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Morality, Meta and Manipulation

So my sister was out to lunch with colleagues a couple of days ago and ended up being caught on film by the "ethics situational" show What Would You Do? It's a pretty interesting story with lots of meta about how the sense we might be being watched affects our behavior and how even after doing the right thing we're afraid we'll be misunderstood...

She was in a restaurant near where she works in Las Vegas. She was with a female and male colleague. As they were sitting there, in walked a group of people who appeared to be a Mormon family -- a man and five women of varying ages, their hair up in buns, dressed in conservative pastel dresses like the polygamist sect in Texas. The youngest-looking girl was obviously upset and seemed to be crying. Over the course of the next while, my sister and her female friend overheard the girl say things like "I'm only 15", "I want to go home", "I want to go back to Texas", and the man say something like "the marriage has been arranged". The girl kept crying. So my sister and her friend got more and more concerned, but didn't feel like they understood what the relationships were or what was going on well enough, because they couldn't hear very clearly. The guy sitting with them finally asked what the heck they were whispering about, because he was completely oblivious. Midway through the meal their waiter was replaced by a waitress who asked them if something was wrong at the other table. My sister said they thought something was wrong but weren't sure. They kept talking and looking over, trying to catch the girl's eye, but couldn't.

Finally they got up to leave. Just outside the restaurant they decided for sure they had to call 911. While they were on the phone to the police, a producer walked up and told them they'd just been filmed for "What Would You Do?"! The producer interviewed them about what they'd seen and heard and why they didn't do something more direct while inside the restaurant. They also asked why the male companion hadn't noticed there was something wrong on his own. (My sister's theory was that she's a mom and that's why she was tuned in.) It turns out the waitress was an actress just like the "Mormon family". My sister told the producer they just weren't sure they wanted to confront the family directly so they stepped outside to call 911. Unfortunately the 911 call wasn't filmed.

Why unfortunately? Because now my sister is worried about how she'll be portrayed on the show, since they didn't cause a scene and "rescue" the girl themselves on camera. (They signed the releases letting the show use their footage.) And what's weird is my sister had wondered if something fake was going on. She'd watched the show the night before! Actually that experience contributed to her reaction in the sense there was no way she was going to do nothing, not if she was being watched. She likely would have done something anyway, but the whole situation was so weird, she wasn't totally buying it.

Anyway they were repeating the scenario all week so it will be interesting to see how it all turns out when it airs (in March I think). I have to say as a viewer I find such shows interesting, but if I didn't react in a TV-friendly way I'd be second-guessing myself too. And how stupid is that?

I don't know, it all feels very meta to me, but I can't express it very well. Maybe 'cause I'm a year older today. D'oh, more dead brain cells!


Feb. 7th, 2009 02:20 am (UTC)
That's a very interesting story and I completely agree, some of those students might very well have reported the cheating 10 mins later. Who wants to confront someone if there are authorities whose job it is to do it?

I think the show has to pick some pretty outrageous situations at this point. The abusive man thing they've done a dozen times already. I imagine the whole experience is pretty weird for the people involved, but perhaps for viewers it is instructive and prepares them for unexpected situations a bit better. Still, I'm not the type to confront strangers unless a life is at stake that very moment. Nor do I think 911 is the answer to every problem. :) So I'm not sure what I'd do either.

I'll post when I know the real airing date. For all I know she'll be edited out for being too boring.



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