What Would You Do?

Guest post by David Belt from MOCSA on the roles of men in an ABC News segment.

ABC News has recently decided to play mad scientist by attempting to cross reality TV with social experimentation (throwing in a little “candid camera” and possibly “Punk’d”) in order to ask the age old question of staged situations, “What would you do?”

If you click the link, you can view the video of a man putting something into, presumably, his date’s drink and watch the reactions of two sets of couples (a couple of friends and a husband/wife couple). According the comment section on Jezebel’s website, this staged situation has caused quite a stir and rightfully so, as the reactions of ‘innocent bystanders’ leaves a lot to desired.

My favorite comment, by far mentions that shows like this try to prove the world is full of horrible people, when in reality it’s only about 60% horrible people.

Six out of ten is still awful bad if you ask me. The problem I have in the “What would you do?” videos is that none of the three men (neither the two friends nor the husband) respond pro-socially to the situation. There are several things I would want to ask of them as well as the two actors in how they interpret these inactive bystanders’ behaviors.

Do they believe it’s “someone else’s problem,” “not a problem,” or simply fail to act because they are unsure how to help? Does the actor playing the perpetrator feel emboldened in his role by the way the first two ally themselves with him? Was it easier to thwart the confrontation of the wife because the husband wasn’t doing anything? What’s going through the actress’s mind in the way the first two guys respond? Was she surprised that the husband never said or did anything considering how outspoken his wife was?

Unfortunately, I think we can rule out any optimism with the first two guys as they not only do not see it as a problem, they actually support the potential perpetrator. Maybe if there was one more man that was present that raised concern they might have acted differently. I would like to have seen how they would have responded but it appears that they were in “save face among other men” mode — a common ignorant response by men abiding by the rules of homosociality (the idea of revering men above women in any given situation). There’s also the high likelihood that they were jerks themselves as their behaviors were basically cheering on the perpetrator.

The same could be said of the husband, except that his wife was actually speaking out. Instead of supporting her, though, he has a dismissive look on his face as if to say, “What are you thinking?” “Why would you involve us with her lot?” “Oh no, here we go again…” He smiles and appears relieved when he finds out it was all part of a show, but it comes off as lackluster and very disappointing, for he neither supports his wife nor the victim.

These scenarios obviously bring up issues of bystander effect, group inhibition, and diffusion of responsibility but there’s also something going on here with men, in particular, that needs to be questioned. Several studies have shown that women are more likely to intervene as bystanders than men no matter the victim or the situation. What’s going on in men that put in situations like this we don’t perform bravely, rather we choose to not see it as dangerous nor take any personal responsibility? What do these men gain in not intervening? Would they have responded differently if they were at the bar alone or if other men at the bar had expressed concern about the situation? What would you have liked to seen these men do in response?

What would you have done?

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