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EDITIONS
Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 08:51 GMT 09:51 UK
The Experiment
The Experiment

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)


MARK LAWSON:
This clearly wants to be Big Brother with a psychology degree but does it work at that level?

PHILIP HENSHER:
I think this is the weirdest television show I have seen since Shirley Bassey Christmas Spectacular. What is this all about?

These people go, they are told they're guards and they have to keep order and within about a day, they're saying to prisoners, "I don't know what you're in for", and negotiating with them to improve the food by talking to a non-existent prison governor.

MARK LAWSON:
It's role playing.

PHILIP HENSHER:
Yes, but there's a problem. Are they assuming the roles or are they entering into role play? It's very difficult to work out.

The value as a psychological experiment is nil because they obviously all know about the psychological experiment. They know if not about the Stanford experiments they know about Animal Farm, the abuses of power and they discuss it.

They're not innocent bystanders. But as television, as sheer bizarre bonkers, great television, it's fab.

MARK LAWSON:
It would have been better if it was the Truman Show and they put people in jail.

PHILIP HENSHER:
This is about as good as you can get. It is fun.

NATASHA WALTER:
I think you've put your finger on it that it doesn't work as a psychological experiment. The psychologist running it make out this gives us some incredible insight into the nature of the relationship of the powerful and powerless.

But the problem is within the prison set up, the guards don't have any power because they have been told so often they're not to use any psychological or physical force, and so there isn't any conflict there that is being acted out.

In the original experiment that was meant to have generated into abuse, the guards did abuse their power. There is this problem. It makes for very, very boring television.

Then in the very end of the third episode, things start to change, and it looks as though the prisoners are taking over the guards' role. You wonder why did that take so long, given there was no power being exerted.

MARK LAWSON:
I thought it was gripping and I found the first one gripping because of the character. They cast it very well. They had this computer tycoon who desperately wanted to run it in a modern co-operative office way and he was going through genuine agonies of the attempt to enforce power over these people.

BONNIE GREER:
I hope this genre ends. I'm so sick of it. This to me is CCTV bumped up to production values. I thought it was garbage. I was very upset with it because it's not really about power.

Why don't they put people with real power on television. Celebrity Big Brother was more interesting than Big Brother because these people had power.

This is zoo TV. I walked away from it thinking why? I felt unclean looking at it. I think the genre should come to an end.

PHILIP HENSHER:
I sort of enjoyed it as it went on because the gaps in it are so fascinating. Actually there is a power relationship here which is between the psychologists and the prisoners. That goes very, very unexamined.

The other thing is what's been edited out. The prisoners they don't view. There's only really two prisoners in here. What about the others? There are lots of gaps.

MARK LAWSON:
They have treated like a drama, they've chosen the most interesting characters.

NATASHA WALTER:
What you say about the only power relationship you are looking at is that between the people within The Experiment and the psychologists outside, is true.

Everyone within it is so obedient, this idea of the experiment. When the prisoners break out they say to the psychologists would this ruin The Experiment for you or can we do this?

MARK LAWSON:
I enjoyed it more than you three, but this experiment has become fantastically famous, serious psychologists talk about it. Why has it become so?

NATASHA WALTER:
This is a different exercise.

BONNIE GREER:
This is the age they were in. We're in a television age now where we're becoming voyeurs. We're not learning everything. What you talked about, you have to sit and study this. This is in between the cracks.

The thing on the screen is to make us sit back and enjoy this cheap manipulation of human beings that doesn't give us anything we haven't learned in the last 30 years.

PHILIP HENSHER:
They know they are performing and they also are enacting in a media that's been created by the Stanford experiments.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Panel
02 May 02 | Panel
02 May 02 | Panel
02 May 02 | Panel
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