In 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments in order to test to what degree people will submit to authority. The test subject (given the designation of “Teacher”) was to ask questions to a person they could hear, but not see (they were behind a wall). If given a wrong answer, the Teacher would administer an electric shock, increasing the voltage each time the “Learner” was incorrect. Eventually, given enough wrong answers, the voltage would be high enough that the Learner would scream in pain. Naturally, the Teacher did not want to inflict such agony upon anyone, but 65% of the subjects carried on to the maximum voltage – because an authority figure would insist they had no choice, that they must continue.
Of course, the person behind the wall wasn't really receiving electric shocks; the experiment was to test how far the Teacher would go when ordered by an authority figure. The results were shocking, revealing that, to a large degree, people will submit, even if it goes against their basic principles.
More recently, a much more sinister exploration of the idea of conformity to authority has taken place. In the early 2000s, David Stewart perpetrated over seventy prank phone calls to fast food restaurants and grocery stores around the country. When calling, he would pretend to be a police officer and inform the manager that one of their female employees had committed some sort of crime and would need to be strip-searched. The final incident, which lead to his arrest, occurred at a McDonald's in Mount Washington, in Bullitt County.
The young woman in this incident was accused of stealing money from a customer's purse. Throughout the course of several hours, “Officer Scott” coerced the McDonald's manager into performing a full strip-search, eventually asking her to find a strong male to watch the still-naked girl until the police arrived so she could go deal with the busy restaurant. The search became increasingly invasive, with the girl being ordered to perform bizarre acts, and eventually resulting in sexual assault.
Thus is the subject of the film Compliance, which is based on the Mount Washington incident. Ann Dowd stars as Sandra, the manager of the fictional ChickWich fast food restaurant, who receives a phone call from “Officer Daniels” (Pat Healy) on a busy Friday night. Dreama Walker plays Becky, the accused counter-girl forced to undergo the strip search and various other humiliations.
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