By now you've probably heard of the new Netflix release that's shocking everyone, The Push. The one hour special presents a social experiment hosted by the psychological illusionist, Derren Brown, who previously hosted the British reality shows, Mind Control, and The Experiments. If you found The Push absolutely thrilling, you might want to watch some of Derren Brown's other mind-bending specials and TV show episodes online, which can be found both on YouTube and the British public broadcasting channel, Channel 4.
In each of his shows and specials, Brown uses what he calls "soft science" to trick people into believing things that he's planted into their minds. In The Push, for instance, Brown orchestrates a ludicrous scenario involving over 70 actors and one unsuspecting man, Chris, in order to try to convince him (Chris) to kill another person. As Brown asks at the beginning of the special, "Can we be manipulated through social pressure to commit murder?"
Brown tends to ask these types of questions in his work, like in a 2015 YouTube clip of a psychological experiment titled "Could You Kill a Kitten?" Suddenly the fact that Brown created a show about a man murdering another person doesn't seem quite so absurd. In the "Could You Kill a Kitten" video, Brown uses reverse psychology along with a few other psychological tricks to make a woman more suggestible. Through negative suggestion, Brown ultimately succeeds in getting his contestant to press a button that presumably would kill a kitten. In the end, no kittens are harmed in the making of Brown's video, but viewers' faith in humanity is certainly shaken.
Most of Brown's work aims to show how easily manipulated people can be based on certain techniques. While his "Kitten" clip uses negative suggestion — which is basically what people call "reverse psychology" — The Push focuses on how groupthink and social compliance can allow people into believing something morally repugnant might actually be the best choice of action.
Throughout The Push, Chris becomes more and more entangled in a web of lies, carefully set up by the TV personality and administered by the actors. By the time the Netflix special nears its end, even the viewers might understand the benefits of pushing the suggested man off of the roof, though they still remain removed from Chris's actual experience. That experience entails Chris feeling pressured to hide the body of a rich, elderly man at a charity event after the man seemingly dropped dead.
Spoilers ahead. Things become more convoluted when Chris — and supposedly the people around him — realize that the rich man hadn't died but just entered a sleep state. The only way to cover up Chris's plan to hide the millionaire's body would be to then kill him, or so the actors convince Chris. That scenario is perfectly set up when the man sits on the ledge of a tall building, basically inviting Chris to push him off of it.
If you think that playing with a kitten's life on TV seems risky, using a human's life as a social experiment might be the one greatest taboo for reality TV. Not for Brown, though, as the magician/TV host once played Russian Roulette live on Channel 4. After the live televised event that drew in three million viewers, according to the Guardian, police called the show a "hoax" because of Brown's use of blanks instead of live bullets. As a response, Brown's spokesperson told the Guardian that blank bullets still would have resulted in death given the proximity with which Brown held the gun to his head.
The magician, however, maintained that he used live bullets in a different Guardian interview. He also intimated that the controversy over his Russian Roulette stunt only proved its success. "To have the question of was the whole thing real or was it not real, was it a hoax, then that is great," Brown told the Guardian. "Any magic performer out there in the country would just give their right arm for that."
You can find Brown's 2003 Russian Roulette stunt on his YouTube channel, along with plenty of other shocking tricks that the agent provocateur has performed. You probably won't want to watch all of them, but he might somehow trick you into doing so anyway.
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