A Project for Better Journalism chapter


It is important to differentiate an entertainment performance from a medical therapy. Hypnotherapy is widely accepted as a legitimate way to treat addictions, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, anxiety, and depression, given the patient is willing to collaborate. The therapist usually relaxes the patient’s mental guard to reveal the subconscious through suggesting sensations and body movements while encouraging visualizations of imagination. Then, the therapist could manipulate the patient’s subconscious through repeated suggestions. What EHS witnessed last Saturday, however, was not a therapy but an entertainment event, and major differences exist between the two.

When I walked into Pendleton half an hour before the show started, there were already excited students sitting on the front row holding posters that elicited their selections. When Mr. Deluca chose the participants, or rather, his collaborators, his selections appeared to be random: “I like that hat! I like that shirt! I’ve got to choose you because of that poster!” Comparing to an ideal scenario for hypnosis, the students were not in a peaceful mental state when they went on stage, nor was the auditorium by any means quiet. The pace of hypnosis, however, was extraordinarily fast comparing to a normal procedure, with most of the participants becoming hypnotized in under 10 minutes. After that, they appeared to have become fully submitted to Mr. Deluca’s instructions. It was magic, right? Or…was it?

If we had paid more attention, we would have realized his selections of participants were by no means random. By standing up, holding up posters, and yelling Mr. Deluca’s name, the zealous front rowers had already qualified themselves as willful participants who wanted to be hypnotized. Like hypnotherapy, this willingness and belief was crucial because they allowed the participants to fully submit themselves to the hypnotist’s instructions. Then, choosing among the qualifiers, it turned out some fashion statements could also help, no matter if it was a blue-denim jacket, a gold necklace, or tight athletic issues. The result was a group of extraverted participants who were more than willing to cooperate. Being at the center of all attention, including the cameras’, the peace of mind required in a hypnotherapy was nonexistent, while the heightened peer pressure and self-awareness were impossible to disregard. Once the show started, there was essentially no way back because no one wanted to kill the fun when the opportunity to please the audiences and gain popularity was on the table.

The power of suggestions was also at play. After the show, many participants claimed they could not remember what they did on stage and what exactly happened. While this could be a lie if only one or two participants said so, almost every participant suggested they had no distinct memories on their behaviors. Again, provided the participants were willing to be hypnotized and believed in it, their trust in the procedure and desire toward attention alone could be powerful enough to convince them they were indeed hypnotized, while they were just playing along. This belief that they were actually hypnotized provided them a convenient excuse to please the audiences through engaging in behaviors that were out of character, even by an extravert’s standard. After the show, still with the belief they were really hypnotized, the participants’ subconscious reflected upon their behaviors on stage and decided they could not have done them since they were so out of character. This self-denial led them to claim they remembered nothing, so like others, they were surprised when they saw the videos of their performances.

Stage hypnosis is a mental game that manipulates peer pressure, subconscious and desire toward attention. Taken as an entertainment event, it would be a lie if I said I did not enjoy the show just because the participants were not actually hypnotized. I give credit to the participants for their performances, and of course, a high mark to Mr. Deluca.