'The Push' pushes limits of reality TV

Critics say social experiment goes too far, especially in America's climate of gun violence

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Thursday, March 1, 2018
Pushing the limits with The Push
Pushing the limits with 'The Push': Brian Taff reports on Action News at 11 p.m., February 28, 2018

WYNNEFIELD HEIGHTS (WPVI) -- A new reality special is causing concern around the world.

It comes from Netflix, which produced last year's controversial "13 Reasons," which some said made teen suicide look appealing.

This new show tests the limits of what we'd do under pressure.

'The Push' is supposed to be a lesson in something we experience every day: influence by others around us.

However, the way it illustrates that has some saying the show goes too far.

The show pits 70 actors against an one man, Chris, who doesn't know what's about to happen to him, or that it's all being filmed.

With the backdrop of a fake charity gala, the actors follow a carefully written script to engineer Chris into thinking he has only one way out of a crisis.

"To commit murder," says Derren Brown, the British mentalist illusionist who created the show.

Chris would commit the murder by pushing a millionaire off a ledge.

"It's ridiculous," said Glenn Wilson of Wynnefield, one of the area residents we asked about the program.

Student nurse Maria Co had a similar reaction, "No, that's too much."

Derren Brown wants to show how social pressure influences our lives every day.

Usually, it's benign - like being cajoled by friends to go out when you'd rather stay home.

But psychologist Scott Glassman, Psy.D., of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine says the 1961 experiments of Yale professor Stanley Milgram, depicted in the movie "Experimenter," show the dark side of social pressure.

Milgram asked participants to deliver electric shocks to other supposed volunteers.

The recipients were really actors only pretending to be in pain.

Dr. Glassman says the results were remarkable and disturbing, "60% of the people went through in giving the highest levels of shock."

Dr. Glassman says we're more vulnerable to social pressure if:

1. The situations are ambiguous or confusing;

2. It's a crisis, like The Push, where Chris has little time to think things through.

3. Or when those trying to influence us are close

"People are more easily influenced by friends, family members than they are by strangers," says Dr. Glassman.

If you find yourself pressured to do something you think is wrong, Dr. Glassman has 3 questions to ask:

1. Am I being influenced?

2. Is there an ally who shares your concerns?

3. Does the person exerting the pressure have any real expertise to be the authority in this situation?

"It could be that they don't know much more than we do," he notes.

But there are also real concerns about what this show is exploiting an unsuspecting man for the purpose of entertainment, and doing it at a time when violence is a very REAL problem.

"We don't need something to continue to feed our fears," said Jeff Porter of Wynnefield.

Netflix tells Action News, "We try to provide information about each title in its service, along with tools for members to control viewing in line with what's right for them and their families. "

It notes that Derren Brown may be new to U.S. audiences, however, he has been accepted by British television audiences for more than a decade.

Dr. Glassman says there's a law banning scientists from extreme experiments like the shock test, and he wonders if entertainment should have similar limits.

Alyson DellaValle, of Wynnefield Heights, did think there might be a redeeming quality to 'The Push,' that it might help teach children how to identify and resist negative peer pressure.

"It'd be good for parents to sit down with their kids and kind of go through the show and talk about what that looks like."