Derren Brown’s Zombie Apocalypse
In addition to his masterful stage shows, the British mentalist Derren Brown has made a name for himself with elaborate television real-life dramas which are part Truman Show and part CIA mind-control experiment. His latest, for U.K.’s Channel Four, is called Apocalypse, and in it Brown convinces an ordinary person that he’s trapped in a real-life version of The Walking Dead. But, says Brown,the show has a larger point:
Stoic Hellenistic philosophers advised us to rehearse regularly the loss of everything we love. Only that way, they believed, could we learn to value what we have in life, rather than fixate upon things we don’t.
Seneca’s advice, for example, to consider the mortality of your daughter as you kiss her goodnight, may strike us as morbid. But to remind yourself regularly that your loved ones, your home, in fact everything you value might be taken away in an instant, is to value them so much more. It seems our psychological landscape hasn’t changed much since Seneca was penning advice to his protégés in ancient Rome.
How has Brown turned this thinking into a TV special?
In my new programme, Derren Brown: Apocalypse, Steven, who personifies that familiar lazy sense of entitlement so prevalent today, comes to believe that the world is going to end. He has no idea that he is the star of an ambitious television show. We hack into his phone, control his Twitter and news feeds and have his favourite radio DJ and television hosts record special versions of their shows to play into his home – all of which refer to an impending meteor strike.
Once the seed is planted, we end the world for him while he’s on his way to a gig. He passes out and then, seemingly two weeks later, he wakes up in an abandoned military hospital. The man who took his life and his family for granted must now fight to get them back.
And in a final twist, he’ll have lurching hordes of infected zombies to deal with, as the meteor has picked up from its interstellar travels a deadly and highly contagious disease.
Brown did something like this once before, convincing a spectator that he was trapped in a real-life zombie shoot-out video game.