Going Under


This post arrives quite late in the day. There are a number of reasons for this, none of which I’ll go into now. Why don’t I just get on with it?

You’ll remember me talking a bit about going to see a stage hypnotist? You’ll also remember (possibly) that I never actually described the show, much to your undoubted frustration. Perhaps I’ll do that bit as a preface to the main meat of this post.

I thought this was a really interesting show. The guy started out with nine volunteers, who were duly hypnotised, and persuaded to do sundry wacky things. As things progressed, a couple of folk were asked to sit down again, presumably because they weren’t ‘getting into it’.

At one point, it was suggested that the volunteers try to hug as many of the audience as possible. A nice idea, I thought, which could superimpose a lovely little ‘feelgood’ layer onto the general bufoonery. I barely expected that, mid-hug with Your Humble Author, one volunteer would perceive herself to be stuck fast.

It was another one of those ‘competing social pressure’ moments. You see, when the hug was initiated, I did the appropriate thing and returned the gesture. But now it appeared that this poor girl was sprawled over yours truly against her better judgement, and I wondered what I should do. Should I just keep on a-hugging? Or just drop my hands back to my sides? A huggee (me) doesn’t want to appear like they are enjoying themselves long after the hugger (them) has ceased to do so, for risk  of appearing like some variety of pervert. Then again, neither does one wish to betray the sense that they are repulsed by physical human contact in general. It’s a poser.

Once the show was over, and gamely clutching my newly-won hypnotherapy weight-loss CD, we ventured outside, exchanged our respective opinions, and parted. But, at that moment, I vowed to return to The Old Scots Club and undergo The Process for myself.

And so, a few days later, and accompanied by my trusty documentarian Colin Eye, I once again took up my seat. This time, I sat in an aisle seat near the front, so that I could hop up onto the stage at a moment’s notice, without the indignity of actually running in public. I noticed a greater-than-average number of unspeakably posh people in the audience, the type for whom I would assume public indignity to be their bread and butter.

When the cry for volunteers went up, I was instantly in a seat centre-stage. It would almost qualify as teleportation, so swift was my transference from one chair to the other. I signed the little slip of paper which absolved the hypnotist of any responsibility in the event of my death (yes, it actually said it) and we were underway. And all the while, the Great Eye was ever watchful.

(Since drafting this post, it has come to my attention that Eye’s got a blog. Check it out here).

He did the normal relaxation procedures, introduced a bit of suggestion, and then came and tapped each person on the head, upon which they were encouraged to ‘go to sleep’, slumped convincingly on the person next to them. My right ear ended up on the (now horizontal) back of my neighbour. I remember thinking that her pulse was going like the clappers.

Before waking us up, we were given a post-hypnotic suggestion to become stuck in our respective positions. Eyes open, wide awake, and it was so. Except it wasn’t really. At least one volunteer pointed this out to the hypnotist, who quickly ejected them from the stage. As for me, I knew I wasn’t really stuck, but didn’t see any point in proving otherwise, so didn’t try to move. I looked at my arm lying on the chair, and felt pretty sure I could move it if I wanted to, but chose not to.

It wasn’t long before the pool of volunteers was whittled down. Soon, there were but four of on the stage. The other three were all girls, each of whom I remember vividly. At some point in the proceedings, it dawned on me that to stand up and say ‘actually, this isn’t really working for me’ would be far more embarrassing than whatever the hypnotist had in mind for me to do. And therein lies the active ingredient, I think. A context is provided in which you can behave more outrageously than normal, but in which people will not think you are an idiot. What people will object to, though, is people not getting ‘stuck in’. They’ve paid for their tickets after, and wish to be entertained.

Prior to the show, I was formulating a strategy with Eye. We said that I should have a secret signal to communicate that I was just playing along. Then we started talking about other things and forgot about it. It was only after I was stood next to him during the show, my right arm inconveniently stuck in the air, that it occurred to me to tip him a wink. But then, I thought, I’d spoil the show for anyone who happened to catch me. So I didn’t.

When the inevitable ‘show-stopper’ came around, it was with a feeling of tired resignation that I munched the onion, pretending it was an apple. Actually, I quite like onions. So much so that, when the true identity of the vegetable was revealed and I was invited to spit it out, I could only confess (a tad sheepishly) that I’d swallowed it. I gave a little pat of the tummy and an ‘mmm’ noise, which was the best I could think of in the circumstances.

And so, when all was said and done, I considered the fact-finding mission an interesting success. I suspect that I was not as ‘into it’ as some of the others, although the hypnotist (if he realised) never let on. I obligingly (and quite literally) danced to his tune for a little while, and then went home. I am left with a feeling that social pressure, rather than some bizarrely altered state of concsiousness is probably at the root of it.

Although, I’d be happy to have another go, just to be sure…

Explore posts in the same categories: Goings on, Psychology, Weird

2 Comments on “Going Under”

  1. Jamie Says:

    Hmm, interesting post. So it’s all codswallop then? Somebody should tell that smug git Paul Mckenna….

  2. Doug Says:

    It depends what you mean my codswallop. From the audience’s point of view, it worked. And I must admit to going along with every suggestion with hearty gusto. In my case, I think this was because I was being given permission to act with goat without any social repercussions, along with strong social disincentives for being half-hearted about it. Perhaps hypnosis is just that and no more.

    A couple of interesting points – apparently, time distortion is common in those who are hypnotised. They tend to think they have been ‘under’ for only a few minutes, even after an hour-long show. I had none of this, and could remember every single thing that had happened, including things done with other people while I was ‘asleep’. But (and here’s the interesting bit) when I was asked how long I’d been on stage, I knew I’d been there for over an hour, but said 20 minutes. Probably because I knew what he wanted to hear, and didn’t want to be branded a faker, I lied. I’d gone in knowing he would ask that question at the end, and was determined to tell the truth, but when the time came, I didn’t.

    Another thought. At one point in the show, we the volunteers were out in the audience, and were exhorted to sleep. While I had my eyes shut and was being propped up by some willing audience members (I swayed now and again for effect) I heard the hypnotist say that a member of the audience had accidently been hypnotised and had also ‘fallen asleep’. This poor girl had to be brought up on stage to be ‘brought out of it’, and appeared to have no idea what she was doing there. I’m still not sure what I think about that.

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