Tag Archives: The Experiments


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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