Fanaticus Dramaticus: The Rage Page

July 25, 2015
The Village Idiot

Just released, this thriller of a film explores the controversial Stanford Prison Experiment devised by professor Philip Zimbardo in 1971. For the study, Zimbardo staffed a simulated prison with student volunteers to test the extent to which identity conforms to a specific social setting. Students randomly assigned to portray prison guards became mean and controlling, while those assigned to the role of inmates became antiauthoritarian and withdrawn. The volunteers accepted their roles so completely that Zimbardo feared the outcome of his experiment and shut it down six days early.

Fanaticus addresses how seemingly good people can turn into monsters when they go to sporting events by drawing on Zimbardo’s research along with other sources. “If you want to change a person, you’ve got to change the situation,”  Zimbardo says in a 2008 Ted Talk. “If you want to change the situation, you’ve got to know where the power is, in the system.”  What that means is, it’s not a matter of a few “bad apples,” but a “bad barrel”—the social setting and system contaminate the individual. He cautions us to examine collective responsibility for atrocities. In fact, much of Zimbardo’s more recent work focuses on real prisons like Abu Ghraib and the vicious acts of prison guards there.

Extrapolating this thinking  to the sports world would put some of the blame for bad behavior on the sporting institutions themselves. One way to look at it: it’s going to take a village to manage the village idiot. Shaming an individual for a lack of personal responsibility is not enough.