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May 29, 2017 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Social Experiment Films

Die Welle (The Wave) (2008)

Set in a German high school, students in a class on autocracy unknowingly become a case in point for how easy it is for a group powered by toxic ideologies to take over the ruling class.

“Could a dictatorship possibly take charge of Germany again?” The question garnered a number of “nos” from students. In an effort to prove a point, the teacher steadily creates a dictatorship type arrangement with him as a leader. Labeled as a volunteer experiment for the betterment of the class, students must stand to speak as it “improves circulation and increases concentration,” and a class uniform is established to “reduce mental effort” spent deciding what to wear and “decreas[e] disparity between student’s incomes.” Over the week, the student body becomes more empowered and dedicated to the cause, developing its own salute and name — The Wave. Students who do not associate with The Wave become social outcasts and in turn revolt against it.

Films like this are wonderful because they open your eyes to how you could be influenced by your surroundings. Are we really above succumbing to negative ideology through institutionalisation and media spoon-feeding today? I don’t think so. We celebrate consumption when living standards of 49 of the world’s least developed countries are lower today than 30 years ago. Labeling others who vote differently to you as “deplorable” and shutting down organised dialogue at universities — that’s anti-democratic and oppressive.  

Films like this highlight how society is constructed and regulated by rules formed until their grip becomes autonomous, but also how elements of group identity can be severely destructive to our society.

— Mathew Watkins


The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

Based on the infamously unethical psychological experiment conducted in the 1970s, this film serves as a chilling reminder of how ordinary people can act extraordinarily under extreme circumstances. When 24 male college students are set up in an isolated mock prison system, it becomes evident almost immediately that the students assigned the role of guards are taking things too far, and the “prisoners” begin to become seriously concerned for their welfare.

The film is expertly written and takes an in depth look at how a prison-like institution can elevate a person’s ego with power, as well as dehumanise a person by stripping away their individuality. The “guards” are given sunglasses to hide their emotions and give them more authority. The “prisoners” are referred to as numbers and forced to wear rough cut dresses and stockings over their hair. The criticism then falls upon the “government” (the professors) who continue to do nothing to keep such authority figures in check.

Like a modern day Lord Of The Flies, we are reminded that without a moral system in place, or without a system at all, people tend to regress to a more primal hierarchy wherein the more powerful rise to dominance and maintain it through sheer strength. A minority of weaker people may or may not realise they are, collectively, stronger.

It comes as high praise to the film that I’ve spent most of the time discussing its subject matter that I’ve barely mentioned any other aspect of the film.

— Finn Holland


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