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Friday, January 23, 2009

"What would you do?"

ABC's Primetime has recently decided to play mad scientist by attempting to cross reality TV with social experimentation (throwing in a little “candid camera” and possibly “Punk’d”) in order to ask the age old question of staged situations, “What would you do?”

If you click the link, you can view the video of a man putting something into, presumably, his date’s drink and watch the reactions of two sets of couples (a couple of friends and a husband/wife couple). According the comments section on Jezebel’s website, this staged situation has caused quite a stir and rightfully so, as the reactions of ‘innocent bystanders’ leaves a lot to desired.

My favorite comment, by far:
“Ugh. I hate this show…These shows seem to set out to prove that the world is full of assholes when in reality it’s only about 60% assholes.”

Six of 10 of us being assholes is still a huge problem if you ask me. The more pressing concern I have in the “What would you do?” videos is that neither of the three men (two friends or the husband) respond pro-socially to the situation.

There are several things I want to ask them as well as the two actors of how they interpret these inactive bystanders’ behaviors. Do the male bystanders believe its someone else’s problem’, ‘not a problem’, or simply fail to act because they are unsure how to help? Does the actor playing the perp feel emboldened in his role by the way the first two ally themselves with him? Was it easier to thwart the confrontation of the wife because the husband was not doing anything? What’s going through the actress’s mind in the way the first two guys respond? Was she surprised that the husband never said or did anything considering how outspoken his wife was?

Unfortunately, I think we can rule out any optimism with the first two guys as they not only do not see it as a problem, they actually support the potential perpetrator (“asshole”). Maybe if there was one more man that was present that raised concern they might have acted differently. I would like to have seen how they would have responded but it appears that they were in “save face among other men” mode -- a common, albeit ignorant, response by men abiding by the rules of homosociality (the idea of revering men above women in any given situation). There’s also the high likelihood that they were assholes themselves as their behaviors were basically cheering on the perp.

What could be said of the husband? His wife was actually speaks out, however, instead of supporting her he has a dismissive look of his face as if to say “what are you thinking?” “Why would you involve us with her lot?” “Oh no, here we go again…” He smiles and appears relieved when he finds out it was all part of a show, but it comes off as lackluster and very disappointing for he neither supports his wife or the victim.

These scenarios obviously bring up issues of bystander effect, group inhibition, and diffusion of responsibility but there’s also something going on here with men, in particular, that needs to be questioned. Several studies have shown that women are more likely to intervene as bystanders than men no matter the victim or the situation. What’s going on in men that, put in situations like this, we don’t perform bravely? Rather, we choose to not see it as dangerous nor take any personal responsibility? What do these men gain in not intervening? Would they have responded differently if they were at the bar alone, or if other men at the bar had expressed concern about the situation? What would you have liked to seen these men do in response?

What would you have done?

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