On Alias

Torturers Wanted

By Sally D. Stabb, Ph.D.

NOW HIRING: Communications Specialists. Great employment opportunities with an organization that fits your values. You’ll help in the national security effort, learn marketable skills and work on a great team with strong leadership. On-the-job training provided; no previous experience or education necessary.


Of course, you would never answer an ad that said “Torturers Wanted.” At least I hope not. But you just might answer the ad for the “Communications Specialist” and down the road find yourself threatening someone’s friends and family if he or she doesn’t tell you what you want to know, or even beating the crap out of that person if the information is not forthcoming. You’d never do something that evil? You’re too moral and too free-thinking? Only crazy sadists do this sort of thing? Don’t bet on it.


Think. In Alias, it’s not just Dr. Zhang Lee in the opening episode of the show, threatening Sydney with a sorry-we-ran-out-of-novocaine tooth extraction or, later, Sark strapping Vaughn to a zippy set of electrodes. Our heroes, working for the good guys, also do their share. Nasty interrogations are shown routinely. But hey, it gets to be a routine job– when you’re a member of a tight little espionage agency. An insider in the cult of the spy. Let’s take a look at how it all happens, shall we?


In Psych 101, we all learn about Stanley Milgram’s classic study on obedience to authority. In case you don’t remember it, two-thirds of the completely normal, sane, healthy participants in the  …

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