“We each live an extraordinary and improbable life.”
What? you may be thinking. Hasn’t The English Student already reviewed Fear and Faith? Is she going mad?
The answer, Constant Reader, is no. Or, at least, no more than I was already. Fear and Faith is actually a two-parter. Last week was “Fear”; this week is “Faith”. I’ve no idea why the two shows were lumped together like this; Brown’s explanation that religion is the biggest placebo of all (given that last week’s show was dedicated to demonstrating the placebo effect) seems somewhat contrived. But then, what do I know?
This week, the inimitable Derren Brown goes on a crusade against religion.
(Geddit? A crusade…against religion? No? Note to self: do not try any more obscure historical jokes.)
OK, that’s possibly a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one. Brown’s objective is to explain religious experience using psychology. A formidable undertaking for a 45-minute programme, you might think. But, by means of a series of demonstrations (many of them adapted from bona fide scientists’ work) Brown has a pretty good stab at it. There is the buzzer experiment, which involves one of those electrified-wire games that makes a noise when you touch the wire with a loop…in fact, I’m just going to put a picture up. That’s much better. Anyway, the experimentees got left alone with it and told to record the number of mistakes they made. Three out of four lied. But when another group doing the same thing were told that one of the chairs in the room was possessed, no-one lied, despite the fact that none of them believed the chair was actually haunted. This is used as evidence that we are “hard-wired” to believe. Fairly convincing.
And then there was the peppermint test. Ah, yes, the peppermint test. Brown told his viewers (including me) that playing a very low sound makes you smell peppermint, and that doing such things as closing windows, turning up the bass on the TV, etc., would enhance this effect. So I, and probably about a million other people, went through this rigamarole, hoping to smell peppermint (because there’s nothing like audience participation). In other words, we all forgot Rule One.
Rule One: Derren Brown lies.
There was no bass sound. If you smelt peppermint, you were suggesting it to yourself. I did not smell peppermint. At first, this disappointed me, but then it occurred to me that it was probably a good thing. I am not so easily manipulated! Mwahahaha!
Anyway. What did I think of the programme?
It was good. Better than last week’s, because it involved more “headology” (Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters, if you want to understand this reference), which is the real reason I watch Derren Brown. The popular-science line did annoy me a little, because it occasionally seems dumbed-down – there’s a highly condescending cartoon about Why Altruism Was A Good Idea Evolutionarily that never actually seems to explain why altruism was a good idea evolutionarily. (Is that even a word?) But – thank God – there were none of those endlessly repetitive “recaps for viewers who’ve just joined us” which are a bore to watch and, combined with the adverts, mean that out of 45 minutes of TV you’re only seeing maybe half an hour of new content. And I do love Derren Brown. He’s like a real-life Sherlock.