There’s nothing that isn’t fascinating about The Milgram Experiment, therefore there’s nothing that isn’t fascinating about its creator, Stanley Milgram. Hence, Dr. Thomas Blass’ recent straightforward biography, while not exactly a thrilling beach read, is indeed quite fascinating. All of its damning conclusions are on display. “The Banality of Evil” as Hannah Arendt put it — or Auschwitz in New Haven, if you want to go that route.
The minutiae of every step of Milgram’s long march to his post-doctoral degree is a bit tedious in the specifics, but I love a world where a dude like this can get through life without having a day job. Basically, Milgram spent his life pushing people’s buttons to see what made them tick. He’d send his grad students on the subway to see how many of them would give up their seat for no real reason other than just asking. He’d leave “dropped letters” to places like Planned Parenthood in notably conservative areas to see how many passersby would assist in getting them in the mailbox. (He also spend many years on a series of experiments that seem kinda pointless to me — proving that people are more familiar with busier parts of town than others. . .or something.) He’d also take psylocibin and see how it affected his appreciation of Gaugin.
His famous experiment on Obedience is the thing that made him, though. So much there was a TV film starring William Shatner about it!!! Alas, the one dumb thing Milgram did was nix Peter Gabriel’s request to allow a song cycle on “Obedience” featuring audio clips for sound beds and test images for the album cover. Oh, man, would that have been cool! Instead all we get is the album-filler track “We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)” from So.
A Scottish art group re-enacted “The Milgram Experiment” recently. They dug up some early 60s looking glasses, haircuts and furniture and really went to town. I must admit, the kitsch factor of a bearded prof. straight out of The Twilight Zone or early Cronenberg really turns me on. I think a remake of that Shatner flick might be in order.