When a country’s leader chooses to attend a Star Wars premiere with twenty sick kids from a children’s hospital—as our newly elected Prime Minister did last month—one wouldn’t think the resulting photo would generate controversy. Not when there is richer material to mine on the subject of his social media use.
For example, on the campaign trail, Justin Trudeau’s signature move was to pose for selfies with clamoring admirers. He continued the practice in the broader world at the G20. In December he and his wife graced the pages of Vogue in a smoldering photoshoot which, with judicious cropping, might easily be mistaken for the cover art of a romance novel. On two past occasions he willingly shed his shirt for charity fundraisers, his abs earning the vocal admiration of celebrity bloggers who promptly declared him a PMILF. (Click here for a NSFW translation.)
With a known photogenic, media-cultivating PM, why flip out about this particular photo?
For some the occasion itself was commendable, but the photographer’s presence confirmed a hidden and unworthy motivation. (A Zen koan for politicians: If a leader fails to have a recording device present during a social occasion, did the event really occur?)
Another group sees it as confirmation of our PM’s suspected self-absorption and shallowness. (You’re so vain, you probably think this picture-with-ailing-kids is about you.)
For others it’s fantastic—proof we elected the right guy after a decade with a leader who played cheese grater to our knuckles.
Some see it as a natural extension to his interest in youth and former work as a drama and language arts teacher.
I say, why limit oneself? It could be any combination of the above and point to a powerful fifth motivation—one which has relevance for our writing. To access it, let’s briefly travel briefly back in time.
The Seamy Side of Human Nature
In July 1961, a year after Adolf Eichmann’s trial, Stanley Milgram recruited volunteers for a series of experiments which would be unlikely to get past any modern ethics committee. Participants were told they were helping to evaluate whether punishment facilitated learning. In reality, because of the so-called Nuremburg defense—I did it because I was told to—they were being studied for their susceptibility to authority.
The bottom line of the study: With minimal prompting by a man in a lab coat, for the sake of science, a full 65% of average American test subjects were willing to administer electric shocks to fellow citizens up to and including doses which triggered perceived suffering, unconsciousness and death.
Let me emphasize that: fatal electrocution was on the table for 26 out of 40 individuals.
Future experiments would confirm this number applied to participants in all wealthy Western countries. (For all we know it might apply to less affluent areas of the world, but they weren’t studied.)
If you can forgive the pun, Milgram seized these shocking results as a basis for further experimentation. He tweaked the original study design to see what conditions might lead to higher rebellion rates. Subjects were more likely to stop the experiment and refuse to participate if: [Read more…]