Cheap and great value – now there’s a thought

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment -

BBC Four

THE CUTS are bit­ing hard at the BBC, a n d t h e r e s ul t - ing in­dust r i a l a c t i o n has hit news pro­grammes this week. But the Beeb seems to have hit on one very ef­fec­tive re­ces­sion-bust­ing strat­egy – mak­ing use of its un­par­al­leled ar­chives to come up with cheap but in­tel­li­gent pro­grammes.

Great Thinkers: In Their Own Words fol­lows the Timeshift f o r m u l a o f u n e a r t h i n g a r c h i v e f o o t - age and shap­ing it into a nar­ra­tive. For this pro­gramme a few talk­ing heads have been added — thinkers ex­plain­ing what other t h i n k e r s w e r e t h i n k - i n g a b o u t . I t may not come as a mas­sive sur­prise to dis­cover that a pro­gramme that at­tempted to ex­plain hu­man be­hav­iour was heavy on Jews — even down to the nar­ra­tor, Re­becca Front. Its cen­tre­piece was the only ex­ist­ing sound record­ing of Sigmund Freud — made in De­cem­ber 1938, only months be­fore his death from throat cancer. What Freud said was un­re­mark­able. He mod­estly told the in­ter­viewer: “I dis­cov­ered some im­por­tant new facts about the un­con­scious, in­stinc­tual urges and so on.”

It was left to an­other Jew, writer Oliver James, to put his words into per­spec­tive. “We have this idea of the un­con­scious. We think our dreams are im­por­tant, we feel are child­hoods are im­por­tant.”

All this, he ex­plained, was due to the work of Freud.

Stu­dents of psy­chol­ogy will not have learned much from this pro­gramme – and those new to Freud’s work have got lit­tle more than the barest out­line of what he did. How­ever, that is to miss the point, The op­por­tu­nity to hear that voice, faint and dis­torted though it was, brought a dis­tant his­tor­i­cal fig­ure to life.

Sim­i­larly, his feud with his dis­ci­ple, Carl Gus­tav Jung, would be con­sid­ered dusty and ar­cane… un­til we saw Jung, chat­ting to TV in­ter­viewer John Free­man in 1959 about his fall­ing out with the great man in 1912. The de­tails of their dis­pute were con­sid­ered too aca­demic even for BBC Four, but the sight of Jung chat­ting about his re­la­tion­ship with Freud was com­pelling.

How­ever, the most shock­ing footage was of a Hori­zon pro­gramme from the early 1970s pre­sented by Stan­ley Mil­gram.

The Amer­i­can son of Jewish refugees from Europe, Mil­gram had grown up ap­palled by the mass mur­der of Jews by the Nazis and was de­ter­mined to find out more about the hu­man ca­pac­ity for cru­elty.

His quest re­sulted in one of the most fa­mous of post-war psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ments. Mem­bers of the pub­lic were told they were par­tic­i­pat­ing in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into mem­ory and learn­ing. They would ask a ques­tion of a “stu­dent”. If the ques­tion was an­swered wrongly, they were then asked to in­flict an elec­tric shock to the stu­dent. The stu­dents were ac­tors and the shocks were fake but the “teach­ers” did not know this. Sixty-five per cent of them ad­min­is­tered a 450-volt shock even though they were told that the level of volt­age was dan­ger­ous. In orig­i­nal footage from the ex­per­i­ment we watched a mid­dle-aged man, pre­sum­ably an up­stand­ing US cit­i­zen, obey­ing or­ders to ad­min­is­ter a mas­sive elec­tric shock de­spite the pleas and screams of his “stu­dent”.

Mil­gram took an im­por­tant les­son from the ex­per­i­ment. “It does not take and evil per­son to serve an evil sys­tem. Or­di­nary peo­ple are eas­ily in­te­grated into malev­o­lent sys­tems,” he said.

Tele­vi­sion does not come much cheaper than re­hash­ing 40-year-old pro­grammes but when the sub­ject mat­ter is as im­por­tant as this, the BBC — cuts or no cuts — is ful­fill­ing its charter. How­ever, watch out for more Only Fools And Horses re-runs.


Freud: brought to life

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