October 5, 2007

We do what we're told

McBlow.jpg McDonald's worker wins strip-search suit

A jury awarded $6.1 million Friday to a woman who said she was forced to strip in a McDonald's back office after someone called the restaurant posing as a police officer.

Louise Ogborn, 21, had sued McDonald's Corp., claiming the fast-food giant failed to warn her and other employees about the caller who already struck other McDonald's stores and other fast-food restaurants across the country.

If you read this article today and thought "whatthefuck?" you owe it to yourself to read the whole horrifying story, as reported two years ago by the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Forced to strip" doesn't quite capture the situation. The C-J went with the more accurate "hours of degradation and abuse."

I won't try to summarize the story, because you really need to read it all to understand what happened -- not just that night, but nearly 60 other times as well. The abuser-by-proxy who pulled off this spree knew his Stanley Milgram. If you ever wondered what Derren Brown could get away with if he were evil, now you know.

The Courier-Journal also points out that the perpetrator picked his victims wisely.

In her book, "Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer," Canadian sociologist Ester Reiter concludes that the most prized trait in fast-food workers is obedience.

"The assembly-line process very deliberately tries to take away any thought or discretion from workers," said Reiter, who teaches at Toronto's York University and who spent 10 months working at a Burger King as part of her research. "They are appendages to the machine."

Retired FBI Special Agent Dan Jablonski, a Wichita, Kan., private detective who investigated hoaxes for Wendy's franchises in the Midwest, said: "You and I can sit here and judge these people and say they were blooming idiots. But they aren't trained to use common sense. They are trained to say and think,`Can I help you?'"

As for why McDonald's was on the hook, crazyimpassioned blogger guy has more (just don't steal any of it!).

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I really wish you hadn't posted this piece; it's hard to go on living knowing that so many other people out there are this. Fucking. Stupid.


Milgram's subjects were all Yale students. I don't think stupidity has much to do with it.

Are you being willfully facile? I hardly thing the two situations are identical.

If a uniformed police officer had shown up at the restaurant -- or if somebody pretending to be from "McDonald's corporate" had shown up with a clipboard -- and demanded that the manager and her fiancee abuse the employee in this way, then the situations might be parallel.

I'm not lamenting man's willingness to abandon his moral principles in deference to perceived authority. That's the principle that Milgram's work was illuminating -- a phenomenon that shouldn't surprise anyone who's heard of Auschwitz or Abu Ghraib.

What shocks me is that these people were so ignorant as to believe that they were really speaking with a policeman. But ignorance only goes so far here as an explanation. I know it's politically incorrect to express despair in the face of stupidity, but such despair hardly an unnatural response when the stupidity manifests itself in this way.

Also: in Milgram's experiment, the subjects were presumably doing something that they understood to be a bad act in itself -- shocking a stranger . . . causing a stranger pain and fear. They performed the bad act -- overcame their internal censors -- because they believed that they were given special license, or because they felt compelled. By comparison, it isn't clear to me that these people really understand why strip-searching and humiliating a suspected "purse-thief" would be a bad thing to do per se.

In other words, if an actual police officer had done these things to this poor girl at the police station, this McDonald's probably think it was fine.

When I interned for the ACLU Prison Accountability Project, I learned just how indifferent many people are to the mistreatment of accused criminals, much less convicted criminals. Presumably, few Kentuckians are now losing sleep over the destruction of habeas corpus. That's not a cultural stereotype; it's an observation based on voting patterns in an era in which one major political party is unapologetically authoritarian.

Sorry to rant, but there are a bunch of different things happening in this McDonald's case. What happened here does have partly to do with the "perilous obedience" that Milgram's work explored. But I'll have to insist, over your disagreement, that stupidity has something significant to do with it as well. Also a fundamental misunderstanding of the rights and function of the police in a democratic society.

The inevitable typo in an email lamenting "stupidity":

I hardly THINK the two situations are identical.


"Such despair IS hardly an unnatural response."

This is what happens when I post comments in a huff.

Thanks for the link to my crazy, err... impassioned post, blog thingy. :)

Hope you're having a good weekend.

Overlawyered has been covering this since 2004.

As the 2005 C-J story reports, the caller had to go through a lot of rejections to find people this stupid.

This lawsuit prevented the guy from being brought to justice at his criminal trial, because all of the witnesses against him were impeached with the claim that they were making up the story to win money in the civil suit.

"...and the last thing he told the store manager to do was join the army and go sodomize Iraqi's!"

I don't like the frequent implication that because the people involved are stupid, that makes them completely at fault. Don't stupid people deserve more protection than anyone?

Of course this is related to old Stanley Milgram's work, big time. Forced nudity is part of psyops. Your readers want to understand. It's just so overwhelming. How could psychologists actually work to subjugate the people? Like these BSCT Teams that serve the power of governments instead of the arts and science of medicine?

The massive guilt and hysteria government has created about girls in bra and panty ads is part of it. The whole guilt-centered specter of child pornography is part of it. Huge rushes of uncontrollable (having been deliberately programmed) guilt and shame is part of the game. And forced nudity and sexual degradation in our jails and prisons is part of it. Just like at Abu Ghraib.

Another recent example is this story, here about how a thirteen-year-old girl was made to display her pubic region to school officials, rings of the same psyops as developed by BSCT Teams and others. Since the courts abetted the play, expect it as standard operating procedure in the future.

Which brings us to Nair Pretty. It no longer seems enough for mothers to advise their daughters that it is important to always wear clean panties in case they are in an accident and are rushed to the hospital.
The girl in the instant case was not found to be holding Ibuprofen (or a nuclear weapon). More likely she is an attractive girl. So if school officials are now free to strip-search students at will, sans imperative, that embarrasing unsightly bush might need to go. At least in terms of assuaging some of that programmed personal guilt associated with public nudity these days.

Our young girl's bloom clocks are now running fast, really fast, now time flies. Fly My Nair Pretties!

What a horrid story! But I too have say that were these people less gullible they would have hung up on the guy. There is no one in this world who should believe that the police would call and have a store manager do its work! Stupid? Harsh word, but I think I have to agree. Probably a Bible thumper who is told to believe everything the police do is good and honest. Didn't even have a moments thought that it was not the police. Also......It's a RED state!

@ Dashiell:

"I don't like the frequent implication that because the people involved are stupid, that makes them completely at fault. Don't stupid people deserve more protection than anyone?"

I was thinking of the stupidity of the de facto rapists. I agree that this 18-year-old girl's naivete shouldn't be held against her. (I don't think, by the way, that anything in my earlier post "implied" that I was blaming or ridiculing the victim.)

@ Radosh:

Are my days as an Anti-Caption contender over? (Ha.)

Sorry to have barked at you in the earlier comment. You do see what I'm saying, though -- right? If Milgram had called up a bunch Yale students in their dorm rooms and told them, "I'm a policeman. Go attack your roommate with a cattle prod," I think most of the students would have hung up . . . NOT because they're morally superior to the Kentucky McDonald's managers, but because they're not as credulous.

MMG - Well, I did highlight the point about fast-food workers being already pre-conditioned to follow orders. Yes, Milgram had to do extra conditioning to dupe Yale students, but my argument is that it's the conditioning, not the intelligence, that makes the difference here. I'm not sure why you say the girl (who also spoke to and believed the caller) was merely naive while the supervisors were stupid? Is age the only difference? Because growing older by itself doesn't make anybody smarter.

I suppose a lot of this is a matter of defining "stupid." If you mean lack of intelligence as measured on IQ tests or similar -- well, I still maintain that smart people often believe dumb things. If you mean gullibility, naivite and credulity, then anybody who falls for a scam is stupid by definition, which is hardly useful.

As for the disparaging remarks (from several folks) about Kentucky, the article says that "supervisors had been duped in at least 68 stores in 32 states." The geographic factor that seemed to matter more was "small towns and rural communities -- areas where managers were more likely to be trusting."

There's a discussion of this scam in Zimbardo's "The Lucifer Effect," which details his Stanford Prison Experiment as well as the Abu Ghraib abuses, and argues that the power of situation and authority can cause most "normal" "healthy" people to do horrible things. There's a web site for the book, lucifereffect.org, but it seems to be down right now.

"Oh, I am smart, so they can't victimize me!"

How adorable. How bissfully ignorant. Government is conspiring at this very moment to learn your fears and vulnerablities for how to best compromise you. That's why they spy on us. That's why there are BSCT Teams. Do you think your rights amount to a hill of beans? In the minds of some of those holding the highest power, sex and nudity exist merely as perks for those in power to dominate those that they lord over.

Sex and nude play doesn't exist for these people as it does for some, like as in the joyful play in Joe Francis's "Girls Gone Wild", but rather as a stark sinister device to denigrate and humiliate persons, and most especially, as a reason for doling out terrible punishment.

It exists like it does for Justice Clarence Thomas, to crush the joy and human spirit from people, that they may know the terrible power of the state. It exists so that people can be perpetually conditioned to terrible guilt and shame and know boundless humiliation.

It is reflected by how New York City cop Justin Volpe sodomized Abner Luima with a stick, for having had the audacity to protest Volpe's beating random people on the sidewalk. He used the stick to rupture Luima's internal organs.

The same sexual terrorism is reported today on Democracy Now! In congo, women are raped by the hundreds-of-thousands, many with foreign objects, especially in order to rupture their internal organs and/or kill them.

Sex as joy? They want you to get a state permit. And those are extremely limited.

WTF?? Why has there not been more investigation into who made the fake calls? We can argue all day about the managers who were duped/psychologically persuaded into following the crazy man's orders, but WHY haven't they arrested and charged the caller yet? The 2005 article explained that someone had been charged, but the yahoo article from Friday explains that he was acquitted. So who did it? Why is he still out there? Also, it seems like the jerk now owes $6.1 million to one of the poor victims. geez. Get the credit agencies on him, I'll bet they could track him down.

Molly - just because David R. Stewart was aquitted, doesn't mean he didn't do it. Though I do wonder why he hasn't been charged in any of the other crimes. Ted?

(BTW, I reject Ted's implication that McDonald's should be absolved of culpability because civil suits make it harder to convict criminals, but that's another discussion.)

@ Radosh:

Grr! You're being so P.C.!

If pressed, I guess I'd have to admit that the girl seems pretty dumb, too -- but I didn't think there was any point in bashing the victim here; she was naked, frightened, and surrounded by older authority figures, including men. In other words, I don't blame her acquiescence to this abuse on her stupidity.

Why are you insisting that it wasn't dumb of these people to believe that they were talking to a police officer? Is it just the idea of calling anyone dumb that you object to, or do you really think these people aren't dumb?

I usually dig your contrarianism, but here it just feels alienating. I take all of your points about conditioning and authority and Milgram. These people are still alarmingly dumb.

I live in small-town Iowa, by the way. I'm a native Texan. I grew up lower-middle-class. I went to public schools. And these people who tormented the girl at McDonald's are dumb. It isn't classist or backwards or bigoted to say so, either.

PS: This is a silly argument. I get that it "isn't productive," or whatever, to call these people stupid. But is it actually harmful? I'm not calling them dumb as a way of congratulating myself that I would never do something objectionable in defence to perceived authority. If anything, I called them dumb impulsively, the same way I would impulsively cringe if a firecracker were exploded next to my ear.

Believing that the cops are calling the McDonald's restaurant to demand that an 18-year-old suspected purse thief give the manager's fiancee a blowjob? Dumb! There -- I did it again. I'm telling you, it's just an impulse.

In DEFERENCE to perceived authority.

Not "defence."

That's it, you're never winning the anti-caption contest again! :)

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