Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social life as one can point to.
March 17, 2010 7:27 PM   Subscribe

A French, state-run TV channel appears to be stirring controversy by airing a documentary about a fake game show in which contestants torture eachother, called "Game of Death." Based on the well-known Stanley Milgram experiments of the 1960's that, in the wake of Nazi Germany, sought out to measure man's willingness to obey orders.

"In Game of Death, 81% of contestants went all the way by administering more than 20 shocks up to a maximum of 460 volts. Only 16 of the 80 subjects recruited for the fake game show refused the verbal prodding from the host — and pressure from the audience to keep dishing out the torture like a good sport — though most expressed misgivings or tried to pull out before being convinced otherwise."

Just to be clear, the pain inflicted is not real. But the contestants are made to think that it is. Clips: one, two, three. Filmmaker Christophe Nick suggests that "[Future] television can — without possible opposition — organize the death of a person as entertainment, and eight out of 10 people will submit to that."

Related: "The Perils of Obedience" by Stanley Milgram. And for a closer look at human beings committing unethical acts under particular social conditions, check out "The Human Behavior Experiments" (Part 1, Part 2) by Alex Gibney.
posted by phaedon (33 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wonder what French for Videodrome is?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:06 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here's the actual site at France 2.
posted by gimonca at 8:17 PM on March 17, 2010


Filmmaker Christophe Nick suggests that "[Future] television can — without possible opposition — organize the death of a person as entertainment, and eight out of 10 people will submit to that."

They did it ancient Rome...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:25 PM on March 17, 2010


En fonction des accords négociés avec nos partenaires, ce service est exclusivement ouvert aux résidents de la France Métropolitaine.

Finally, a show U.S. residents can complain about not being able to see.

posted by gimonca at 8:28 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


An electrifying post.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:35 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


An article from France24 about this in English.
posted by nangar at 8:42 PM on March 17, 2010


I'm guessing these "contestants" weren't aware of Milgram's experiment. More people need to know about it. Here's why:

Despite what you might think about yourself, nobody ever really recovers from contrary-teenager syndrome. No, you didn't. [See what I did there?] Tell someone that s/he is a certain way, especially if it's at all negative, and s/he will vehemently disagree, going so far as to consciously work against it to prove you wrong.

Have you ever softened the impact of a statement made to a friend or lover by suggesting, before saying it, that he won't react well to it? "I don't want to tell you this, because you'll probably flip out... Well, I ate the last cookie." During that ellipsis, the other person is mentally adjusting, compensating, and thinking, "No, I don't flip out; that's ridiculous." He might even say as much. When he gets the urge to flip out upon hearing about the cookie, the thoughts are already in place to prevent it.

Now tell someone, "You would kill a man if someone wearing a white coat and holding a clipboard told you to." Who believes that about himself? "You are a slave to arbitrary authority." Pfft, not me! I'll show you. Why, next time arbitrary authority tells me to kill someone . . .

So, more people need to know about Milgram's experiment. Too bad you're not going to favorite this. (Oh, but since I'm clearly telling you that you will, you smart person you, you won't, just to show me. Wait! Was that iocaine powder? Whatever. Just don't kill people because some jackass told you to, okay?)
posted by whatnotever at 8:51 PM on March 17, 2010 [29 favorites]


Is there anything to suggest that knowledge of the Milgram obedience study helps suppress the phenomenon it documents?
posted by Joe Beese at 8:55 PM on March 17, 2010


Yes, Joe. I'm suggesting it right now.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:14 PM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


I came down to see our kids watching this, I figured out it was a set up, but to be honest, it didn't seem too different to the rest of the crap French TV puts out. That's the really scary part.
posted by quarsan at 10:09 PM on March 17, 2010


It might be interesting to try formulating a memetic innoculation "cocktail" made up of ideas and concepts that would cause those exposed to naturally and instinctually recognize and resist authoritarianism. Of course, you'd need an authoritarian delivery system (i.e. straitjackets and eyelid clamps) to make sure that everyone in a society was properly dosed...
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:32 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Derren Brown repeated the Milgram experiment a couple of years ago pretty much directly, as part of one of his shows - the heist - where he supposedly conditioned people to spontaneously commit a robbery. Out of the 9 people who made it to that stage, only one had heard of the milgram experiment before - the rest pretty much followed along with the original experiment, as the french contestants did. Full episode here (milgram starts at 20.45), or direct clip here. (Damn region restrictions!)
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:56 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Your categories are: Ow! that hurts!; Why are you doing this to me?; and Please let me die."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:19 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


whatnotnever Too bad you're not going to favorite this.

I'm favoriting it because I liked it. Not to obey, or disobey, you. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:02 AM on March 18, 2010


I'm skeptical that the contestants inflicting the fatal shocks really believed that's what they were doing (which of course they weren't).

We are so conditioned to TV being fake, first of all, and wouldn't they expect to suffer the consequences if they actually murdered someone? They are not in the same setting as Milgram's experiments. This was a very public setting. I wonder if they went along all the while just assuming that in the end it would turn out to be fake and they wanted to put on a good show?

Because otherwise, in addition to the validation of the Milgram experiment that people can be coerced into torturing others, we can now surmise that they are also willing to do it in front of other witnesses, with the camera rolling to clearly show their guilt.

I would think that our own tendencies toward self-preservation would make this much less likely.
posted by misha at 5:31 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, The Running Man never did seem that far-fetched to me.
posted by molecicco at 5:45 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, all "reality TV" shows are fake, through and through. Stunty game shows are a form of reality TV. The people participating in this show know that they're not giving real shocks. They have storylines. They are giving the home audience a good show.
posted by muddgirl at 5:48 AM on March 18, 2010


...they are also willing to do it in front of other witnesses

Have you seen any version of Big Brother, notorious for, among other things, turkey slap (sexual assualt), racism and bullying? These people know they are on camera and they don't care. YouTube is rife with people videoing themselves committing horrible crimes and broadcasting it. I don't understand it.
posted by b33j at 5:59 AM on March 18, 2010


I'm favoriting it because I liked it. Not to obey, or disobey, you. :)

I believe that you believe that.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:53 AM on March 18, 2010


This is why I never want to be put into a situation where I have the power to put someone to death because an authority tells me to. I genuinely don't know if I would do it or not. Same goes for choosing between my own life and the life of someone else. I want to pretend that I would stand proud and die with my head held high. I don't want to know if I would rather choose to live life as a coward and monster.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:17 AM on March 18, 2010


Because otherwise, in addition to the validation of the Milgram experiment that people can be coerced into torturing others, we can now surmise that they are also willing to do it in front of other witnesses, with the camera rolling to clearly show their guilt.

Which is why of course, we know nothing of what happened at Abu Ghraib prison. I mean, who would actually pose for pictures with the people they're torturing?

In other words, never underestimate what people will do if they have the slightest cover of an authorty or group approval.
posted by happyroach at 7:34 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is why I never want to be put into a situation where I have the power to put someone to death because an authority tells me to. I genuinely don't know if I would do it or not. Same goes for choosing between my own life and the life of someone else. I want to pretend that I would stand proud and die with my head held high. I don't want to know if I would rather choose to live life as a coward and monster.

If I'm put in a situation where I have the power to put someone to death because an authority tells me to, I will immediately say no. I don't think anyone should be killed and I won't be party to killing someone - except perhaps in a self-defence situation, but even then, I would still want be prosecuted for ending someone's life.

As for choosing between my life and the life of another? That's more difficult to know.
posted by knapah at 8:04 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


...television can... organize the death of a person as entertainment, and eight out of 10 people will submit to that.

Shock and Awe. Missle-nose cameras. Saddam's "execution". etc.

American TV might not have initiated it, but they bought into the salesmanship and promotion of death the whole way.
posted by yeloson at 8:18 AM on March 18, 2010


I'm skeptical that the contestants inflicting the fatal shocks really believed that's what they were doing

I have to agree. Not that people couldn't be convinced, but we're talking about performing on tv vs. a Yale lab in the 1960's. People have some expectations about the first. I wouldn't be surprised if they were deeply intimidated and unaware of what to expect in the second. -- though what people will do out of the pressures of being on camera is an interesting, and perhaps related but not identical, question.

As far as the idea that knowledge of the experiment shields you from the tendency to comply unthinkingly with authority, I submit that this would depend entirely on your takeaway from learning about the experiment -- not the bare knowlege of it, but what thoughts it triggered in you and your own process of reflection on authority and compliance and your place in it. In short, if it caused you to grow and change at the time, then sure, it could very well make you more resistant to this kind of effect. But simple knowlege of it? I don't think so. Change the window dressing and people will miss the underlying theme.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:00 AM on March 18, 2010


The only way I'd watch a show called "Game of Death" would be if it was a reality show version of the Bruce Lee movie. The contestants should have to fight their way through a building to get to the master at the top. And fight Kareem Abdul Jabar.
posted by b2walton at 9:35 AM on March 18, 2010


What a shocking game show idea...
posted by subaruwrx at 9:42 AM on March 18, 2010


I would never hurt anybody just because some authoritarian told me to. I'd do it because I'm a sadistic bastard.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:44 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Television is a power — we know that, but it remained theoretical," Nick told the daily Le Parisien on Wednesday. "I asked myself, Is it so strong that it can turn us into potential torturers?"
(See the 100 best TV shows of all time.)


I think Time needs a new contextual-link-generating algorithm.
posted by PlusDistance at 10:47 AM on March 18, 2010


Look, all "reality TV" shows are fake, through and through. Stunty game shows are a form of reality TV. The people participating in this show know that they're not giving real shocks. They have storylines. They are giving the home audience a good show.

Be this as it may real people throughout history have murdered other people when put into similar situations. Phillip Zimbardo they guy behind the Stanford Prison experiment wrote a book called the Lucifer Effect. Here's a video of him talking about it. He goes through and looks at Stanley Milgram's research as well as his own. Two things that I remember really clearly were that there were 20% of people in the Milgram experiment who never would kill anyone. BUT if the other 80% who would kill "the student" saw 1 person stand up and say no, participation dropped to 20%. If one person calls out the group authority as B.S. than all those tiny little voices going "uh err guys I'm not sure this is cool" in the back of everyone else's head get free reign to run around. Basically the lesson I took from all this stuff is that there are dangerous situations where almost every human being is more likely to act in response to group pressure rather than their own internal ethical code, and if more people are more aware of them then this stuff might be less likely to go down.
posted by edbles at 11:10 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I see what you're saying, edbles, but that has little to do with a fictionalized television show that is selling a particular story to its viewers. Sure, some people probably do live through the kinds of stories told on The Hills or whatever, but the The Hills is still 99.9% fabricated.

Derren Brown repeated the Milgram experiment a couple of years ago pretty much directly, as part of one of his shows - the heist - where he supposedly conditioned people to spontaneously commit a robbery.

Derren Brown is a great example, actually, of how a trick can be set up one way, and then described another way for the TV audience, and we believe it because it seems like a real enough situation. Simon Singh's take on him is particularly insightful. In other words, if Derren Brown claims he used "the Milgram principle" to convince people to rob a bank, it's much more likely that those people knew the whole thing was a set-up and were playing along for the cameras.
posted by muddgirl at 11:54 AM on March 18, 2010


Watching French TV is torture already. There, I said it.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:02 PM on March 18, 2010


Arguably it does have something to do with it, if he takes the time to explain why people behave this way. Humans are suckers for narrative, that's why preachers of any flavor have parables. So wrapping a lesson in sociology around a TV show story doesn't seem that bad of an idea to me.

But after reading your article I guess one problem is 6 months from now when it backfires and the contestants start giving tell all interviews about how it was all faked and then no one believes themselves capable of these kinds of monstrosities, thus de-innoculating them.
posted by edbles at 12:18 PM on March 18, 2010


OK, I just re-read the article, and somehow on the first run through I missed that this wasn't a documentary about an actual TV show, but a documentary where the film-maker set up a fake TV show. I'm still ruminating on how that colors my reaction to the participants.

For some reason it makes me more inclined to believe that they actually thought the other participant was getting shocked - it seems to me like a fake TV show set up for a documentary would be more interested in authenticity than a real TV show, which would be more interested in not getting sued by the people who administer the "shocks".
posted by muddgirl at 12:57 PM on March 18, 2010


« Older Memphis music legend Alex Chilton dead at 59...  |  Twenty years ago tonight, thie... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments