Master of deception
A lifetime love of magic and illusion means it’s no surprise that I’m a fan of Derren Brown, and especially the way that, by pretending to be totally open about how he achieves the remarkable effects he does, he has avoided being “exposed” on YouTube as many more conventional magicians are these days. In truth, he isn’t totally open about his methods. At least not always.
A recurring theme in his work has been his (apparent) ability to persuade, trick or otherwise get people to do things they may not otherwise do. Pushed To The Edge (Channel 4, UK) was a highly sophisticated version of the old stage hypnotists who who persuaded volunteers that they could eat a raw onion like an apple.
But this went much, much further in persuading three people to commit a murder by pushing someoe off a tall building.
No one died. Unbeknownst to the volunteers their “victim” was on a safety harness. The participants had been drawn into an elaborate and minutely-planned deception, to demonstrate – in a take on the old “Milgram Experiment” – that humans’ desire to comply, to obey authority figures, will push them into some pretty dark places.
If all was as it appeared on the programme, it would be very, very disturbing. I, for one, was duly disturbed. I mean you’re getting someone to believe they had murdered someone. Well, until Derren turned up like a latter-day Jeremy Beadle, to tell them that they had been had. Erm…ha ha?
Except…I don’t believe it.
I think that the joke is on us, the viewers.
It seems obvious that there is a real risk that convincing someone that they are a murderer when they are not might well be, to say the least, massively upsetting. Short or even long-term psychological damage? Imagine the lawsuits! Besides, it’s a truly horrible thing to do.
So I think it’s (nearly) all been scripted and staged. A fabulous, well-thought-out hoax.
Remember: the one volunteer that was followed all the way through the 90-minute show did not go through with the murder. The three who did were included in a montage sequence in the last part of the show. They were, I contend, actors.
I think we got the show Derren, and his writers, and producers, and Channel 4 wanted.
Just as well made, but easier, less cruel, and a lot safer.
And he is, after all, a self-professed deceiver, by trade.
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