Hello stranger, goodbye reality
Hello Stranger, Channel 4
I often get requests from people who have suffered emotional trauma and want to forget about things that have happened to them, or more often, forget about failed relationships and ex partners. This, I cannot do, but I can, with the cooperation of the client, create emotional distance which will help them get over their ‘ex.’
It is a mistake to think that memories can be erased or repressed and hypnosis can make people forget. Not even the most skilled hypnotherapist working with the most suggestible of subjects can erase all memory of major experiences – especially long-term relationships.
In 1994 I made a series of short films commissioned by the City of Melbourne [‘The Land of In-between’] in which I used hypnosis to make participants see all the things Melbourne had to offer ‘with fresh (and more enthusiastic) eyes.’ This experiment was successful, even though the local press complained that the cost – some AU$1.5million – was extortionate. However, this was about changing people’s attitudes rather than making them forget.
Entertainment hypnotists in particular understand just how limited hypnosis actually is. Hello Stranger attempted to go beyond those limits and beyond what is possible and credible. As a result, the show lacked all credibility with many viewers complaining it was faked. I believe the viewers were right, and this is why:
In 2017, I was invited to London to discuss an idea for a show in which couples would be hypnotised to tell the absolute truth. Participants would be brutally honest about their partners when they met their partner’s parents, about their true intentions, about what they thought of their family and so on. It had all the potential of being really funny, but the problem was the joke would become stale after one show. When I pointed out the limitations and the difficulties involved (and the long term offence that might result) the idea was binned.
Step forward “medically trained” hypnotist Aaron Calvert, although where he trained and to what standard, we are not told. According to his website, he marks “a distinct departure from traditional ‘cluck-like-a-chicken’ comedy hypnotism” [that’s what they all say] thus distancing himself from entertainment hypnotism, yet still willing to use it in a naff television dating show. His only discernable previous experience is putting on a hypnosis show at Urmston Boys Grammar School in Manchester.
In Hello Stranger, Calvert hypnotises couples to forget they are in a long-term relationship. In the pilot show, George & Lucy, a couple from Worthing, whose four-year relationship has lost its magic, are hypnotised to think that they’re meeting for the first time. They also go on dates with strangers – strangers who do not seem to mind their date is already in a relationship, or that they are in a state of hypnosis, or that they are being filmed, or that they might be party to breaking up an established relationship.
Any hypnotist worth their salt would know this is ridiculous. ‘Amnesia hypnosis’ – a term invented for the show – does not exist in reality. Memories of relationships are too deeply ingrained to be ‘forgotten,’ even temporarily, because there are too many reminders – the mere sight of a familiar place, menu, shirt, smell, behaviour, and most important, where they are living, is enough to create dissonance and set the mind working in such a way the plan would fall apart in moments. Nonetheless, we are told that Calvert has managed to wipe four years of memories. Lucy & George were not allowed to keep their phones, ostensibly because pictures of each other might trigger memories, although there was no such concern when they met for their own ‘first date’ at the end of the programme.
As if proof were needed, on George’s first blind date, when asked about his past relationships, the hypnosis appeared to be wearing off, and Calvert had to step in to ‘top him up.’ Yawn. We were told that only 30% of people are susceptible to hypnosis. This is incorrect and shows up Calvert’s poor understanding of the subject.
There is also a moral issue: what would be the consequences if they fell in love with one of their dates and split up forever? Were Channel 4 or the production company’s insurers aware of this potential problem? Perhaps they were pre-occupied with the idea that a dating show – always a ratings winner – with a twist, might actually work.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of fame-hungry people apply to be on reality shows [Love Island attracted 85,000 applications this year] and scores of couples turned up to audition for Hello Stranger. Some people will do anything to get on TV, seeing it as a short cut to fame and fortune and most will go along with even the most ridiculous ideas. George and Lucy are vloggers who document their lives online and, by their own admission, offer up a glamourised version of their existence for the benefit of followers. Was this a golden opportunity to publicise their vlog? In any case, they were paid for their participation.
Viewers were quick to take to social media calling Hello Stranger a hoax, noting the couple clearly recognised each other, talked over each other and acted totally differently when together than they did on the other dates.
This is always the problem with hypnosis on television – it lacks all reality on the small screen. Entertainment hypnosis needs to be seen live to work really well, with real people who have not been auditioned or pre-selected. Even Paul McKenna trawled his live shows for subjects when he first appeared on TV in 1992, something I refused to do when commissioned by SKY, also in 1992, to make The Andrew Newton Hypnotic Experience.
So were Lucy & George really fooled into forgetting each other’s existence? Or was the joke really on hypnotist Aaron Calvert – probably the only one who really believed it.