On Space Cadets…

11/17/2005

There’s an article in the Independent newspaper today that I’m trying really hard to convince myself isn’t true. If it is true, it sounds like one of the cruelest things I’ve ever heard of. A group of people chosen for their suggestability are going to be convinced that they are going to experiencer a near-space mission, trained in a fake Russian military base, and then convinced they are orbiting the planet for four days in space where they will perform experiments.

But they’re not going into space at all. In fact, the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated at enormous expense in an institution somewhere in England. The poor suckers they’ve found to inflict this ‘prank’ upon will find out the truth live on television in front of millions of people, just as they think they’ve completed what must seem to be one of the most important and impactful and life-changing experiences of their lives.

I have a tendency to identify too heavily with people on television and in films, which is one of the reasons I find media so compelling as well as one of the reasons I can’t watch embarrassment-based comedy. But I think if I went through such an experience of stress and striving – all in the aspirant desire to do something as astonishing and meaningful an experience as a space mission – I’d be devastated by the idea that it had all been a set-up. As a friend of mine said, the experience would be like one of those sudden context shifts that’s so disorientating and fascinating when suddenly realise where you are having been lost in a strange city, except that afterwards you’d go catatonic and never trust anyone ever again.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve specifically gone after people who are prone to suggestion – which seems to me like actively taking advantage of the good nature and innocence of people – in order to ridicule and humiliate them in front of the nation. The idea of a cynical media hack celebrity consoling a contestant devastated by the revelation by the idea that at least now they’ll be on the cover of Heat magazine… God the whole thing makes me almost physical nauseous.

Who knows. I might be wrong – the whole enterprise might be in the best possible taste and all the people involved might not be permanently emotionally crippled by the idea that they could have such an experience pulled out from underneath them by monstrous inhuman cynics out to make a quick buck from advertising revenues. I’ll probably watch an episode or two before condemning the whole enterprise out of hand. But I’ve found the concept alone profoundly disturbing and a significant and unpleasant shift from Big Brother towards something much much darker and malevolent.

You can read all about the project in the Independent article: Unreality TV: The final frontier. After that, why not explore The Google News related stories. It’s been on Boing Boing too, I see, although they didn’t seem to find it as repulsive as do. So just to remind you all of what the hell they’re doing – here’s a quote to help you get your head around how unpleasant the whole ‘enterprise’ is:

Several months ago, the channel advertised for “thrill seekers” to take part in a new reality TV show. A hundred applicants were invited to London for an interview before being put through a series of psychological tests to ascertain how suggestible they were.

Although the term space cadet is slang for someone who is distracted from reality, Shirley Jones, the show’s executive producer, insisted the contestants were “not stupid people”.

“Suggestibility is a psychological term that has no link with intelligence or gullibility. People who have a creative mind tend to be quite suggestible. All the tests we did have been done in conjunction with a psychologist,” she said.