Is Derren Brown Great??

I’m watching Mind Control with Derren Brown.
This guy is freakin me out

Here he is paying for merchandise with blank paper. He even bought a platinum ring worth $4500 and handed over blank paper and walked out with it.

In other scenes he stopped people on the street to ask for directions and politely for their wallets or others valuables and they just handed it over.

He claims it’s a combination of physiology , reading body language , and other skills.

No stooges or plants. What the hell??

Here’s Derren explaining John Edwards and other mediums while saying up front that it’s fake, it’s a trick.

I wanted to catch this, after Who Wants / Superhero tonight.

Mom called, and we talked for half the show… I was out of the mood for it at that point.

It’s hard to say how much of his spiel about his methods of subliminally suggesting ideas (seems far-fetched) and micro-reading facial expressions and gestures (more plausible) is just part of his act. A lot his tricks are just standard conjuring tricks. Some of them though, the people must be stooges or at least willingly going along with the joke, the same way stage hypnotists’ victims do.

Anecdote alert:

When I was a student back in 1998, I was on the JCR* committee for our Halls of Residence in Bristol.

For Freshers’ Week we traditionally had a hypnotist show, but several members (myself included) of the committee were also members of the Christian Union, and we declined to book a hypnotist due to a misguided belief that it was somehow “ungodly”.

(I’m rather embarassed at my attitude, looking back, but fortunately I’ve since shaken myself out of that particular area of lunacy… in my defence I genuinely thought I was doing the right thing, albeit with the misguided zeal of a 19 y/old who knows they must be right!)

Anyway, a couple of our members had already approched Derren about doing a show - back then he was just starting to get his act up-and-running in the Bristol area, and the uni was a good place to try various techniques out.

When he was told of our reasons for not going ahead with the booking he wrote me a long letter explaining his whole philosophy. He made it absolutely clear that he was not claiming any psychic, telepathic or otherwise “supernatural” powers… his act was based 100% on psychology, suggestion and a “scientific” approach to manupulating human behaviour.

It was clearly something he’d come up against a lot - either religious antangonism for his “pagan” machinations, or a skeptical suspicion that it was all fake (stooges etc). In fact, Derren had previously been a member of our CU, but had left some years back when he started recognising some of the traits he was developing for a show being used by the Churches in the area.

He said that his techniques wouldn’t work on everyone, as you need to be of a certain disposition to react to his suggestions - that in itself was refreshing (i.e. an admission that he couldn’t manipulate some people).

I called him up a few months later to apologise, and we booked him to come to our Valentine’s Ball to perform some close-up magic in our casino area… he was fantastic, really gifted technically. He even told us when he was going to switch cards etc, but we still couldn’t see it (although I guess that itself was part of the misdirection!).

So anyway, the guy is a real showman and is genuinely interested in what he can achieve without stooges and TV editing. With TV there’s always some cosmetic editing, but from my (brief!) discussions with him he’s more interested in what he can do without that kind of flim-flammery.

*Junior Common Room, basically the Student Entertainment and Welfare Committee

Holy frick! I just watched the premier American episode (which contained some stuff, like the mall thing, that I saw on bbc.com at least a year ago). I was stunned by the Ode to Joy thing. How? How, I ask you? I mean, the blank paper thing, while surprising, was pretty simple (looking) misdirection and subconscious manipulation ("‘It’s all right, take it, take it,’ my friend said.") and a very large pair of brass testicles. Same for the hand-over-your-wallet bit. The predicting how much money people had or how many fingers they were holding up - coulda been that they showed the 3-4 times he was coincidentally right, and not the 395 that he was wrong. The mall thing was pretty textbook NLP, and on rewinding it you can hear the “hidden” phrases which influenced the very open-to-influence people at the mall.

But how in the name of the Great Green Arkleseizure did the conductor body language his way into leading an orchestra in Ode to Joy with no sheet music, no prior agreement on the song (or key), and NO FRIGGIN’ HANDS?! :eek:

I think what’s more impressive is that he some how managed to get change from one of the guys.

I don’t believe him. Some of it is too fantastic. For instance when he guesses the favorite pick-up line of three girls in a bar. Or when he stops people on the street by standing in an apartment and doing something with his hands. He at least uses pre-gathered information about the people while pretending not to, and probably has things hidden from the view of the camera. We’ve had several threads on him here on SDMB now. Come on, someone tell me I’m right!

Sounds like this guy must score on every first date.

I totally agree; there’s some definite manipulation going on.

What about when he was in the mall and somehow made everyone raise their hand at the same time? I call BS.

It’s easy to say “he uses stooges” but, as he points out in his book, if that were true it would take a LOT of money to keep them quiet. He’s huge in the UK and if he were using stooges I’m sure one of the tabloids would have been able to “out” him by now.

There’s a difference between “faking” and just not broadcasting the 4 previous attempts that didn’t work.

When they filmed The Heist (a show where people were conditioned to unconsciously take part in an armed robbery) he started off with c.25 potential applicants, but assessed them v. carefully over a couple of days to choose only those who displayed the right temperament.

In fact, the assessment was one of the most interesting part of the show… the candidates were placed in certain situations to see how the reacted. They all sat down for a meal - with the assumption that it was paid for by the show - but at the end they were asked for payment.

Some people protested, some meekly went to pay up, and one chap just chucked his credit card down and told 'em to put the whole bill on his card. I don’t think he made the cut, as he was clearly not fazed by “authority” figures.

With a population of 60m, it’s not too hard to find 3-4 people who will follow suggestion… which is plenty for a 30 min show.

When Brown speaks of using “psychology, suggestion and a *scientific * approach to manipulating human behaviour” it sounds like he’s referring to the subjects in his act: the man on the street, the shop-clerk, the orchestra conductor. But I suspect he is really referring to us, the audience. We are the ones he wants to misdirect. Telling us that he uses psychology is the misdirection. He has us looking at pyschology to explain his skills, when all along I think he is probably performing very basic magic tricks. The psychology premise is the equivalent of the stage magician’s buxom assistant wearing a skimpy outfit to distract the audience.

Absolutely. He has astutely updated the traditional conjurer’s spiel, because contemporary audiences are not going to fall for stuff about him having supernatural magical powers. But give them a bit of psychological pseudoscience and they’ll lap it up. The part where he “reveals” at the end of his stage act how he has been surreptitiously inserting suggestive words and phrases in his patter - I don’t believe that that is how he does it.

Some of it’s conjouring… one trick involves sitting someone in a chair, and then asking them to stand up. The person finds themselves unable to get out of their seat, which is attributed to the “power of suggestion”. In fact, if you use the right chair, you can position the body at such an angle at it requires much more leverage and power to rise than it normally does… put the spine and centre of gravity in a slightly different place, and it’s amazing how often people can’t perform acts they would otherwise do.

I guess he also has the perfect distraction device of a TV crew in tow… people seem to lose all sense of reason when you stick a camera in their face, so it’s not suprising they go along with some of the more outlandish suggestions.

I thought the same thing! That reveal about subliminal suggestion was all about fooling us… I didn’t believe it for a second.

Despite my skepticism, I’m not much interested in knowing how a magician pulls it off. I’m not clever enough to figure it out, so I simply enjoy the act… but I generally know when I’m being bamboozled.

If he tells me that those are not the droids I am looking for, I will bow down and worship him as my Yoda.

Yes. I’m Joking

I’d not seen the Ode to Joy one before, but just found it on Youtube. And seeing him operate in a field where I’ve got more knowledge made it easier to see what was going on:

  • asking a conductor stood in front of a orchestra to think of a ‘tune’, there’s not much else they’d go for. Especially as the orchestra was conveniently of the exact size & layout you’d want for a Beethoven symphony. If there were eight horns, four trumpets and a battery of percussion, he might’ve been tempted by Shostakovich.

  • Derren’s ‘random’ description of exploring scales, seeing what sounds emerge, and allowing a tune to emerge is an accurate description of Beethoven’s introduction into the Ode to Joy melody. Every person in that room will have encountered numerous descriptions of the same passage in the past, each saying the same thing with different words.

  • Some of Derren’s gestures are very specific and calculated, and some are basically those of a conductor at various points in Beethoven 9, minus the actual beat. At one point he very clearly points in the direction of the cellos followed by the wind, which matches the motions for the initial appearance of the Ode to Joy theme (cellos with IIRC a bassoon countermelody). Again, everybody there will have seen these actions before. It also wouldn’t surprise me if he’s deliberately waiting for a couple of cellos to reach an F# in an ascending scale to do this.

  • How did they all play in the same key? When they first start making sounds, all the strings are playing open strings, so immediately D & A dominate. ‘Play a few scales’, and all the strings play D major or other closely related ones. The wind & brass in some cases do the same, but it also very much sounds like they go along with the carpet of sound in front of them. And hey, what a coincidence - Beethoven used D major, too. The timbre of certain instruments in that key, playing scalic fragments, cannot but have some resemblance to that tune.

  • Lastly, and this is the biggest point: I’d have been far more impressed if the conductor was also blindfolded. Any decent conductor does at least as much with their eyes as with their hands. This is actually a very good demonstration of just that, as you can see him engaging with specific sections as he hears the fragments he wants to pick up on.

As I watched this show, I often felt as if he would be saying that at any moment (especially when cashing in losing tickets at the dog track).

Gosh, I found the videos perfectly believable, and I think most people would fall for his tricks.

Brown’s simply a grandmaster con man, and yes, it’s based on psychology. You’ll notice he never shuts up; he’s placing the mark in a state of compliance and agreement, lulling them into agreement by staying calm and controlling the conversation through questions. It doesn’t fool people for long - you’ll note a lot of the marks suddenly realized, after he’d walked away, what had happened, as if they’d awoken from a daydream.

The cold read of the three hot chicks is more impressive, but not impossible. He’s cold reading and suggesting:

  1. He tells the chick on the left (audience left) that she’s into astrology. She’s get a lot of bangly jewelry on, and might have spotted one or more zodiac signs in her jewelry. Probably a visual cold read, and could be indicated a lot of ways. She’s also in a demographic inclined to believing that silliness.

  2. He then tell the chick in the middle a sense of humour is important to her. This is a classic Forer Effect move; EVERYONE says that about themselves, and thinks that about themselves, even in cases where it’s not actually true. It may also be bolstered by cold reading; he could have noticed, watching her before, that she was the jokiest one of the trio. Even then, he does an Edwards there a bit; first he dismisses star sign, then says “It’s a friendly thing…” gets her to demonstrate agreement to that, and goes to sense of humour.

  3. He then tells the chick on the right her line is “Your friends said I’d be good for you.” Not that far out at all; she’s obviously very close with her friends, so much so they’re practically sitting in each other’s laps. They’re extremely beautiful women so an appeal to something other than their beauty will impress them, and he knows they’re really good friends, so it’s an excellent guess, and a specific line he’s probably heard before. Pickup lines tend to make rounds; in all likelihood that’s a popular line in the London club scene, so he fits it to this specific case where it makes sense.

Planting the “Bear” idea in the teacher’s head is clearly done by leading her through the story and the images - that’s my the stickers are on the paper. Chancy, but you’d have a very, very good chance of getting “Bear” in that situation out of a schoolteacher who deals with kids a lot. The kids allegedly drawing a bear is just suggestion; in any random crap like that you can convince someone there’s anything in there.

The one with his instantly converting atheists, though, is his true masterwork. He’s just playing on people’s internal doubts; they can SAY they’re atheists, but in the USA, many atheists come from a religious background and naturally have a degree of internal conflict about the fact that they’re rejecting the beliefs of their families and the beliefs held by most people in society. Many, if not most, held religiosu beliefs at some point. Brown is just breaking down their emotional barriers by mnaking them vulnerable, and through suggestion (note the repeated “be honest” line, which implicity questions their atheism and the honesty of what they’d already said) and letting their emotions spill out. Twenty minutes later they’ll all be atheists again.