Before you think that this is Netflix's satirical parody of ethically questionable reality programmes, The Push is seemingly the real deal. The concept is like a real-life Truman Show: Here, a contestant is placed in a scenario with dozens of paid actors who attempt to sway him into "killing" a millionaire. The contestant, unaware that he is being duped, is in a very real moral quandary. If you want to know how it ends, you should know that the special previously aired on Channel 4 in 2016, under the title Derren Brown: Pushed To The Edge.
The Push hails from British psychological illusionist Brown, whose goal, per TVLine, is to test just how far people will go to obey authority, even when faced with situations that break their own ethical codes.
It's the premise at the centre of a few famous psychological studies, such as Stanley Milgram's study on obedience. Milgram wanted to see why people who obeyed cruel and murderous orders of Nazis during World War II did so. Milgram had an "experimenter," the person in charge of the experiment, instruct a "teacher," an experiment volunteer, to shock an unseen "learner" (really, an actor who was not receiving any real shocks) every time they got a memory recall problem incorrect.
The experiment revealed that most people will listen to an authority figure, even if they are instructed to harm another human being. However, the Milgram experiment also was called out for its own ethical issues, as it deceived its volunteer participants and put them in a situation that could have caused psychological harm. Given that The Push could end with its contestant committing murder — even if it's only real to them — it's hard not to wonder of the psychological impact.
I understand why illusionist Brown would want to test this faux-murderous experiment on such a large scale. Complicit was literally Dictionary.com's word of 2017. In the United States, government officials have been accused of standing by and blindly following the will of Donald Trump — or, in Marco Rubio's case, for example, the National Rifle Association. Obviously, The Push is about compliance on a more literal scale, but the idea that people will obey those with authority, money, and power extends well past this bizarre immersive experiment.
And still, I can't help but wonder if we need it. It seems unusually cruel to put the contestant in this dark of a situation, no matter what its outcome. (Or, umm, how many waivers he had to sign in order for the special to be greenlit.) If the man does go through with the murder, we don't really learn anything new about humanity: there are countless examples in history of people blindly following orders, from countless genocides to the Slenderman case. The dark side of humanity exists — we don't need to turn an innocent person into a killer to understand that.
Check out the trailer for the new special below. Will you be watching?