POST: 'Please Continue' - "the experiment requires that you go on"

What's it about?

Documentaries like Making a Murderer, Central Park Five, and The Stanford Prison Experiment are what I thought of when watching Please, Continue. It's eye opening to see how capable humans are to ignore certain instincts to follow orders. Being a human myself, I understand that a lot of the reason why I do things that go against my moral compass is about fitting in. People crave to be a part of group, specifically the 'right' group. The Milgram experiment decided to combine that idea with obedience to authority. That's where things got ugly. 

What'd I experience?

Two stories are fictionally joined, I guess, in an effort to emphasize the extremes of obedience. The infamous Calhoun Scandal of 1959, where 10 (that number doesn't include the ones that weren't convicted) boys manipulated a 14 year old girl into performing sexual acts on them - back to back. Then the Milgram Experiment that was first conducted in 1960, at Yale University, by Stanley Milgram. 

Milgram Experiment:
Subjects were recruited through ads, in which the experiment was listed as an experiment about ‘memory and learning’. On arrival, each subject was informed that their payment was for showing up, and they could keep the payment regardless of what happened. Then, they met the person leading the experiment (a student in a lab coat) and another person they were told would be another subject (who was in fact a confederate acting as a subject).

The real subject and the con-subject would choose from two slips that actually had 'teacher' written on both - no one ever caught on. The teacher would then see the learner get strapped into a chair and electrodes attached. They would be unable to see one another for the rest of the experiment. Whenever the learner made a mistake, the subject was instructed to punish the learner by giving him a shock, 15 volts higher each time. The learner never actually received the shocks, but was asked to respond in pain as the shocks increased. The conductor was ordered to use one of these predefined statements: “Please continue”, “Please go on”, “The experiment requires that you go on”, “It is absolutely essential that you continue”, “You have no other choice, you must go on” - Making it more authoritarian for each time.

In the play a junior, James, at Yale is assigned to Stanley Milgram as his adviser for his thesis, which happens to be the Milgram experiment. I thought it was interesting that Stanley was of Jewish decent, which is where the idea of the experiment was born out of. He wanted to understand how 'decent' human being were capable of following the extreme orders of the Nazi regime. He explains to James, that in order to actually get people's real reactions - real results - volunteers would need to be under the impression that the experiment is about the impact of punishment in learning. It was disturbing to hear that out loud - how a change in wording can cause a major change in actions. After all, who'd volunteer for something that said;  "Would you like to be part of an experiment where we make you think you're hurting someone in order to prove how evil you can be?"

When it came to the experiment, I wasn't really surprised to find myself agreeing to the idea of playing devil's advocate. Let's make that a pun, and use Satan as an example. 

So, Satan (the conductor)  sets the stage for people (volunteers) to choose the good or evil choice (to electrically shock someone or not). 65% of the volunteers gave the maximum voltage (450 volts). When asked why, they were desperate to explain why they had gone through with it. The experiment even provided with outs, stuff like the person being 'shocked' yelling to be let out even stating that they have a heart condition, but nothing stopped the people from listening to a man in a lab coat. The reason I bring this up, is because I felt like people's outrage over the results of the experiment was more about desperation rather than justified rage. 

The Calhoun Scandal included a senior college student, Frances, who has sought out religion as his method of redemption. Redemption for the having engaged in the exploitation of a 14 year girl. What he finds worse is that when the girl went on to name the men, by some chance Frances is sparred and so has to deal with the guilt. He went as far as comparing himself to the 2nd thief at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ - where one of the thieves responded in faith to the message of salvation and was taken to paradise that very day, while the other man did not respond in faith and is now suffering for a deadly and eternal mistake. Frances thinks that confiding in faith will hopefully save him. What was upsetting was to see the Reverend insinuate that he should keep silent about his participation in the incident. I don't practice religion, but I do enjoy reading about it and trying to understand it, and so it's frightening to hear a supposed person of god advise to hide truth in order to save oneself, disregarding justice for the exploited woman.

Frances' situation includes 10 other people who the story uses as an example of the Milgram effect:
Frances is a good boy, but he has 10 'bad' friends who he wants to be liked by. Frances has two choices, give in and abuse a girl so his buds like him OR not harm a women and instead help her. Frances wanted friends, and so a girl taken advantage of. And now France's cries. 

The thing is ,people don't like to think that a person they thought was good has done something so horrific. So, what do they do? Find Jesus or just complain. I guess, Frances is going to hell after all.

Th reason I thought of documentaries (like Making a Murderer, Central Park Five, and The Stanford Prison Experiment) is because in all of those events (I'll have to wait for season 2 of MAM) people are interrogated to the point of confessing to crimes they didn't commit. Which is very much like Milgram, who created an environment where people are supposedly doing what they are told instead of what they want. It  makes me question if this could be the reason behind police brutality. The issue isn't just the officers we interact with, but could it be the larger authority behind the scenes that allows them to think that their badge means brutality is acceptable. 

As much as people are outraged by the Milgram Experiment, it really opened my eyes to the world I currently live in. As a part of a country with so much power, I feel like I have become accustomed to pretending. I don’t always care enough to accept the true nature of things because that's too frightening. All Stanley Milgram did was create an illusion - not a deception- to get to a revelation about a disturbing truth of human behavior.

As the show ended, I started gathering the idea that on some level James, who is conducting the experiment himself, was subconsciously under the authority of his Professor Milgram. Since at many times he felt ashamed to do this, to make people do something opposed to what they believe in, and to do it to 'good' people. I am still not sure if he would be considered a side effect or even a possible part of the results.

I wonder - how far would I go? How far would you go?


Want to see it?

$25 Student Tickets

Please Continue
Ensemble Studio Theatre
thru Feb. 28