What is the reasoning behind our actions, our thoughts, the way we ‘decide’ to live our lives? Is it our sense of individuality, the fear that others are watching? The influences of a higher power or do we fear punishment. We have a limit of individuality and fear plays a major part in society and has been embedded in our lives since the beginning of humanity. We live our lives in fear of god, in fear of judgment and in fear of punishment for misbehaving. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible explores numerous complex historical topics, that relate to Millars own human experiences during the McCarthy era. By creating a dystopian genre, miller dramatizes the real events of the Salem witch trials and provides ideas regarding the way in which humans react to fear and paranoia. Similarly, the film, the Stanford prison experiment, directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, which was based on the real experiment by professor Philip Zimbardo in august 1971, investigates power play and how fear of punishment and paranoia of a constant watching eye will have repercussions in society. Both explore similar human experiences in relation to punishment and discipline and how these factors lead to fear and paranoia.
Punishment acts as a leading force on creating change through fear and paranoia. Arthur millers, the crucible explores the ideas of discipline and punishment and how these ideas lead to fear and paranoia. It is clear that religion had a strong influence on the inhabitants of Salem. Religion acts as the source of discipline and was made to keep everyone in line, as it teaches honesty, obedience, modesty and morality. Ultimately, if one were to defy these ideals, it will cause paranoia of the ramifications. As well as this, the injustice in Salem and the corrupt, prejudicial regime of Salem authority also acts as a leading factor of paranoia and fear. The imbalance of power in social structure and this corrupt system set forth in Salem breed these two ideas. “We are only what we always were, but naked now.” This metaphor illustrates John Proctor resistance to conform to the system, but rather he accepts that he must expose his own sin, out of fear of becoming caught up in the corrupt system. He sacrifices himself for his wife and Salem after living with paranoia of his actions. With the emergence of black magic, and witch craft, people acted on survival instincts rather than what the teaching of god taught them. “The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom.” This paradox reveals that the witch trials were an oppression of individuality despite breeding from individual freedom. This extract critisizes how an oppression of freedom of conscience will result in repercussions such as the fear of death and prejudicial justice. Danforth’s hyperbole and interjection in “I shall hang ten thousand that dare to rise against the law!” exemplifies the degree to which authority will act to cause fear and injustice in society. Thus, the idea of power dynamics, discipline and punishment in the play create a sense of political and religious fear and paranoia.
The Stanford prison experiment was a psychological experiment that aimed to investigate the effects of power. Male students from Stanford university were recruited and power dynamics amongst the test subjects were shifted by flipping a coin to see who would be prisoners and who would be prison officers. The purpose was to see if the rigid structure of power would cause effects on personality, social interactions, behaviours, and norms. Each ‘prisoner’ was given a number, which replaced their given names. They ultimately lost all their senses of individuality. At the beginning of the film, Zimbardo states “we are trying to strip away their individuality.” This allowed them to form a whole new personality which acted on fear and paranoia. Throughout the film, Alvarez’s use of slow-motion effects, dark lighting and suspenseful eerie non-diegetic music, puts fear in perspective for the audience. One scene shows prisoner 8612 banging on a door followed by unnerving sound effects, creating a discomforting atmosphere, constructing on this idea of paranoia for not only the viewers but for the boys as well. The use of slow tracking shots throughout, allow the audience to feel as though they were in the scenes as one of the characters, which brings the fear and paranoia form the movie, to the viewers watching area. At the end of the film, real statements from the actual test subjects are shown. Prisoner 2093- I really felt like I was losing my identity. Prisoner 8612- this whole experience harms me, and I mean harms in the present tense, it harms me. This was merely an experiment, but an observation of what truly happens in real prisons. This whole idea shares many similarities with Micheal faucolts monograph “discipline and punish” which explores the philosophy of punishment and the mechanisms prisons enforce to apply change for its prisoners. He explores the art of punishment and discipline, and makes reference to the panopticon. The panopticon is an all seeing, omnipresent system for prisoners. The circular structure covered in prison cells, with a central guard tower allow prisoners to be constantly observed. The idea of an eye constantly watching your every move and every action, create whole new levels of fear and paranoia and cause an epidemic of good behaviour. Through fear of punishment and paranoia of a higher power, the Sandford Prions Experiment has shown how an imbalance of power, when it comes to deciding who is in charge of discipline and punishment, will lead to the degeneration of a whole society.
In conclusion, fear and paranoia destroy individuality and change basic human norms. By exploring discipline and punishment in two different societies, both the crucible and the Stanford prison experiment show how these factors instigate fear and paranoia. Both explore the idea of a higher power, where the crucible explores god’s punishment and The Stanford prison experiment explored authority of prison officers. Thus, both millers’ play The Crucible and Alvarez’ film, the Stanford Prison experiment explore fear and Paranoia and the effects it has on society and each individual.