Thursday, March 18, 2010

Waaaay Too Much Information

Sometimes you just don’t want to know that much about some people’s sex lives.

The producers of “Game of Death” recruited 24 volunteers who were told that they were going to shoot a pilot for a new show called “La Zone Xtrême”, or “The Xtreme Zone”.
With no financial incentive on the table, the point of the game was to ask one “candidate” – played, in reality, by an actor – a series of questions. If he gave a wrong answer, the punishment would be an electric shock, with the voltage increasing by increments from 80 to 460 volts with each incorrect response.

‘Not my problem, eh?’

In the book about the documentary, “L’Expérience Extreme” (The Extreme Experiment), written by producer Christophe Nick and co-authored with journalist Michel Eltchaninoff, a participant identified as Patrick, a Metro driver, said he was happy to simply follow orders – because it was a TV show.
The instinct to obey, said Patrick, overrode all feelings for the man he believed was receiving the shocks and was in genuine pain.
While much is made of the fact that this mimics the dynamics of an American behavioral experiment that dew much nitice in the 1960’s, that isn’t what’s of interest in the story. Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram’s experiment in how willing people were to screw each other over was not conceived of as light game show-cum-‘reality TV’ entertainment of the sort we have seen with “Fear Factor” and the like.

The ungrounded nature of whoever though this show a good idea is of more interest, not because of something surprising in the behavior of the participants, but of the clinical predictability, particularly in a society where many are fond of thinking themselves unique and rebellious, but are notoriously conformist and conditioned in their behavior. One hears at every turn about the miracle of –being them-, which is only made possible by the sameness of reactions from one person to the next.

Okay, so let’s bring back the three words all Europeans have been pedantically conditioned to repeat on the evidence of fewer abuse events than this TV show, and with no cause other than the playing out of the emotions of people making low-budget TV programming:
Abu-Ghreib! Guantanamo! Abu-Ghreib! Guantanamo! Abu-Ghreib! Guantanamo! Abu-Ghreib! Guantanamo! Abu-Ghreib! Guantanamo! Abu-Ghreib! Guantanamo!
A commentary in Britain’s Independent is inappropriately titled “However nice you are, you might push the button too” forgets that the reality of the choice should make that say “However morally bereft you are, you might push the button too”. Remember that there is something significant in common among the 20% who wouldn’t push the button. In Milgram’s data set of 40 years ago, it was 35% who refused to fry for the sake of conformity or a Paulingian happy pellet.

That’s nearly twice the number found in our enfeebled, present day postmodern world where even the intelligent and observant resort to the anesthetic use of saying “everyone would do it,” probably because they know what side of that 80-20 break they fall on.

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