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article imageReview: An intriguing account of Milgram's obedience experiments

By Erol Bozkurt     Oct 25, 2015 in Entertainment
In his recent movie Experimenter, released this month, director Michael Almereyda helps us witness the inner workings of a brilliant psychologist's mind who literally shocked the world in the 1960s.
Biographical movies about a period of someone's life always attract attention, granted there's enough controversy in the story. Experimenter is a film that shows us how difficult it is to escape from our propensity for obedience to authority figures, regardless of our intelligence or good manners. In today's world of social media and the selfie craze, Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments seem even more relevant than they were in the 1960s.
Troubled by the consequences of the Nazi regime, Milgram conducted a series of experiments to uncover the truth behind the obedience to authority or majority. His most famous experiment lays the foundation for this movie. In this experiment (1961) Milgram and his team members observe the behaviors of an unsuspecting subject who thinks he is a team member. He evaluates the answers of a person he cannot see, but hear. When the answer is wrong, he punishes that person by giving him an electric shock. As the survey progresses, the electric shocks get more and more severe.
Perhaps, Milgram has just showed us what Hannah Arendt knew all along. In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), she explores similar themes and concludes that there is no such thing as pure evil conducted by monsters, but rather people letting go of their moral responsibilities and become the muscles needed to exercise such evil. For Arendt's original articles on the banality of evil, you may want to check the New Yorker archives. In the movie, Arendt's ideas are brought forth, but never analyzed by Milgram. The reason behind this may be the way this movie is constructed. Although it's pretty much like any other biographical movie, in some scenes Milgram looks directly at the audience and talks to it. This gives you the sense that this is not just another historical piece. What is being investigated here is not something we can forget easily. In a way Milgram warns us to not to forget our capacity to be cruel. Since we all have this defect, we can only understand and perhaps, fix it by a sense of community. As the movie suggests, if we are concerned about the well-being of another person regardless of our roles in an ongoing story, there is still hope for us.
More about Stanley milgram, Experimenter, Movies, Social psychology, Milgram
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