Thursday, October 12, 2006

Veronica Mars screws up the Stanford Prison Experiment



I get that there's something kinda weird about complaining about a show when as far as I know, I'm the only one on my blogsphere who watches it. But I have to say that this week's Veronica Mars really screwed up when they tried to do an episode where some of the characters took part in an experiment that roughly mirrored the Stanford Prison Experiment.

If you're not familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment, basically a researchr at Standford put together a "prison" and assigned students randomly to be "gaurds" and "inmates," then watched them interact.

It got out of hand.

It got out of hand SO QUICKLY, in fact, that soon the researcher himself was acting like a warden trying to prevent a prison break. The students BECAME vindictive gaurds and traumatized prisoners in literally hours.

This is a really important experiment, and one that explains everything about how things like Abu Gharib happen and why the individual soldiers there aren't so much at fault as the people higher up who set up the situation the way they did. When Abu Gharib broke, the prison experiment was the first thing I thought of.

And my favorite show on television really screwed it up.

They did a watered down version where one guy turned really mean and one other guy turned really submissive, but everyone else was more or less their own lovable selves. Ironically, the show's setup was even worse with the "prisoners" knowing the address where a bomb had been left and the "gaurds" charged with finding out that information before the bomb went off and people were killed. I can't imagine what would have happened if the real prison experiment had included that element. I get that it's a TV show, but it really irritated me as I want more people to know about the Stanford Prison Experiment and what it meant.

I suspect the intention of the show was to teach people about the experiment, but I suspect the show will have the opposite effect, teaching them that the experiment went fine.

Anyway, if you'd like more information, please check out the link above.

CC

22 comments:

kim said...

Maybe tv programs like this are one of the reasons that Americans aren't reality based anymore.

Chalicechick said...

That comment says Americans aren't reality based and implies that they used to be.

Could you explain one/both?

The Emerson Avenger said...

CC screws up Veronica Mars

Chalicechick said...

Huh?

CC

kim said...

The EA was referring to your typos, I presume.
the current leadership in this country proudly states that they are not reality based, that, instead, they make reality to suit themselves.
In the past, we accepted things like what science showed us was true, as true, because we believed that science was dealing with reality, and what was shown to be true through studies and experiments was at least closer to the truth than our wishes and guesses.
While humans have never been completely reality based, nor completely ignoring of reality (because you can't ignore it completely and still do things like walk), we used to have more respect for it than we do now. When I say "we" i mean the culture in general.
Think of that T-shirt that reads, "I have given up on reality and am now looking for a good fantasy."

Chalicechick said...

Making fun of typos. Wow. Someone has a lot of free time.

My keyboard is sticking sometimes recently. Sorry about that.

I guess I have trouble believing that people were ever more reality based than they are now. The evolution fight has been going on more or less since Darwin. So has every other fight over whose source of authority is stronger.

I don't know when the administration said they didn't believe in reality, though if they did that Stephen Colbert makes more sense. Could they have been saying soem variant on what Shaw said when he said ""A reasonable man adapts himself to his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

CC

The Emerson Avenger said...

In that case perhaps it is fair to say that it is eminently reasonable to be unreasonable at times. . . ;-)

OTOH In reality much unreasonable behaviour is actually counter-productive and stands in the way of progress.

PG said...

I believe the phrase "reality-based" originated in opposition to the administration's support for "faith-based." I don't recall the Bush Administration ever saying they did not based their decisions on reality. It's more that others' evaluations of their decisions make those decision seem to be based more in optimistic belief (faith, if you will) than in reality. E.g., the notion that the UN Population Fund contributes to abortions (despite a State Department report to the contrary); the notion that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11 (Cheney still seems to hold out hope for this one); the notion that Saddam Hussein was actively and successfully pursuing the creation of WMDs at the time of our invasion (Christopher Hitchens clings to this one on the Niger yellowcake); the notion that a notoriously difficult region of the world that we had been periodically bombing for the last 12 years would welcome Americans as liberators... you know this stuff. As a British liberal said to me two years ago when I was ranting to him and his girlfriend: "Us, choir. You, still preaching."

I suppose you could construe the Administration's position as being like Shaw's; in the face of all evidence that we needed a massive, multilayered, highly funded and heavily staffed program for postwar Iraq, they took one page from the State Department's planning and figured they could make the environment in Iraq adapt to them.

I think Shaw's quote works better applied to machinery than to men. Although I suppose Hitler had some success in adapting Europe to his view of Germany, at least until 1942, where a reasonable politician would have seen that Germany had gotten its ass whupped in WWI and resigned himself to trying to renegotiate the reparations to be less of a crushing burden on the German economy.

Chalicechick said...

For the record, I wasn’t intending to paint the Bush administration as doing the right thing, I was just searching for an explanation for why they would have said something that sounds so odd out of context.

kim said...

CC-- My problem is I have a really really bad memory, especially for who said what where. But I am sure I heard and/or read where one of the "conservatives" spoke disparagingly of "reality-based" people and said "We make reality to suit us." When Joyce gets home I will ask her if she remembers who and where it was. (Did I mention that Joyce finally got a full time job in her actual field?!?! After three plus years of not being employed. We anxiously await that first paycheck!) Part of my problem with remembering where I saw things is that I am often reading five or six books at once....

PG said...

Oh, the Ron Suskind thing:

"I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend - but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

Wow, just cut-and-pasting that got me all hot from the testosterone of it. Or maybe it's PMS.

kim said...

Well, you beat me to it -- I was just going to paste the same quote.

CC-- Maybe you're too young to remember when most people were more "reality-based".

Joel Monka said...

I'm 51, and can't remember such a time. The quote pasted above sounds a hell of a lot like the things they used to say in the Camelot days.

PG said...

Joel,

I thought the Kennedy version of Camelot had the Wonks of the Round Table. They seemed pretty oriented toward judicious study.

Chalicechick said...

(((Maybe you're too young to remember when most people were more "reality-based".)))

At least give me a clue... was this before, during or after McCarthyism?

CC

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that seems like an apt description of one of the Bush Administration's guiding principles, PG.

Nice.

kim said...

You don't think McCarthyism was an aberrration? (or a foreshadowing?)

Chalicechick said...

(((You don't think McCarthyism was an aberrration? (or a foreshadowing?)))

Given the Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow laws, the Korean War and the Nazis crediting the US's Eugenics laws as the inspiration for a lot of their killings?

No, I think people have always shaped reality, scientific and otherwise, to match their fears and prejudices.

CC

Doug Muder said...

Even though I agree that most of what we hear out of the administration is based on some kind of fantasy -- have you heard that we're winning in Iraq? -- I think the whole "reality-based community" quote is being misinterpreted.

The anonymous source is right -- by the time the Left has gathered enough information to expose the adminstration's fantasy in one area, they've moved on to something else, and nobody cares any more. The administration has the power to shift the terms of debate, and they use that power to run rings around the people who want to stop and debate with them. (Pity the poor Democrats who thought they'd win the 2002 election by talking about healthcare and the economy.)

p.s. Veronica is my favorite show too. And not every aspect of every episode can be perfect. I suspect the prisoner metaphor is going to recur throughout the season; that's how VM's writers operate.

PG said...

Doug,

The trouble the Democrats had with 2002 is not that the Administration controlled the debate; it's that the Democrats didn't realize just how much 9/11 had impacted voters' priorities. Certainly Bush hyped the threat and his own ability to deal with it, but the Democrats were not out there proposing an alternative. Health care and the economy are things we worry about when we feel fundamentally pretty safe (which is why they were big issues in the early 1990s -- with the Cold War over, what else was there to stress about?).

That said, the power to shift the terms of debate nonetheless doesn't quite shift reality. The anonymous quote seemed to be claiming that while pointy-headed liberal intellectuals are sitting around trying to figure out what to do that will work and have fewest negative repercussions, the Bush Administration just takes strong, decisive action -- they're setting themselves up as the anti-Jimmy Carter*. Which is true, and now we are seeing what happens when you go out and do things like invading another country without thinking much about the consequences.

* Is it just me, or is Carter held in greater contempt by the right now than he was even when he was not a good president?

Joel Monka said...

I don't know about the right in general, but I hold President Carter much more in contempt now then I did when he was President. My strongest complaint comes from his certifying the Chavez election. When asked later about all the corruption and illegalities, his office said they were aware of them, but certified the election anyway because they were afraid there would be violence if they didn't. For that exercise in moral cowardice, I now refer to him as "The Formally Honorable Jimmy Carter"

PG said...

Joel,

Do you have a link or anything for the statement by Carter's office? I found lots of conservative blogs repeating the claim that Carter sanctioned electoral fraud, and the politer ones say he did it to avoid violence, but I haven't seen any links or an admission by the Carter Center.