Before the broadcast of Messiah on 5th Januray 2005 Derren posted some questions and answers on his official website regarding the nature of the programme This has been taken directly from there.
The controversial, award-winning psychological illusionist Derren Brown returns to Channel 4 with a brand new one-off special. In a departure from the formats of Russian Roulette and The Séance, this documentary-styled one-hour film sees Derren in America attempting to raise questions about the validity of certain religious and spiritual belief systems; belief systems that people are encouraged to base their lives upon – such as new-age faiths and mainstream Christianity. Can he get certain authority figures to endorse him as the real thing?
The precise content of the programme, darker in tone than his other specials, is being kept under wraps but promises to be provocative, insightful and entertaining as Derren takes on a number of different identities to examine how we are able to believe unquestioningly in an idea just because it comes from someone in a position of power and authority.
As Derren explains: “I approach influential figures at the top of their field and demonstrate to each of them an ability I have which is somehow proof to them of my talents in that particular field. I allow them to decide how much they are going to endorse it and embrace it. If, at any point they ask me if this is some sort of trick I will confess and tell them. The aim is to get pledges of support”.
He continues: “We so often take for granted the information we receive from writers, preachers and public speakers and we are encouraged to make life decisions on what they tell us – but what if we are relying on false information?!”
He adds: “It’s not a debunking show. I’m not interested in tearing down anyone’s beliefs. I’m just interested in questioning them”.
Q&A with Derren on Messiah
Q: How would you describe the programme
Derren Brown: It’s a personal journey for me, quite a dark journey. It’s a documentary styled show where I go to America and meet some influential people behind certain belief-systems that people are encouraged to base their lives upon. Two targets are new-age beliefs and mainstream Christianity. Using my techniques and showmanship can I get these people who are responsible for the beliefs of hundreds of thousands of people, to endorse me as being the real thing? I approach these people under different pseudonyms, demonstrating to each of them an ability I have which is somehow proof to them of my abilities in that particular field. I allow them to decide how much they are going to endorse it and embrace it. If at any point they say to me this is some sort of trick I will confess and tell them.
Q: Why have you chosen to make this programme?
DB: I think one of the interesting challenges for me in what I do is to try and raise questions rather than provide the answers. I’ve found the idea of raising questions much more interesting and powerful than trying to force my opinions on anyone – so with that as a background I feel very strongly that belief-systems that limit us in any way should be questioned. Belief-systems can be very beneficial of course. But when we’re being asked to make life-decisions based on the information coming from a psychic, or a preacher, or an author or teacher, then that strikes me as something that is worth checking and really worth looking at. Is that information credible? Where is that information coming from? I think that’s something really worth questioning especially when there is a huge potential for fraud and charlatanism.
Q: What would you say to those who may accuse you of mocking genuine belief systems?
DB: The agenda of this show is only to raise questions. People are not mocked or made to look stupid.
Q: You used to be a Christian. How does that conflict or not conflict with what you do in the show?
DB: Around the same time of me coming out of Christianity I had already started performing. I slowly realized that true belief of any kind – Christians, new-agers, committed cynics – all fall prey to a similar circular, self-fulfilling logic. I saw that although my faith was culturally endorsed, it didn’t stand up to any more scrutiny than the wackiest new-age belief.
In the end what it boils down to is if things make us feel good then we believe in them; we take them on board. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s kind of what we do as human beings. We’re very suggestible around authority figures and if an authority figure tells us things then we tend to believe them and a month later we’re coming out with those same opinions as if they were our own. It’s absolutely part of what makes us human but equally part of what makes us human is the ability to recognize that as a pattern and question it; and that’s what I hope underpins the programme. There will be people out there, who like me, are already very skeptical of the belief systems I question. But I’d be delighted if the show nudged some people into a more questioning frame of mind, if they don’t arrive at the same conclusions as me.
Q: We shouldn’t really believe then that you’re the Messiah?
DB: The purpose of that rather bold title is that I am clearly not the Messiah but could somebody set themselves up as one if they wanted to?
Q: Do we see that happen in the show?
DB: You have to watch it and see.