“Obedience to authority” experiment in DC

Stanley Milgram-style experiment in DC

Stanley Milgram-style experiment in DC/Menachem Wecker

Pedestrians seeking to walk on the west side of 18th Street NW in Washington, D.C., between K and L streets were confronted by about a dozen people in hazard vests directing them, if they were using their phones, to walk in an aisle designated for cell phone use.

The first man in a vest I asked about the nature of the organization directed me to someone with a wire in his ear wearing a Minnesota Twins cap, who identified the project as a high school program of Gonzaga — presumably Gonzaga College High School, a Catholic boys school in the District. He refused to give his name or to reveal the nature of the project. (It being summer and the lack of high school students present were both causes for suspicion.)

Another person in the line was handing out what initially appeared to be tickets (see image).

DC documentary on obedience to authority

DC documentary on obedience to authority

When I got to the end of the sidewalk arrangement, after I had snapped a picture of the “ticket,” another producer, who identified herself as Louise (spelling?) approached me and explained that she was one of several freelancers working on the project, and that it was a documentary on how people obeyed authority, which would air in the winter on National Geographic. She did not give her last name, and explained that the group had been using the high school story, because media had shown up, and they deemed that as a bad thing.

I asked if the group had a permit for the project (which involved signage stenciled on the sidewalk and a slew of personnel), and she said just a regular filming permit.

She asked what I thought of the project, and I said that I thought it was an invasion of pedestrians’ privacy and an annoyance. She then asked if I would say that on camera. When I mentioned that I wanted to write about the project — which at least evokes the language of Stanley Milgram — however, she appeared disappointed. Another man approached me as I was walking away and said that the producer had asked that I not Tweet pictures or information about the project.

It will be interesting to see what exactly this is.

'No cell phones' sign

‘No cell phones’ sign

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