In The Game of Death we have the substantial impact of gameshow machinery as a stand-in for the scientific authorities of the initial experiment. An impressively deadpan TV hostess gives the orders to continue the game, even as the victim’s suffering becomes unbearably audible. It’s all a hoax, of course, apart from the fact that the participants are admitted, via auditions, to what they are led to believe is a regular game-show in which some participants ask questions to which others must respond.
The last one (an actor, of course) is supposed to be at the receiving end of the electric shocks, given at successively increased voltage, as punishment whenever a wrong answer is given. Let the games commence. An obvious flaw in this film is that what’s being revealed by this “doctored” TV-show, and by the Milgram experiment for that matter, is hardly the shocking truth that it aspires to be, but rather a reminder of lessons learnt in school about the atrocities of Nazi Germany: cruelty is potentially everywhere.
The horrors of the concentration camps were made possible only by the passivity and participation of the Common Man, the word “common” here to be read as conventional, rather than base. Hence the rooted scepticism some of us exhibit when something is justified with reasoning along the lines of “but that’s normal”, or even better: “natural”.
The sheer normality of it all, of gas chambers and industrial genocide, all performed systematically, with meticulous precision, by well-educated people – and then home to Frau, kinder und fleischkloss. Maybe that was the most unsettling trait of the Nazi egime’s “accomplishments”: infernal, and yet “heimlich”. Back in the living rooms of today: writer/producer Christophe Nick and his director team start off by presenting a compilation of increasingly extreme television entertainment, ranging from the deliberate focus on accidents and severe injuries in the wake of Jackass, via a semi-live transmission of Russian roulette (sic!), to the more pitiful display of cynicism and vanity of Paradise Island and the like. All of them are shows busily outbidding each other for the attention of couch-dwellers around the world.
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