Before we go over the top about Derren Brown’s ‘The Experiments’ and the last blog, perhaps a pause about the purpose and potential trickery of TV. Of course the viewer did not know about potential complicity and had to take Brown’s commentary as Gospel. Then there is editing. It worked against him in his programme about Faith Healers, when, for the purpose of a big or startling result, a US theatre was filmed at an angle to suggest an audience was far larger than it was. That is not to attack what he was saying, or revealing under hidden camera, simply the pressure for showmanship and the big story. We are all programme literate enough for that always to work against programme makers, which means that even through the lens of the camera we have an advanced capacity to sense what is real.
What was so impressive about ‘The Assassin’ was the clinical way it was approached, with subtitles explaining what was potentially happening to the subject. The use of a lie detector test too, and infra-red imaging to show the physical reality, over the mental, as subjects immersed themselves in freezing water, as Brown tried to choose his best candidate. You would have to be paranoid or a very big conspiracy theorist to believe the lot was faked for the camera. So it does underscore the possible reality of famous movies like The Manchurian Candidate or the Bourne series. But does that say anything very startling about society? We know that we are manipulated all the time, from adverts, to the positioning of products in supermarkets, advised by psychology experts, to control patterns of shopping. Newspaper proprietors know enough about the power of the press to affect politics. We know enough about history to know that crowds, individuals, whoever, can be manipulated by propaganda, made to believe virtually anything, and to act in terrible ways. Indeed, it is the power of belief that can become so frightening.
But it is that startling idea that you can so control the unconscious, to act so out of a normal pattern, and then make the subject completely forget it again too. Perhaps Brown’s point is that under the surface, ‘normality’ is a questionable thing anyway, the savage beast that lurks below the fronts of civilisation. Then, of course, there is the equally important phenomenon of the brain, its power to alter its own reality, or certainly perception of external reality, and how isolating that can be. Brown is also a great exploder of fakes, but we would love to know what he thinks about things like telepathy, premonition and also Jung’s idea of the Universal Unconscious.