This is not regular entertainment, in fact this is not entertainment at all. Filmed in black and white, it is footage extracted from a research project. In 1962, the social psychologist Stanley Milgram of Yale University conducted a now infamous experiment to determine how far human beings can be pushed by authority, with particular reference to inflicting pain on others. Subjects were recruited and told they were taking part in a quite different experiment, namely to determine how the infliction of pain – to wit an electric shock – influenced learning patterns. The suggestion was that if people were punished for their mistakes – in this case while playing a crude memory game – they would learn faster. The voltage of the electric shock was increased with every (deliberate) mistake.
The subjects of the experiments were dealt with individually although they believed initially they were in pairs and that the other man had been chosen to be on the receiving end by chance; in reality he was part of the team. And the result was?
Nobody put it better than the poet Jay Ramsay when in his “Romney Beach Sequence” he wrote “The price of distance is death”. In other words, the further away from the subject was the person who was apparently receiving the electric shocks, the more likely it was the subject would bow to authority.
There is quite a bit more to the experiment on obedience, one might add too that as it was apparently conducted on white American males of a certain age it was unrepresentative. Would for example women have been more or less defiant, would teenagers react differently, and what of ethnic Chinese or people from particular religious backgrounds?
The reality is that this speculation does not matter, because the people who are recruited by governments to inflict pain on others at the behest of often anonymous taskmasters gravitate to such positions in all nations on Earth. Which begs two questions: Why was this experiment needed? And what will you do when they put a rifle in your hand and tell you to fire on a peacefully protesting crowd?