In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.
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The Game of Death
The film, called “The Game of Death,” features players in a fake television game shocking fellow contestants if they answer a question incorrectly. The directors of the film found some 80 contestants and auditioned them to take part in a game-show called “Zone Xtreme,” where other “contestants” (actually actors) were asked questions while strapped to an electrified chair. If the actor gave an incorrect answer, the contestant was encouraged to administer an electric shock as punishment, while the crowd roared approval.
Christophe Nick, the maker of the documentary, told the BBC that 82% of the participants shocked the actor-contestant.
“They don’t want to do it, they try to convince the authority figure that they should stop, but they don’t manage to.”
The idea for this show comes from the Milgram experiments from the 1960s, which demonstrated people will do horrible things if someone in a position of authority tells them to do it. Mr. Nick, the documentary’s producer, said his results outstripped even Milgram’s findings, with 4 out of 5 contestants going against their conscience at the behest of a television show audience.
Which means that in 2010 we’re more likely to do something morally reprehensible for a reality TV show host-and a shot at fame-than folks were to obey a white, male scientist authority figure in the 1960s.
If the point of this was to demonstrate the dangers of reality TV, it’s certainly a wake-up call. But did the contestants really believe that the injuries were real? Given how accustomed we are to the twists of the entertainment biz, didn’t at least some of them suspect an actor behind the set-up?
And just think of how the “contestants” must have felt when they were told it was a documentary-not a real game-show-and that instead of prize money to go along with their shame, they’d be publicly humiliated (the documentary shows their faces, but does not identify them by name) instead?
Mr. Nick claims that the show emboldened contestants to be less passive in their lives and speak their own voice. Good thing for him that the French aren’t nearly as litigious as we are on this side of the pond.