The Movie Quiz Show Essay, Research Paper
December 15, 2000
In the movie “Quiz Show” The television game show “Twenty-one” was rigged to keep ratings up at NBC. At the beginning of the movie question for the show were seen taken from a bank volt. This gave the viewer the impression that no one saw the question before Jack (the host) received them from the guards weekly. Herbert Stempel, a Jewish contestant, he won for eight weeks on the show had become a national celebrity, to the audience he seemed unstoppable. When the rating fell the producers of the game show decided to get a more attractive contestant. So, they set out to find a new contestant. Charles Van Doreen became their man to beat Herbert. Van Doreen was a handsome college instructor from a prominent family of Nobel Prize winners. Since Charles was a better match for the show Herbert was told he had to lose the next show and the question had to be simple. Although Herbert did not want to he did. He then became outraged because Charles had became the “Gentile” the beat the “Jew”. Charles was well liked and won much more money. To get revenge Herb spoke with a District attorney office labeling the show a fraud.
This prompted an investigation. When Richard Goodwin, a Washington lawyer and congressional investigator read about
the grand jury statements being sealed in the New York Times he decided to investigate it. He know something was wrong
when it should have been a public trial. Goodwin was determined to find out what the secret was.
The problem was the contestants were all given the answers to the questions before the show. There were several psychological theories shown in this movie I will focus on, group think, cognitive dissonance and conformity behaviors among the three men.
Producers Dan Enright and Albert Freedman use the many psychological methods to get the two contestants to cheating on the show. First with Herb they offer him $25,000. When he accepts he believes he was the only one who had received them. Herb was finally apart of the in-group. He showed illusions of invulnerability, making statements like this one “they love me for the same reason they used to hate me, because I’m the guy who knows everything.” Being known as an intelligent person made him so arrogant that he would do what ever the network say to stay in the spotlight. “I have waited for this my whole life” said Herb, belief in the groups moral standards was never questioned by Herb until he was no longer needed.
Herb Rationalized his action to his wife in saying, “That box is the biggest thing since Gutenberg invented the printing press, and I’m the biggest thing on it”, this kept
his self-perception under control and made him feel better about himself. Herb showed more of a cognitive dissonance position with his anger toward Charles then the fact that he was responsible for the game show to continue on and cheat everyone including him. Herbert had to prove to himself and to everyone else he was intelligent this statement says it best. “You want to know what? If I do nothing else I will convince them that Hebert Stemple knows what won the Academy Award for best picture of 1955; that’s what I’m gonna accomplish.” This was the question he was forced to lose the contest on. It was not until after Charles spoke to congress board that Herbert realized he was closed-minded and did not take in to account how things would effect him, his family or Charles.
With Charles the producers used the use foot in the door technique to trap him. First by asking him to comply with cheating and when he did not they input a question for him to answer so that he would have to make a public commitment. When Charles answered the question it was his first step to conforming to the group think method. Charles loves the attention he now receives as a result of his new found celebrity status. Charles not only demonstrates the
same group think phenomena as Herbert, but he stereotypes Herbert to be weaker then he and therefore not trust worthy or a good loser to Goodwin. Through out the movie Charles protest being given the answers by the producers. He rationalizes it by requesting to be given the questions to him and then looking up the answers. Eventually pressure from his fans and his longing to escape his fathers shadow made it easier for him to conform. Because Charles shows a great deal of cognitive dissonance he takes on an impression management role. Role playing and changing his attitude made it more acceptable to keep playing the game. He wants to be seen as a person who is capable of creating his own fame. But personal feelings of guilt kept interfering. When Charles loses on the game show on purpose he is trying to maintain self-control. He feels he can get out of the whole ordeal but is not let out by the producers. He then signs a contract for a new show. In the end Charles realize that he could not stop the inevitable which was the congress committee inquire and he stated, to the board “I’ve stood on the shoulders of life and I’ve never gotten down into the dirt to build, to erect a foundation of my own. I’ve flown too high on borrowed wings. Everything came too easy.”
Charles realized that although we are sometimes persuaded to do thing we do not want to ultimately we are responsible for our actions right or wrong.
Goodwin who is also Jewish can not believe that
Van Doreen cheat on the show so he focuses on bring down the
network with out implicating Charles. Dick (Goodwin) uses
self-serving bias to keep Charles in the clear. Dick knows that Charles received the answers but he does not want to admit it to anyone, if he does then his hero is gone. He is even called “The Uncle Tom of the Jews” by his wife because he cannot bear to bring Van Doreen in on the investigation.
Dick is being altruist in his decision to keep Charles out of the spotlight but it not just to help save the Van Doreen reputation it is to save the relationship with his new friend. Goodwin cognitive dissonance is the strongest of the three characters in the movie. He does not believe in the group think process and is trying to pull the producer and president to their knees.
To help resolve some of the guilty feelings he has Goodwin ask Charles man to man did he accept the answer to the questions. He was allowing Charles a chance to self disclose his feelings, Charles became out raged he wanted
and questioned Dick if he would have done the same given the situation, but because he stated he would not, so Charles could not bring himself to admit his wrong doing until he was subpoena to testify. Goodwin still gave Charles the
opportunity to deny the accusation and was stunned when he did the right thing and confessed.
The movie reminded me of the Asch’s Studies of Group Pressure. Although the characters knew what they were doing was wrong they continued to do what was asked of them to cheat. Herbert and Charles relied on groupthink to
influence them on what was the acceptable thing to do at that time. I find it hard to believe that most of use would not do the same in if we though there were no chance of getting caught. Deindividuation also led these men to do what is considered morally wrong. During the testimony of Albert Freedmon he stated, It’s not like we’re hardened criminals here. We’re in show business. Which is to say what we do is give people what they want entertainment.
It does not mean we have to do the moral thing to get our point across.