Throughout this festival I’ve been hearing people rant and rave about Dr Stef and his hypnosis show. Comments have been wide-ranging, from “absolute farce” to “absolutely amazing”, so I decided to get in on the action and see for myself what all the fuss is about.
When I arrived at the venue I was surprised to see such a huge turnout waiting outside St. Andrews Hall in anticipation of the show. It was apparent that many people return to watch the show after their first experience of the phenomenon, as each show is unique, which could explain its popularity. I proceeded to get a seat close to the front, as I didn’t want to miss a thing.
I was joined by some of my colleagues who brought their cameras along to document the process (because cameras never lie) and our curiosity grew as throngs of eager volunteers rushed onto the stage to seize their opportunity to be ‘put under’.
It wasn’t long before all the things you see in the TV hypnosis shows started to happen.
Calming music started playing as Dr Stef spoke to the participants in a slow, mesmerising voice, asking them to relax and focus only on his instructions, including asking them to visualise only the word “sleep” in their minds. After a few minutes, he had eased most of them into a deep slumber, and now the fun was about to begin.
Now, I would have been completely convinced had it worked on my colleague who managed to make it to the stage, but he was still wide awake after a few minutes, and I figured some of the other volunteers were just faking it. Dr Stef ushered the few awake ones off the stage, and I started asking myself whether anything convincing was really going to happen to or with those who remained.
I watched on and soon my skepticism started morphing into curiosity as I saw the participants follow each command given by the hypnotist. At Dr Stef’s command, the now entranced volunteers commenced their antics, giving free hugs to people in the audience, breaking into dance on stage, coming up with hilariously creative uses for a broom (“personal helicopter” – really?) and being goldfish chased by a shark, to name a few. They did everything with no reservations, and were utterly convinced that their suggested realities were genuine, and provided the audience with a belly full of laughs for the night.
Fun antics aside, I also began to question the ethics behind performances of this nature. Sure, the participants gave their consent to play along for the act, but if we examine this beyond a family-friendly affair, it raises questions about how much control a hypnotist really has over a person in an hypnotic state.
The International Society for Hypnosis has extensive guidelines and codes, but what happens when people are made to do things they would not otherwise do outside of an arena like an arts festival? Also, who decides on if and when things are being taken ‘too far’? I personally wouldn’t want to kiss something like a broom or other object as one participant did when demonstrating other uses for the household item.
It also bothers me that people have no recollection of doing these things on stage, and when awoken they think they’ve only been there for a couple of minutes.
I understand there exists two types of hypnosis – for stage and therapy – and perhaps I am merely raising concerns we are all aware of, but I do think more thought should be given to what we allow “all in the name of fun”.
Professionally-conducted hypnotherapy in a private, confidential environment is one thing – and has certainly seen many success stories – but on a stage, things are a bit different. Is it ethically acceptable to have a very public laugh at the expense of someone who has a debatable degree of control over who they are and what they do or say in a hynpotised state?
When the hypnotist asked one girl to give her honest impressions of the friends that accompanied her to the show (after being instructed that she did not know them), the crowd had a mixed reaction, seemingly not knowing whether to feel awkward or amused.
After seeing the show I’m convinced that it’s definitely not an act, and it definitely is entertaining, but there are many deeper questions that are crying out to be answered, or at least discussed. And is that not one of the most important functions of an arts festival – to make people think a little more inquisitively about themselves and the mystery that is the human mind?
Take a look at the video below to have a look at what went down and decide for yourself.
By Amanda Murimba
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