Tag Archives: Derren Brown


A lot of interest here has been about blogs on ‘illusionist’ and hypnotist Derren Brown. Watching the second part of his ‘Apocalypse’ is a good chance to plug that great thriller, that does not have the power to push itself, The Godhead Game, based around this year’s supposed ‘Apocalypse’, the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar, this December, 2012. (Available but flopping on Amazon.) It’s point is precisely the opposite of ends of the world, since, for all the violence or fear, life and energy are very hard to destroy, as are repeating stories.

Perhaps Derren Brown is a kind of modern saint, though having dabbled in religion, or perhaps feeling a victim to it, he would probably hate the word. But the push and premise of his programme, and ‘set up’ of a character who faced a created Apocalypse, and the ‘infected’, was exactly right, and deeply human, namely to test and bring out the best in his ‘subject’. The lingering question at the end though, namely do we actually need fear, as the spin of the coin on which we all exist, succeed or fail, was immediately preempted by the announcement of the coming programme about faith; Religion: Faith and Fear. The ‘problem’ with the programme was that it already drew on well established cultural ‘clichés’, in all those zombie films. Indeed the set up was an exact replay of one infection and zombie film. Fine, it exactly reflects why such dramas are made themselves.

Which feeds into the question of what drama is for and why talking of science or faith is so much just about language. Derren Brown pushes the boundaries of illusion, hypnotic control, studies of the psyche and what reality really is, if anything at all, to the limits, and there too is his genius. Perhaps he will try to touch what it is very hard to answer, namely is there truth in ‘Jungian’ ideas, that involve such notions as some ‘Collective Unconscious’, that may not be an individual experience alone of dreams, or the powerful unconscious or subconscious, perhaps controlled by a brain centre that can be hypnotised and controlled to an extraordinary extent. To the extent it can stop the nerve functions and make a body in ice cold water think it is in a warm bath, and will actually die. Then that is no more remarkable than dysfunctions people are born with, so that they do not have ‘ordinary’ nerve functions at all, which itself questions what any reality is. But the wider question is what any social reality is too, and what is happening all around us, even in the entertainment staged down a TV screen, as so much is created to advertise or control.

Still, Brown is both a genius and very exciting and inspiring about what he seeks to challenge and examine about a ‘reality’ we all appear to share, but is always so much about illusions, in our experiences and perceptions of the ‘outside world’ and an inner world too. He is doing what that Hollywood movie ‘The Game’ did and would it not be wonderful if we all played that ‘game’ with each other, but to heal and to bring out the most extraordinary in each one of us? The question, as both animal and ‘Man’, is do we need enemies and fear, and what vision and growth exists beyond that when the walls really come tumblin’ down? For those ‘loonies’ who talk some Mayan truth, for whatever reason, perhaps there are always higher states of consciousness.


ps Just to be a little tedious the Greek meaning of Apocalpsye is not those four horsemen at all, but something revealed.

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What a charming and gently bemusing way to end Derren Brown’s generally excellent series ‘The Experiments’. It put the Yorkshire town of Todmorden on the map, with the creation of a lucky dog statue, graced with the touch of staged good chance, and was almost something out of a Paulo Coehlo novel, as the whole town started to talk about it. All the staged elements of luck, although proving that personality and belief are vital to events and interactions in the real world, ended with the doubting Thomas, actually doubting Wayne the Butcher betting his life savings on the roll of a dice, when we were already told the dog itself had no paranormal power, and winning on the third throw.

A supposed psychic weighing in in the middle, among the minor local media frenzy, was especially amusing on vortices of positive energy, but was gently handled too. So to an explosion of fireworks in a town already touched by Brown and Jason Manford. Derren Brown is charming, and essentially a humanist too, but now the irritation is of not knowing if an illusion was involved in the dice roll, and leaves the power and mystery suitably in his court. How would it have ended if Wayne had lost, and what other positive outcome had the producers up their sleeves? It proved too the hypnotic power of celebrity, and Brown was a bit disingenuous to call himself a minor one. We need and want to believe though, as something vital to all our lives, operative in both positive and negative ways, but now we believe Brown will and should be given another series. Will he do something even more ambitious, but with greater elements of seriousness in some of the experiments he enacts? Even a deeper look at some of the more possible roots of coincidence, or the fact so much of it is also about language and concept.


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The real Guilt Trip in the penultimate programme in hyper talented hypnotist Derren Brown’s new series ‘The Experiments’ became watching the thing at all. There were times when it was all stitched together in such a jolly japes way, like those murder mystery weekends you pay for, you either thought the victim, Jody, had to be an actor and the whole thing staged, or he was so ridiculously stupid for not twigging something was up. Especially when the actors around him were swapping plates at dinner, to make him think his memory was playing tricks on him. It’s a vital legal point to talk about guilt and to highlight that thousands every year confess to crimes they have not committed. The sadness of that in real life has much to say about society and the human condition, but it is also one of the reasons for the vital principles of British justice to allow a defence in any circumstance, and one of the reasons for Miranda Rights in the US too, so you do not actually incriminate yourself. Yet again though, seriousness was swapped for entertainment, in all the creaky piano music, the splattered blood and the procession down to the garden to lay the victim on the lawn at night. Again, no new ground was broken, because if Brown has proved hypnosis and suggestion are very real, starting with that remarkable show on ‘The Assassin’, where do you actually go from there? In this case familiarity with the subject is the enemy of an illusionist’s art. It was vaguely moving to see the release from it at the end, when Jody was confessing to a crime he did not commit, the fact that he was safe and didn’t bear a grudge, but it felt strangely empty too. It is a culture that has spread with programmes like Big Brother, or to an earlier generation with ‘You’ve Been Framed’, but people actually love to be involved, perhaps because it lets them experience extremes of emotion they just do not touch normally.

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After the brilliance of the first in the hypnotist Derren Brown’s new series ‘The Experiments’, he rather shot himself in the foot with Remote Control. Under the guise of a new Game Show he got the audience, wearing white face masks to make them anonymous and part of the snarling crowd, to vote on whether a victim should experience nice or nasty events, in a filmed evening, using actors around him he did not know about. It is perfectly true they voted to take him straight down the nasty path, to the point of losing his job, having his TV smashed, being arrested and then kidnapped. That led to a staged escape and a car accident, although by then the victim had been supplanted by an actor, so it was just shock effect.

But firstly it was little surprise, since in the studio setting, and with continuous encouragement from Brown, they were constantly given permission to push the ‘drama’. You imagine too that they assumed that in the long run the victim would be protected from real harm, as in fact he was. But more importantly, just like the TV evangelist programme, when a theatre was filmed at a different angle to look fuller than it was, there were moments when the either-or votes may have gone in favour of the bad over good turn of events, but you were not told by how much, unless it was 80% for the bad right at the start. 60-40 was not so terrible for the human race, at one point, especially when being encouraged.

It was all rather distasteful in the end, however shocking it was a producer invaded his house and was encouraged to smash his TV with a base-ball bat. It was the show itself that set up the pretence he had lost his job. It taught us nothing new about crowd behaviour, human cruelty, or manipulation and indeed Brown is making a deal of money out of it. He has great talent, but is best when he pushes the envelope with more serious programmes like the one on ‘The Assassin’ and links to real cases like Robert Kennedy. Not only did this audience feel under Remote Control though, but the wider audience too, and for the sake of what TV is constantly about, entertainment. The medium is the message!


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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.

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The Channel 4 programme tonight, courtesy of that supreme hypnotist Derren Brown, in his new series ‘The Experiments’, was both extraordinary and terrifying. He hypnotised an ‘ordinary’ member of the public, which clearly means one most susceptible, to assassinate Stephen Fry on stage. Of course the bullets were fake, but the controlled ‘assassin’ believed everything was real, and was also immediately programmed to completely forget. He went into Marksman Mode, on hidden camera, which had also remarkably increased his capacity on a firing range, and then into Amnesia Mode, and went through with it right to the end, with Stephen Fry’s public collapse, complete with fake blood capsules.

But the point of the show, beyond the raw entertainment, was Robert Kennedy’s assassination in the Kitchens of the Ambassador Hotel on June 5th 1968. The assassin Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant, claimed, a claim still maintained in prison, that he did not and does not remember a thing, and for weeks before too, except the famous woman in the Polka dot dress. Polka dots where also used as a trigger by Derren Brown to bring on his subject’s hypnotic trance. So pointing to mind control programmes, to train and operate assassins, including those like MK Ultra, which were operated by the CIA.

Derren Brown’s mastery is to open up the whole truth to the public, probably as extraordinary about the human mind as any illusionism, but this programme must surely lead to a reinvestigation of the Sirhan Sirhan case. There was the theatrical element in Brown’s experiment, one of familiarity too, namely that it was still done in a theatre, where Stephen Fry was talking, and that the subject also believed he was participating in one of Derren’s TV shows, in a different capacity. But it was hugely convincing and very chilling indeed. Can Brown re-hypnotise such a person as Sirhan Sirhan – refused parole repeatedly, partly on the grounds of not showing enough remorse, let alone recall – to remember more of those tragic events, if that is what happened? Though if it was mind control, as now has been proved is entirely possible, the sinister truth has probably been long hidden in the files of secret controllers, who ever they might have been.

Phoenix Ark Press has published an article on Allen Dulles, WWII hero in Switzerland, much loved internally and lionized CIA Director, lawyer at Cromwell and Sullivan, and someone who during the Cold War became involved in assassination programmes. The CIA developed out of the OSS and Roosevelt’s proscription they should use any means, including Black Ops, to fight the Nazis and a World War, at every level. Dulles became supremely adept at it in Switzerland, the model for the character in the film The Good Shepherd, but it was of course Bobby’s brother, JFK, who famously said of the CIA that he wanted to ‘scatter the organisation to the four winds’. Dulles was also involved in programmes like Operation Mockingbird, to influence the American Media against his and the West’s post war obsession, Communists.


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