Review: ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown

The best non-fiction books are ones which state the obvious, whilst presenting it in an entirely different light which changes our view on an issue. So, when the illusionist Derren Brown explores a feeling we’ve experienced on many occasions during our lifetime – happiness – one would be forgiven for thinking we know all about joy, feeling good and how to be positive. However, Brown approaches such an intriguing topic with refreshing insight, sincerity and the occasional dash of humour – making us question something we thought we’ve understood for years.

Throughout the book, Derren takes a whistle-stop tour of the many things which affects happiness – from fame to grief to anger. The magician constantly refers to what history tells us about being happy, often referring to Stoicism and easy-to-use techniques for readers to adapt in their everyday lives. Constantly, Brown rubbishes current self-help manuals about happiness, instead offering a simplistic alternative.

Whilst the author’s main messages are clear, the only downside is that it is not a book to be enjoyed in bitesize chunks. Unfortunately, the gap caused by my second year at university has led to me taking several months to finish this book, but as mentioned previously, this has not stopped me from understanding the main tone of Happy.

It’s a book which can be seen as being the second part of Brown’s recent stage show, Miracle, which tapped into the idea of us having the power to rewrite our own life stories. It’s this theatrical performance style – which sees Derren present philosophical and psychological ideas in a sympathetic tone – that is transferred into this book.

Warm, inspiring and uplifting, Derren Brown’s Happy is an eye-opening exploration of a sentiment we always thought we understood – until now…


Derren Brown: Social Compliance and Free Will | The Friday Article

Sometimes, it’s easier to just say yes.

This week, illusionist and mentalist Derren Brown explored the psychological phenomena of social compliance. Whilst saying yes in certain scenarios can provide us with new opportunities, in some scenarios saying yes can lead to us making immoral or dangerous decisions. In the case of Pushed to the Edge, three individuals pushed another human being off the roof of a building – all because of suggestion and social compliance.

So why do we say yes in these scenarios? In the episode itself, Derren’s compliance tests suggested that it may be down to being part of a group or crowd, rather than being an individual. Despite this, Brown didn’t give us a clear and distinct reason behind the phenomena, but that isn’t to say that I have a few thoughts of my own.

In particular, it was when I watched the show on Tuesday that I came up with my opinions on social compliance. Usually, it is in an awkward, stressful or pressing scenario that social compliance and suggestion manifest themselves. Why? It’s more than likely because we – rather naturally, of course – want to escape from the scenario, or reduce the pressure as much as possible.

To apply this to a modern day scenario, it’s either that the authority figure also wants to escape this scenario and so naturally takes the lead, or they use the power for malicious purposes. Either way, we feel like we don’t have a choice but to say yes, because society tells us to seek approval from others (particularly those in ‘power’). Also, our in-built need to protect our wellbeing leads to us avoid adding possible pressure, awkwardness, stress or danger. In fact, if we say no or explain wrongdoing (like in the show, when Chris explains to others what happened that evening) that only makes us panic more because we would be shunned or ostracised by others in society. Aside from the concept of social compliance, we as the masses know that belonging to the majority – not the minority or the ‘others’ – is a good thing.

It was after discussing the programme with a friend that I realised the links between sociology and psychology. The key psychological aspects of Pushed to the Edge is not just social compliance, but the underlying idea that we say yes because we do not want to be ostracised by those in power.

For example, the hypodermic needle theory explores the idea that the media ‘injects’ elitist views into the masses. These views are often labelling and removes individuality in society. For those at the top – keen to hold on to their power – a society which is grouped together can be easily influenced. If we’re not influenced by the media, then those with authority use social compliance as a form of influence. Then, should someone disagree with the views of the elite, then they are ostracised from the majority. For example, the poor, the disabled and women (due to a patriarchal society) are all minorities in society because they go against the elite.

So perhaps social compliance is another technique which those in power use to gain the obedience of the masses? Regardless of how we try to explain the phenomena, we would be right to be concerned. As with any form of influence, we feel violated and want our individuality back.

Towards the end of the show, Derren Brown tells us that we can ‘fight back’ and ‘stop following other people’s scripts’, but I would disagree. Even when we think it’s our decision and ours alone, there are external influences which we are unaware of. A key theory which explores this and denies the existence of free will is ‘false-consciousness’. I suppose an example to demonstrate this would be beauty. If a women was to use beauty to achieve success in her life, she would consider this decision an independent one. However, is she doing this for her own gain, or to please the views of the patriarchy? It is perhaps a controversial example, but the idea is that even when we think we are making a decision in our best interests, it may in fact be made in the interests of those in authority.

Essentially, whilst Pushed to the Edge highlights the extremes of social compliance, it is pointless for Derren to encourage us to fight against this influence. Even when we think we’re making a conscious decision, there are external influences – there is no such thing as free will in a manipulative society.

What do you think about social compliance? Did you watched Pushed to the Edge? Comment below!



Thoughts on Sherlock: ‘The Empty Hearse’ (SPOILERS)

Towards the end of 2013, promotion of Sherlock Series 3 has since surprisingly increased, leading to a revelation that it would return on New Year’s Day, 2014.

Social media hype swiftly followed, with excitement rising about the revelation of how Sherlock survived the fall at the end of Series 2. Entitled The Empty Hearse (a play on the Sherlock tale, The Empty House), writers of the episode promised that how and why Sherlock did it would be revealed, as well as the shock re-introduction of Sherlock back into Watson’s life. If anything, the show well and truly delivered…

Throughout the show, the fans were in for a variety of treats, with the show fulfilling many Tumblr theories and fantasies about the fall. These included theories such as Sherlock using a rope, kissing Molly or (scarily) Moriarty, and getting Derren Brown in on it (a rather cheekily pulled-off cameo). All of which were attempts to just frustrate us, and along with it working, it definitely made me laugh.

But in terms of the story itself, there was only one thing that was predictable about the episode itself… That being that we knew Watson wouldn’t be too pleased when Sherlock decides to go walking back into Watson’s now-moved-on life. In particular, the moment when Sherlock reintroduces himself to John was that of pure brilliance. With the act of disguise being one of Sherlock’s many skills, the show added a hint of humour to the revelation before it fulfilled the prediction that there would be a punch-up. Not once, but three times!

But let’s not also forget that Watson now has a love interest, that being Mary Morstan. Despite her having a seemingly minor role in the episode, it is clear that this love will flourish (particularly in the next episode – no spoilers!).

So, with Sherlock and John going their separate ways in a strop-like fashion, Sherlock temporarily recruits Molly as his new “Watson”/sidekick. This sees Molly do a rather good job as a forensic expert, and wins a kiss from Sherlock (which no doubt filled more Tumblr fantasies).

Talking of fan-tasies and other comments made on the new series, the fact that John grew a moustache over the course of the two year gap created in the episode, surprised, amused, and shocked some fans. But in the end, Sherlock and Mary, and to be honest, all of us, agreed that the moustache should go, which lead to even more hilarity in the episode. Also, let’s not forget the brief comment made by Mrs Hudson about Sherlock and Watson being together… At last, the OTP of “JohnLock”, according to fans of the show, has been fulfilled by the writers of the episode, and I have no doubt that they’re greatful.

OK, so back to the plot. The premise itself seemed fitting, and appeared as being a rather high-octane opening to the series. With some very emotional moments near the end, but not of course without some occasional joking and banter between John and Sherlock. The episode itself truly allows the friendship between the two of them to grow stronger upon Sherlock’s return, and if anything, this actually shaped him. In the moments where Sherlock examined the body with Molly, the thoughts from John that Sherlock kept having was intriguing, as it implies that Sherlock is slowly settling into the “ordinary” stereotype of Watson and everyone else in the Sherlock universe.

There was also some action involved as well, with John waking up to find himself in the middle of a bonfire. With the writers pumping up the pressure for the first episode, along with Sherlock and Mary dashing to the scene. The episode did well to create a lot of intrigue, which added of course to the overwhelming curiosity when it comes to how exactly did he do it?

In my opinion, the show was clever to reveal it. Teasing us first before finally revealing it to us in an equally clever fashion – to the person you’d last expect him to reveal it to, Anderson. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but feel that everyone’s theory was accurate at some point, so I feel pleased that I could say “I knew it!” to at least some of it.

As well as Sherlock restoring the awkward situation with Anderson to a mutual level, it was good to see that Mycroft and Sherlock have finally got on well as brothers, and that the police officer, Sally Donovan, has since randomly disappeared. I feel as though the majority of us were beginning to get a bit tired of her whinging…

The only thing that annoyed me as a fan was how true it remained to the Conan Doyle story, The Empty House, which I presumed the episode would be based upon. Instead, the episode did not present a Sebastian Moran, but a more modern twist to the plot. However, it was a good twist, and stayed true to the book on the grounds that it reintroduced Sherlock back into John’s life.

So with Moriarty well and truly gone (with only a few new snippets of Andrew Scott shown in the theories), all that’s left for the writers to do is introduce the next archvillan, and they did that brilliantly in the traditional fashion. The last few minutes of the episode, like the first series, were dedicated to the new villian, named Charles Augustus Magnussen. I have no doubt that it will be a promising introduction for him.

So we are left at the end, well, me at least, scratching our heads at what excitement, craziness and hilarity the episode involved. The awe created was simply brilliant, and we are left to anticipate the show on Sunday, where Sherlock will perform a best man speech. It is clear that throughout the series, the action and humour that we’ve been longing for all this time will return in the second episode.