MIKE MYERS

2011-09-17

[Picture of Mike Myers]On the face of it Mike Myers is a comedian who has done a lot of TV, voice-overs and movies. But saying just that would be doing the man an injustice; Mike Myers is one of the most culturally significant people I can imagine.

It is staggering how much of a cultural influence Myers has had on my life — and all our lives (like it or not). Wayne’s World was the start here in the UK, although he was a TV star in the states on the extremely cool and very famous Saturday Night Live (SNL).  How can one film have so many “catchphrases”? Because of Wayne’s World, people suddenly were “blowing chunks” instead of being sick, girls were “Foxes” and “Babes”, and described as “Hot”. People still say: “Oh yes, it will be mine” in a silly voice — as well as “exsqueeze me!”.  The most infamous linguistic feature was certainly adding “Not” to the end of an assertion to negate it — “She’s a babe (not)”.

[Picture of Wayne from Wayne's World]Wayne’s World changed the world, the everyday world of the early 1990s.  People started speaking that silly Wayne’s speak —  and it remains. Wayne and Garth are archetypes now for middle class teenagers. This rock-loving age group speak in strange ways, repeating in-jokes, memes, catchphrases, stock-phrasing, triggered responses and the like. “Shwing”, and “We’re not worthy!” are context-dependent AND are accompanied with specific gestures and actions.  It is a rich and complex form of social comment and comedy.

Myers’ characters used contrived rituals and language, and referred to a lot of contemporary TV shows and films. These cultural references actually make the characters and the strange world in which they live.  There kids were good with girls, confident, and in an affluent, safe world.

These teenagers were not body-conscious, filled with fear of failure, in poverty, or at odds with authority.  There are no references to acne, masturbation, drugs, drink, bullying, careers, huffy hormonal imbalances, nocturnality, and all the other things that real teenagers are about.

Nevertheless Myers managed to get Wayne & co to come across as genuine, authentic, naïve, likeable, and even aspirational at times.

The film doesn’t date because it taps into time-honoured classic cultural memes and themes, such as Alice Cooper, Stairway To Heaven, Bohemian Rhapsody, Fender Stratocasters, Hockey, Burgers, TV, records and all the things that have targeted teenagers for decades.  Even the fashion is the same — Mackinaws, tee-shorts, jeans, converse shoes, baseball hats.

But Myers did not stop there. He came up with the deliciously mental “So I Married an Axe Murderer” — which is the greatest Scottish movie ever.

His crowning glory might be the voice of Shrek in the Pixar cartoon movies, but for me, it would probably be “Austin Powers“, “Dr Evil” and “Fat Bastard”.

[Pictures of Mike Myers in various guises]

What an influence on our every day culture — “Get out of my swamp!” (in Shrek’s voice), or “Ooo Baby” (in Austin Powers’s voice).

He’s Canadian, but seems to have cornered the market in Britishness (Charlie from So I Married an Axe Murderer, the cartoon ogre, Shrek, and Fat Bastard are all Scottish , Austin Powers and Dr Evil are English).

[Picture of Myers as Fat Bastard]People today impersonate Austin Powers, Dr Evil, Shrek, Fat Bastard, Wayne, Garth routinely — from doing the phrases, and the voices to full costume.

I cannot think of another comedian, or another human being who has had such an influence on popular culture as Mike Myers, and this is my recognition for that and personal tribute to him.

As a footnote, when I was younger, The Bangles were around the charts, and every young lad of my age fancied the pants off Susanna Hoffs. Myers plays in a band with Hoffs called Ming Tea. Myers sings as Austin Powers, Hoffs  is Jillian Shagwell, lead guitar and backing vocals. How cool is THAT?

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AMERICAN TV UPBRINGING

2011-08-17

[Picture of The Fonz from Happy Days]It may seem a strange thing to admit, but I had an American TV upbringing. No question about it.

Of course, I have always been told that British TV is the best in the world, and far superior to what the USA had to offer. However, I have never found any evidence in support of this assertion.

Sure, we’ve produced the odd show or series that has been influential — from Monty Python to The Office, but this is as nothing when compared to the sheer volume of shows from the ‘states — and a lot of them were ground-breaking and phenomenal telly.

Let’s start with the children’s shows – we Brits had weird stuff, a badly translated Calimero and the druggy Magic RoundaboutNoggin the Nog, Pipette, Mr Ben, and Rainbow — all just ODD.

Whereas, the Americans gave us quality entertainment — Top Cat, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Batman, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Addams Family, The Munsters, Hogan’s Heroes, Bonanza, The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, and more, much, much more.

Sesame Street led to The Muppets — and that was MASSIVE here.

I have warm happy memories of the detective shows that my parents loved — good family viewing it was too. Macmillan and Wife, Ironside, Columbo, Banacek, Petrocelli, Kojak, Murder She Wrote, Cannon, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Rockford Files, Hawaii-Five-O, Magnum PI, Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues, The Streets of San Francisco, Barney Miller, and the original ER. Ah, the memories!

Then there were what-we-thought-of-as typical American shows — The Beverley Hill-billies, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, Highway to Heaven,The Odd Couple, Rhoda, Archie Bunker. I think I first heard canned laughter on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in.

The BIG hits — as far as I am concerned — started with Happy Days. This was a 1950’s nostalgia trip that was reflected in music and films in the 1970s — from Showaddywaddy to Grease. Every kid at my school knew who the Fonz was. Having said that, I guess my elders would say Peyton Place, 77 Sunset Strip, Marcus Welby MD, or maybe Emergency Ward 10.

Next up for me was probably Hill Street Blues — everyone was talking about that show. The unusual hand-held camera techniques and overlapping stories has been a big influence ever since, particularly ER.

I liked off-the-wall stuff like The Twilight Zone which were not discussed as much at school. There was a massive buzz for Ally McBeal, I remember that (although I didn’t watch it), I preferred LA Law and Cheers. This happened later with Friends — I watched it without being a fan.

Everyone watched the massively influential Miami Vice. (Read this fun article: When Men Suddenly Changed)

Letterman was shown here, and I could see how it changed the game. Saturday Night Live was superb when we got it. Massive shows over there, and sporadically slotted into UK channels at odd times happened a LOT; I liked 60 minutes, but it was irregularly shown.

I can recall the HUGE impact Jerry Springer had here — and soon it was all about Oprah. I can remember Roseanne caused a stir too. Garry Shandling was interesting, as was Larry Sanders, and those shows, along with Sienfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm have been incredibly innovative and influential television.

Fame! was HUGE — probably moreso than today’s Glee. Girls started wearing leg-warmers and leotards. Everyone, but everyone watched Kung-Fu with David Carradine (Calling someone “Grasshopper” is standard cultural reference fare thanks to that show). The A-Team, Baywatch and Nightrider were perfect Saturday early evening viewing, better than BJ & The Bear or C.H.I.P.S.

I salute you, American Television. You have been my cultural upbringing.  The good the bad and the ugly Betty, it was all television as it should be.

During this period, I remember seeing the alternatives we put up — Man About The House, The Liver Birds, Butterflies, and The Good Life. Awful stuff – believe me, but not as bad as Songs of Praise, Snooker, Darts, Sheep Dog Trials, Ready Steady Cook or Gardening programmes. Honestly!

I do not watch as much telly now, but I am aware that the innovation and quality continues — with CSI, ER, Dexter, The Sopranos, Desparate Housewives, The Simpsons, and Family Guy.

I need family viewing on Saturday and Sunday evenings, but instead of the quality American stuff I grew up with, all we have is X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, or Strictly Come Dancing.

What a shame!

My son heard a song and asked us recently if it was going to win. I was shocked to realise that he thinks that this is what songs are all about – every song and singer to him is in a competition.

In writing this post, I realise that a lot has changed, we have more channels and the internet, but we have become perversely more parochial. I also realised that it would be impossible to do justice to the impact all this US TV output over all these years has had — I cannot name all of these shows, nor describe how big they were (in general and to me) when we had two or three night time channels. In fact, I keep  remembering more and more great shows, so I hope this sparks memories in my readers.

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DURAN DURAN

2011-07-25

[Nagel's artwork for Duran Duran's Rio]Duran Duran are known as an ’80s band.  In fact, they are probably the first ’80s band — and the first band of the modern era.

To us, the seventies were done, and the 1980s were about doing something with all this new stuff, the stuff that had burst forth during the ’70s. Duran Duran caught that wave.  They seemed to have grabbed handfuls of  ’70’s artistic creativity and moulded something unique for themselves.

They seemed happy to use the new synthesisers and sequencers, big drum sounds, guitar effects, fretless bass slides, and typical ’80s stereo noise effects — and in that respect they fitted right in with the period and the likes of Paul Young, Nik Kershaw, Grace Jones, Paul Simon, Robert Palmer, and loads more — however, they wrote some good songs that were big hits around the world and which still stand the test of time.

They got Patrick Nagel to do their album cover for “Rio”, this was a throw-back to progressive rock bands being associated with artists — for example, Woodroffe, Rick Griffin, Mouse and Roger Dean. The choice of Nagel was interesting also because Nagel was closely associated with Playboy Magazine – and Duran Duran were promoted into the USA through Playboy. Nice twist.

Their big intro was “Girls on Film” — that set the dangerous / sexy tone.  Madonna was Lesbo-dominatrix, Frankie Goes To Hollywood were gay, so Duran Duran were the heterosexual male balance. It tied in nicely with Playboy clubs and TV station, and got them the initial media scandal they needed to get on.

[Embedded video from Youtube of Girls of Film by Duran Duran]

Although they rode in on the UK New Romantic wave, that was quickly lost when they started to gear up for world domination. They changed to the epitome 1980’s male fashion statement — the suit and pastel colours.  This was generated by Miami Vice, and taken up by Playboy and the wave of new male magazines starting up (Maxim, and the refurbished GQ (Gentlesmen’s Quarterly), and revamped Esquire).

There was a mood for male grooming and male fashion that Duran Duran tapped into.

They were a real (some say the first) “Boy Band”, in that every one was a pin-up for young teen girls. There was a David Bowie style androgynous-ness  with the dyed hair, sharp cuts, jewellery and the use of make-up.

Their artistic credentials were sealed when they got approval from art legend, Andy Warhol. I remember thinking that Duran Duran were everywhere, doing everything with everybody – and (annoyingly) enjoying themselves.

At that time in the UK, ordinary people began buying shares (British Gas etc) as Thatcher sold off the socialist Nationalised industries.  There was a feeling in general of prosperity and selfishness — the personal computer, the personal number plate, the personal mobile phone and so forth.  On the new Channel Four,  Harry Enfield’s character “Loadsamoney” was seen each week boasting about his wealth. Duran Duran seemed to arrive already rich and successful!

The video for Rio had them larking about on a yacht.  This was Miami Vice, this was Wham, this was Playboy. This was aspirational marketing.

[Embedded video from Youtube of Rio by Duran Duran]

Duran Duran then clicked at just the right time with the music television take-off, MTV, and both went into the stratosphere.

To cap it all, the band were also closely associated with fashion designers, and the rise of the “supermodel”. They were on mark in the same way and at the same time as Basquiat and Haring, doing a lot of the same things as Madonna and Malcolm Mclaren. They were sharp, savvy, and not ashamed of it. Duran Duran were a luxury brand.

But they went further — they did a Bond film theme (A View to a Kill) — and it was massive (the only James Bond theme to go to number one in the USA)

The band was said to be the favourite band of Lady Di/ Princess Diana — the world’s most famous woman at that time, so they were in with serious royalty on top of everything else!

What Duran Duran did not do well was adapt and change; they were too closely defined despite their broad media range — it was all flashy, sexy, sunny, stuff — young, good-looks,  fame and fortune.  Just where does one go from there?

The nearest they came was when their singer, Simon LeBon participated in Live Aid.

In the end, Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes went off on a project called Arcadia, while Andy Taylor and John Taylor joined up with Tony Thompson and Robert Palmer to form The Power Station. I have to say that I quite liked The  Power Station as well as Arcardia’s “Election Day”, and was disappointed when nothing came of these bands.

Duran Duran are loved and hated in equal measure. They could only possibly exist for a short period, they shone brightly while they did, and they absolutely defined an historical cultural period like no other group of people before or since.

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JANE MORRIS

2011-07-18

[Sketch of Jane Morris by Rossetti]Jane Morris is probably the most anonymous famous model ever.

She was born Jane Burden, but married William Morris and flirted and modelled her way into art history as Jane Morris.  Her “relationships” with the Pre-Raphaelites means that her face graces so many of the worlds art galleries, arty coffee table books, art course work plates, posters, carrier bags and more besides.

[Sketch of Jane Morris by Dante Rossetti]The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were into photographic quality detail and likeness and so Jane Morris is recognisable irrespective of which artist painted her.

For me, she is the face of the Tractarians and the Oxford movement, the face of Pre-Raphalites, the face of the catholic movement in Anglicanism, of High Church, of High Victorian Britishness.

I had posters of her before I knew it was her.  I can see the charm she held over Rossetti — and I can appreciate the resemblance with Elizabeth Siddal and Sarah Cox (Fanny Cornforth)

She certainly has very sculptured features, particularly the “Roman Nose”! She was apparently the epitome of beauty according to the brotherhood.

Personally, I don’t see it quite like that; I see her as a perfect depiction of allegory — the type of artists’ model who would be perfect for representing an ideal, such as “Generosity” or “Chastity” and just about anything else, even “War”.  There is something about Jane and Elizabeth Siddal that makes them seem beautiful in the aesthetic sense, rather than the erotic sense.

For me, and I suspect for most men, Morris is an idealisation, not something to be desired.  More of an archetype really, and that is fascinating!

A mate of mine years ago suggested that Jane Morris was a bit like those strange manly females painted by Michelangelo, the classical nose, the strong limbs, the polished marble complexion. I disagreed because Siddal and Fanny had the amazing red hair, and both, but Jane especially, had the listlessness, the boredom and aloofness of the idealised female, not a bastardised man!

The really fun thing when studying these people and this movement is that there are letters and even photographs available.

[Photograph of Jane Morris] [Photograph of Jane Morris]

This blew me away. Obviously you can compare the paintings with the photographs, but the photographs are of an actual — real — wife and mother, not the painted allegorical or historical figure.

  • If you want to compare paintings and sketches with real photographs of Jane Morris, check out the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood website — it’s a great place to start looking into this fascinating movement and era.

Rossetti married Siddal and when she died, Fanny moved in as housekeeper/lover despite everyone’s view of her as a common lass.  They both grew tremendously fat together.  Through both relationships, Rossetti had a long-term “relationship” with Jane Morris, but it was a secretive affair because Morris was Rossetti’s social equal and colleague in the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

If that little paragraph doesn’t whet your appetite for further research and enquiry, then I don’t know what would do the trick!

The whole thing is fascinating, fascinating ideas in fascinating times.  The high church artistic values of spires and stained glass, against the frugality of the stricter protestant faiths.  The strictness of Victorian moral values with the affairs of the people involved in painting them.

All of this is fabulous, dramatic and well documented.  There are many characters, many perpetrators, many artists, but in the end the face that stands out, the face that represents it all is Jane Morris’s. 

Women may not have been equal in terms of votes and inheritance (etc), but it is absolutely clear from Queen Victoria’s time, that women played a massive part in the various artistic, religious, moral and political movements of the time.

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DEVINE

2011-07-11

[Picture of Jean-Paul Bataille playing acoustic guitar]I thought I would share this little guitar study with you.  I came across it simply because it is has my surname as a title, “devine”.

It is by Jean-Paul Bataille, and is a bouncy dropped-G tuning swing study Enjoy!

I cannot seem to embed the video, so the link is www.guitar-tube.com/watch/jean-paul-bataille-devine

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KEITH HARING

2011-07-04

[Picture of Keith Haring's Radiant Baby]Having done an article on Basquiat, I had to follow up with a Keith Haring tribute!

He became famous for his graffiti, especially his “Radiant Baby” symbol. It was not paint, just chalk drawings on the New York underground system — but it was just amazing!

Keith was a trained and studying artist, and he grew very successful indeed in the early 1980s. He had become a friend of Andy Warhol and Basquiat and was always in the news for getting up to all sorts.  He looked kinda geeky and nerdy too — which helped a great deal, as this was a sought-after look in those days.

He seemed always to be in some country or other doing a mural. He painted weird pop star Grace Jones as I recall.

OK, all that aside, I LOVED his work. It was doodles, almost stick men, but somehow it was just brilliant.  I couldn’t get enough of it. It always cheered me up.

[Picture of a wedding invitation by Haring] [Picture of Keith Haring's dancing people] [Picture of parent and baby by Keith Haring]

They are simply a joy!  He used cartoon lines to suggest movement, but I love it when he does a very old Beano trick of lines representing wonder, beeling, astonishment, embarrassment, amazement, and even love.  How else does one transfer that in art? It reminds me of Oor Wullie more than Lowry. It is personal and personable yet anonymous — you cannot even tell the gender of the adult with the baby – parent? possibly, probably, but more importantly is the love for the baby. (I have had people tell me that it is a mother [pink] with a son [blue], but I am not convinced, and I think it is meant to be open to interpretation — I certainly identify with it as a father.

Haring rode on the street art bandwagon of the early 1980s, but he was very commercial, and marketed well.  However, today he and his work is more firmly identified with AIDS — which I feel is a shame. He was such a great pop artist, and had he lived his art and products would have built him an empire and massive brand identity.

Haring is one of those whose work is immediately identifiable — as such his influence tends to be more in avoiding producing any art that could be mistaken for Haring’s!  I like that he is so much a part of it — yet my kids can copy his work (anyone can).

For me there is a slight irony in that his work began as chalk line men in the subway, and that usually means a crime scene, an homicide, a dead person… yet Haring made the chalk man come to life.  When I see a chalk line today, I more think of happy Haring than of Weegee’s Hell’s Kitchen’s homicides.

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BASQUIAT

2011-06-26

[Pic of Andy Warhol with Basquiat both weating boxing gloves]Jean-Michel Basquiat just amazed me to be frank.  He was almost the same age as me, but his life couldn’t have been more different; his life was complicated and truly deserves the description, “amazing”.

He died of an heroin overdose in 1988, and I heard the news when I was in London.  As a tribute, a bunch of us trekked around the rougher parts of town to look at the graffiti. It was one of the most bizarre nights of my life — but I won’t go into that here and now.

They said that Basquiat never got over the death of Andy Warhol the previous year. And although we didn’t know it at the time, but Keith Haring was to die of AIDS in the next few years.

[Picture of Samo graffiti by BVasquiat -- on cancer testing on animals]For me, rightly or wrongly, Basquiat and Haring represented street art elevated to “high art”.  What was happening with dance seemed to be echoed in art.  Break dancing and body popping on the street gained international recognition along with BMX bikes, skateboarding and — finally — proper graffiti.

It was the next big thing in the art world. And it represented a break from the tradition of education and established art world. This remains the case today; many professional and acclaimed artists have no formal training.

Basquiat (as SAMO) was a black impoverished going-nowhere fast kid in New York who started spraying graffiti — and it got noticed by the TV stations.

[Colour painting by Basquiat for gallery]Basquiat went from a homeless, abandoned street urchin who had been run-over and left for dead, to a feted neo-expressionist artist and mate of David Bowie and Andy Warhol. Jeeezo — he even dated Madonna!

The branded suit was discovered in the early 1980s , and Basquiat used to paint in a very expensive Armani suit, getting it covered in paint, and still wear it out to clubs! Brilliant.

Basquiat was rich, successful, famous, and of his time.  We were all getting on with our brick-sized mobile phones, shoulder pads and talk of “loadsamoney”.  It was excessive, and Basquiat died from overdosing, some say from his lifestyle.

I was not really a fan of his work (I much preferred Haring’s), but I recognised the importance of the man in raising graffiti to an artform.  Without Basquiat, we would not / could not have Banksy.

[ Samo graffiti -- confusing life]

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PATRICK WOODROFFE

2011-06-19

[Patrick Woodroffe's book cover for his book Mythopoeikin]The end of the 1970s was an amazingly creative time.  A lot of genres were mixing together, and mixing with new technology too.  County music went electric and gave birth to Country Rock, Jazz fused with world music and synthesisers — and so boundaries were challenged and blurred.  Music and art became one in the album cover, and there was a great new interest in graphic design, logos, typefaces and fonts.  Yes had Roger Dean, Hypgnosis had Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead had Mouse and Rick Griffin.

Punk used strong imagery too — ransom note styles and punk fashion thanks to Malcolm McLaren. Comic book covers were getting sophisticated with fantasy art images by the likes of Boris Vallejo.

In those few short years at the end of the 1970s, the creative arts exploded.

And in 1978 I bought Mythopoeikon by Patrick Woodroffe, and my mates and I tried to copy the fantasy styles of Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Roger Dean and Patrick Woodroffe as we experimented with air brushing art onto vans and hairy bikers’ leather jackets.

Fantasy was a brand new genre at the time, and offered an escape from the bleak economic climate, nuclear cold war and doomsayer inevitabilities. Woodroffe was a Big Star at the time.

The Big Image for me at the time was a book cover for The Billion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss as it was photo-realistic art — but it was nevertheless eyes on lighted candles. The wax drip runs resembled tears, and somehow it was an image that endured in the mind. Of course it made no actual sense, nor was it making any philosophic point. But still.

I found that, on his website, Patrick has this image as an album cover by the Strawbs:

[Art of eyes as candles by Patrick Woodroffe]

We LOVED Woodroffe’s  Budgie and Judas Priest covers — and of course, his famous Greenslade ones.  You know, we actually bought records because of the artwork! This is something lost when the music business switched to CD — and now that this is broken, people can just download MP3 files.  maybe they should bring back the art?

But the link to fantasy is the strongest with Woodroffe for me.  I read a lot of fantasy at the time, including The Lord of The Rings, but also the newer stuff — one that stands out in my memory is The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever (by Stephen R Donaldson). The first of the trilogy came out in the late 70s, and we had to wait until the next one was written and published, and again.

This period was like that; we were always waiting for the next release or publication — magazines, comics, books, albums, books, movies — you name it , things were in a series and fans were “locked in”.

You were always on the look-out for sub-cultural references, and cross-pollination, so there was a great delight to discover that  Jaco Pastorius played for Weather Report — but also played on Joni Mitchell albums, or that a browse around a second-hand book shop would unearth a book with a cover by Woodroffe — such as I did with The Seedbearers by Peter Valentine Timlett:

[Woodroffe book cover The Seedbearers]

I loved Mythopoeikon — and still have it.  It was my very first “coffee table book”, my first “art book”, and I have travelled with it as a very important part of my youth when I have sold or given away an enormous amount over the years.

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OLLY MOSS

2011-06-12

[Dirt Harry Movie Poster by Olly Moss]At he time of writing, Olly Moss has no entry on Wikipedia, and I am not up to the task.  Perhaps someone out there could make the effort? He is certainly deserving.

Olly is a young graphic designer with a good eye. I first saw evidence of this with his “Dirt Harry” movie poster. Clint Eastwood’s face or a smoking gun. That’s pretty clever I thought.

Then I saw a similar work of his. This was every more amazing, but the same type of graphic illusion, it was the poster for the movie, “American Werewolf in London“.

[Movie Poster by Olly Moss of American Werewolf in London]

Come on, how clever is that image? Apart from the loss of A Country The Size of Wales, or as in this case, Wales itself, it is still a map of Britain, and it takes a minute to see the wolf.  Sublime.

He really is worthy 0f anyone’s attention.  there are loads of posters, book and Nintendo and Playstation games covers and much more on his website at ollymoss.com. Please check out his work, and spread the word.

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MILGRAM

2011-06-05

[Picture of Stanley Milgram]I first came across mention of Stanley Milgrams famous experiment from Peter Gabriel of all people.  I was at a Peter Gabriel concert, and Peter sat at his piano and took time to explain The Milgram 18 Experiment to us.

He told us that this was the meaning behind his song “We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)” from “So, 1986”, which needed an explanation as the lyrics are very brief!

I remembered this when I did some sociology and criminology modules at Open University.

Pioneering social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, did a very controversial and famous experiment in the 1960s. It was designed to determine just how far ordinary people would go in obeying people in authority. “Following Orders”. Milgram was Jewish and wanted to understand how Germans could have persecuted the Jews and other groups during WWII.

A volunteer was wired up in a room, and in an adjoining room was a device that administered a varying electric shock to the volunteer.  Subjects were asked by researchers to administer the shock each time that the volunteer failed a word association test. The Subjects did not know that the shocks were fake and that the volunteer doing the word association tests was in fact an actor.

Over 65 per cent of the subject followed orders, even to the extent of delivering potentially lethal electric shocks “Carrying Out Orders“.  They simply felt that the moral responsibility did not lie with them, but with the authority figure telling them to do it.

It was all about who had the ultimate responsibility, and that each of us has a far greater capacity to be evil if the circumstances are right, and where there is a recognised hierarchy, or a clear ringleader.

The Milgram Experiment has had a profound effect ever since.  It means that we each have to be watchful of the context in which we act.  I am amazed at how often Milgram crops up in my life.

Not long after Milgram‘s experiment, Philip Zimbardo set up a new experiment where female subjects were asked to monitor a task and to give electric shocks to those who failed, but half of the female subject were dressed in normal clothes, the other half were in a disguise that rendered them anonymous. Those who could not be identified gave stronger and longer shocks.

Zimbardo showed that people are more viscous when masked, in disguise, unidentifiable, in a crowd, in a car, on the telephone, or through the internet. Anonymity is incredibly important, and when mixed with Milgram, such as with the army, or police force, where anonymity and authority / abrogated responsibility come into play, the de-individualisation and dehumanisation is maximised.

 

Ordinary, nice people can carry out acts of violence or cruelty that they would never believe themselves to be capable of.

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