we are almost sure you already met them at some point in your life, and probably more than once. Do you remember them and how did you react? This is the right question.

In the French film, psychologist Jean Léon Beauvois says: “…precisely because he is alone, and like any lonely person, confronted with any sort of power, he has no defense and becomes the most obedient being”.

We say this is not true.

We don’t necessarily agree with Derren Brown, nor approve him, but we think his spectacle (it is definitely one) is worth watching, to think about us.

Update: Someone argued that saying “Even Milgram misses the point” was rude and more widely that our statements were very pretentious.

He has a point. We would never consider such brilliant Psychologist with contempt. A detail of context: the experience of Stanley took place in Yale in early 60s, in the aftermath of Nuremberg process. This was almost 60 years ago, and all of it was a discovery.

Of course, he was not conscious of being himself a bias to his own experiment; it is far easier to notice that, 60 years later. It is also far easier now to see that the conditions could be altered to “enhance” the result.

The Milgram experiment was a laboratory test, to isolate one parameter. It is clear that some people saw immediately that the conditions could be “modified”, and did it in the real life… Which is not what he intended either.

Now, speaking of the modern demonstration we spotted, we think that, on one hand, Derren Brown was mainly interested in a spectacular demonstration, and it is OK for us because is not that pretentious.

On the other hand, the attitude of someone like Jean Léon Beauvois, and the way the French program describes their experiment as if it was true for everyone is more disturbing. It is as disturbing as the denial that is visible in that program.

The courage of the people who stand against the bullying is quite visible too, contradicting what they say.