My Written Task will be concerned with Part 2 of the course – Language and Mass Communication, more specifically Arts and Entertainment. The primary stimulus for my task will be the release of the documentary ‘Derren Brown: The Push’. My task will take the form of an interview with the writer/producer of the movie, Derren Brown. This interview will be published in the newspaper, ‘The Guardian’.
I have chosen an interview as it is a medium where the interviewee can provide information about the documentary that one would not be able to obtain simply by watching it. It will follow the conventional features of an interview- one person asking questions, each of some significance, and one person answering. Only one person will speak at a time. When published in the newspaper, it will have a relevant headline.
The specific focus of the task will be a documentary about an experiment, which was meant to test the limits of social compliance. In the experiment, Derren Brown tries to see whether he can convince an unsuspecting man to push a complete stranger off a roof. Through this interview, he would be able to provide details regarding the behind the scenes of the documentary and explain his thought process while writing and producing it.
The primary source for this task is the documentary itself. The interview will be taking place and being published in early 2016, soon after the release of the documentary. The target audience of this interview would be people who are interested in Derren Brown and his studies, as well as viewers of the documentary. I will be attempting to show how mass media use language to persuade, inform or entertain. As the producer of a movie, the interviewee will use his language to promote the movie and entertain his viewers.
Derren, tell us about your latest documentary ’The Push’. What is it about?
What is it about? It’s about you and me, and everyone else watching this interview. It’s about people. All people are easy to manipulate and deceive. Why? Social compliance. It is the phenomenon due to which a request causes a change in our behavior. It is something that operates at all levels. Everyone is unknowingly made to comply at every point in their life, whether at school, at their job, or even at home. I conducted the experiment shown in the movie with the intention of seeing at what point does one put an end to this compliance? I wanted to know when someone takes ownership of their actions and refuses to comply, and how far they will have to go in order to do so. Specifically, over the course of a few hours, can an unsuspecting stranger be made to do a series of small tasks and unknowingly become subservient to us? After that, at what point will he refuse to comply, and can he be convinced to push a living, breathing person off a roof, if he is asked to do so? I wanted to make the viewer question themselves and think about their past experiences, whether they have been made to do something bad, just because someone asked nicely.
What is it about the movie that makes it so dramatic?
What makes it dramatic? How about the fact that it starts off with me convincing a waiter at a café to steal a baby (laughs). Don’t look so shocked, it wasn’t a real baby. The purpose of that scene was to show the viewers – whatever you think you know about people, has to go out the window. I think the fact that the events being shown have actually occurred is a big factor in the level of intensity of the scenes. When the viewer knows that Chris (the subject of the experiment), is oblivious to the fact that he is part of an experiment makes it all the more real. That is what makes the results of the experiment genuine. It makes the viewers think – “what would I do in that situation?” and it makes them question their own psychology. Additionally, the method of compliance we have used is extremely complex. We subjected Chris to various small requests, with the hope that he would unconsciously become somewhat subservient and in the final scene, commit an act of murder. All this eventually led to a dramatic conclusion. When the viewers saw that he didn’t make the push, I sprang it on them that there were 3 other subjects for this experiment, and they all pushed. Would you have expected 3 out of 4 every day, average people, with normal lives and jobs, to murder someone in cold blood, solely due to social influence?
Has your experience in magic benefitted your psychological experiments in any way?
I am not a magician, per se. I’m a mentalist, illusionist and hypnotist. And yes, of course that knowledge gives me a deep insight into the subject of psychology. Needless to say, magic involves misdirection, and psychology can play a big part in manipulating people. I learnt how to get people to think exactly what I want them to think. People will believe that it is something to do with the supernatural, but I have openly said before that I have never performed any supernatural acts as a showman and entertainer, I merely outsmarted everyone else. While magic is primarily illusions, mentalism involves psychology on a much higher level. It involves judging someone’s body language, expressions and movements to “read their minds”. My mentalism involves a ton of psychology. How can you know for sure whether I haven’t learnt something about you during this short period of time? I may have made you do something I want, without you even realizing. I understand the human mind better than most people. I have conducted enough experiments and tricks to truly master the art of manipulation and deception. The human mind has amazed me since I was a child, and magic taught me how to play around with it and sway it to get what I want. After that, studying it was a clear path for me. So, yes, I do believe that my career as a magician helped me in my transition to a psychologist. I also think that my magic background, specifically as a hypnotist, is what makes my experiments so different, and also allows me to change someone’s personality so drastically, and in such a short amount of time. Understanding the human mind so well allowed me to go from regular old card tricks, to convincing strangers to push people off roofs. Interesting, isn’t it? I can get people to commit horrific acts with relative ease, probably even you sitting at home.
What is one message that you would like to give to the viewers at home?
One message- you can never know and understand anyone, even yourself. Is there anyone you think you understand completely? Nobody knows anything about anyone. Can any of you think of anything more unpredictable than the human mind? The one major flaw in psychology is the fact that nobody is the same. Nothing can be generalized. At the end of my movie, I showed all of you the 3 other subjects of the experiment, who all pushed a man off a roof, with the intention of killing him. In one night, within a span of 2 hours, I was able to create murderers, solely by manipulating their minds. Think back on your experiences, isn’t it possible that some of you have maybe done something bad, something illegal, because someone told you to? Do any of you think that you are different, that you’ve never been influenced? If I could convince 3 average everyday people to murder, surely you have been made to do something terrible too, don’t you think?