The Big Idea – A week of research

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Last week the new project titled – The Big Idea – kicked off with an great introductory briefing from Ian. Before the project started I was sceptical about the premise of the project as it seemed fairly ambiguous but after Ian’s lecture I understood the huge creative potential that was present. The goal of The Big Idea is to take a word from a specific list and interpret and visualise it in a creative and original manner. There were a few words that I considered but in the end I chose ‘obedience’, as it stood out the most as a catalyst for some thought provoking and imaginative design work.

I have spent the last week researching and deconstructing what obedience is. The initial stage involved looking at the multiple definitions of the word, with the most relevant one coming from the Cambridge Online Dictionary – “doing, or willing to do, what you have been told to do by someone in authority.” The key word in this definition is authority, as there are many different types of it. For example, obedience can mean following certain laws, therefore the authority would be the government. Moreover, obedience is prominently found in children and animals, with the main authoritative figure for them being their parents or owner. From this I made my own basic definition that defines obedience as the act of ‘following the rules’. These rules can be set in place by people you respect, like teachers or parents, or they can be passive rules that are an outcome of certain cultures and religions.

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Once the definition had been established I moved onto some psychological essays and academic theories on obedience, a research technique that I started doing in the last project. There are plenty of theories and studies online and in the library but while I was looking through them I found an example that stood out from the crowd. The study was on a man named Adolf Eichmann, who was a logistical genius that essentially organised and planned the Holocaust during World War II, killing over 6 million people. What is most fascinating about Eichmann is the fact that he was a seemingly normal and intelligent family man, which was proven by multiple psychiatrists studying him and declaring him sane. So the question is, how could such a smart and well-cultured man cause so much pain and horror?

Adolf Hitler Inspecting His Troops In 1937

During his post-war trial, Eichmann expressed his confusion when he found out that so many people, especially Jewish people, hated him and his actions. We have to remember that it wasn’t Eichmann that wanted to exterminate people of the Jewish faith, it was Adolf Hitler. All of Eichmann actions were a product of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and therefore he was obeying the rules set in place by the fascist regime. In Eichmann’s prison diary he stated that, “The orders were the highest thing in my life and I had to obey them without question.” Simply put, he was just obeying orders. The actions of Eichmann created an event that will go down in history as one of the most horrendous acts of war, and it was all due to one man obeying the rules put in place by his superior. However, it wasn’t just Eichmann that followed these rules. Millions of German citizens supported and assisted Hitler throughout the war, and just like Eichmann, they all obeyed the horrific rules that were set in place by their superiors.

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The study then focused on an experiment done by the American scientist Stanley Milgram. Intrigued by the obedience present in Nazi Germany, Milgram created a famous experiment that attempted to find whether or not the obedient nature present in the German population was entirely unique to them. To do this he created an experiment which tested how much pain American citizens would put someone through if they were told to by an authoritative figure. The conclusion of the experiment showed that obedience to authority was could be found in anyone, especially if the person didn’t think that the responsibility of their actions rested on them. If Milgram’s theories are true then the actions of Eichmann can be blamed more firmly on Hitler’s authoritative role instead of Eichmann’s immoral choices and agenda.

Adolf Eichmann is such a fascinating example of the dangers of obedience and how powerful an authoritative figure can be. I think that using people like Eichmann is a perfect way to define what obedience is in a very real and disturbing way, and I am going to continue my research by finding similar examples in major historical events. I have spent the past couple of days brainstorming the different ways I can visualise what I have found and the actual content of the project. Currently I am leaning towards a creative print outcome, excluding a publication or book as I already have a fair amount of editorial design in my portfolio. Hopefully the upcoming tutorial will help me to figure out what the outcome is going to be so that I can start bringing this project to life.

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