I saw a film about the middle class recently while visiting a friend who thought that I would love it. It's called Compliance. It's a fictionalized version of true events. A prankster calls up a fast food establishment (McDonald's in the original story), pretending to be a police officer, and gets the manager of the restaurant to require one of her employees to submit to a strip search, among other things.
I was so glad that I watched this film in the theatre. People were upset. A few groups got up and left. Several times people yelled at the screen, "Stupid!" or "What an idiot!" It was too funny hearing people's reactions. For some reason the audience members seemed to think they were immune to similar acts of stupidity. I think this NY Times article does a good job of describing the phenomenon:
“It’s the kind of story that’s a blip, a headline you read and go, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,’ ” Mr. Zobel said. “Then you say, ‘That would never happen to me’ and move on. But I was thinking more and more about it, and it seemed to encompass a lot of things about people’s relationship with authority.”
To write the ingratiating, threatening lines of the caller — whose appearance and location are revealed about halfway through the film and who’s played by Pat Healy — Mr. Zobel immersed himself in the reality show “Cops.” “I was trying to pick up on the way that cops talk, the way they alternately comfort and assume authority in a situation and also manipulate in certain ways,” he said. “If you watch any one episode of ‘Cops’ you’re like, ‘Wow, they talked that person into doing that crazy thing.’ ”
Mr. Zobel has noticed that a common criticism of the film is to write off the characters as implausibly gullible fools. “Everyone plays the part of the hero in their mind and says that they wouldn’t do it,” he said. “But clearly that statistically is not accurate.”
As played by Ms. Dowd, a stage veteran with a long résumé of character roles on screen, Sandra is not simply an idiot nor a clear-cut villain. “When I read it, I knew on a gut level that you could play it in a truthful way,” she said. “I don’t think people want to actually see that part of themselves, it’s too uncomfortable. But for actors, we’re not looking to avoid the feeling, we’re looking to own it.”
“Compliance” can certainly be read as an allegory on blind allegiance to authority and the diffusion of responsibility. But Mr. Zobel stressed that the film does not advance a thesis; nor does his cool, controlled approach preclude empathy for his characters. “It all has to be rooted in real people and things,” he said.
“It’s been disappointing when I hear that people have problems with the film but don’t want to challenge me,” he said. “It’s intentionally complicated. I’m happy for any sort of conversation.”
After I watched it, I was sort of thrilled -- it was such a good example of the sort of herd mentality that I find so distasteful in most people. Sheeple! A link to this film should be next to the dictionary definition of the word sheeple, because it basically encapsulated everything there is to know or think about what it means to be a sheeple. It reminded me of a comment I saw once on this blog. I wish I could remember it. I feel like I included it in the twitter. It said something like -- "you always say we deserve what we get? how do we deserve it? for trusting people? for expecting the best from people and not expecting to get taken by everyone we meet?"
Of course while I was watching, I was just as disturbed as everyone else, probably more disturbed because I understood all of the horrible implications sooner than they did. I knew what would happen and I knew that the audience members would decry this as being an isolated incident of preying upon idiots, but I knew better. I know how fragile the social status quo is and how desperate people are to maintain that status quo, particularly those that think they benefit the most from it. The middle class!
They think that they are being unselfish. They are working hard while the poor people don't and the rich people don't and it's upon their shoulders that society is run. And it's also the middle class that will die (or kill) to defend the status quo. Martyrdom in the guise of patriotism or some other nonsense virtue. But they're not behaving unselfishly. Their behavior is motivated by fear and greed. People cling to the facade of predictability that the status quo provides them, distracting them from the possibility that life is meaningless or that they really aren't as good as they had hoped. This represents en masse what sociopaths are always targeting in individuals -- self deception and self justification. I don't mind them being martyrs. It's more this "kill" element that I'm worried about. The "let's all take up arms to defend this oppressive status quo for the good of humanity" mentality is what scares me. This is the fragility in the human mind and the social order that allows for mob mentality.
But to answer the person, why do you deserve what you get? When you get taken by a sociopath? Or pranked? If you can't see it, I don't know if I can really explain it to you. But watch the movie and realize that the only people that the prank caller is able to control are the people who are invested in the status quo enough to be afraid what would happen if the status quo was disturbed. It is this fear that the prankster preyed on, and anyone who wasn't similarly invested in maintaining the status quo was magically immune.
By the way, my friend who saw the movie with me says he hates the word "sheeple." He says only stupid people use it. I guess the implication was that I am stupid for having used it. I don't like it that much either because I think it is often misused, like "nonplussed" or certain swear words. But if there was ever an application of that word, it applies to anyone who blindly struggles to maintain the status quo at all costs.