The Invisible Line
CI’s new documentary about the infamous
“Third Wave” experiment
originally aired on Saturday, August 8
The 1-hour documentary “The Invisible Line” tells the story of one of the world’s most famous social experiments gone wrong
The local production of A+E Networks Germany’s Crime + Investigation (CI) channel features exclusive interviews with ex-history teacher Ron Jones, his wife Deanna and some of his former students
When discussing the Nazi regime in his history class back in Palo Alto California in 1967, former teacher Ron Jones was asked how the Holocaust could have happened? To teach his students a lesson, he decided to launch, what would become one of the world’s best known, yet infamous social investigation: “The Third Wave”.
The five-day experiment, which should originally have lasted only one day, developed a life of its own that Jones could hardly control. It started with the teacher disciplining the students and imposing strict rules of conduct on them. For example, they had to get up and limit themselves to a maximum of three words when answering a question. In the following days, he strengthened the students’ sense of community by calling out a movement he called “The Third Wave”, developing his own greeting, which was similar to the Hitler salute, and assigning special tasks to the students within the group, like guarding the door and recruiting new members.
The event’s story was adapted in 1981 by Morton Rhue in his novel “The Wave”, that became an instant classic – still read today by classes all around the world. Fictional adaptation of that topic even experienced a comeback in the last few years, with Netflix series and movies being produced. However, coverage of the “Third Wave” experiment in documentaries apparently lags behind their fictional counterpart: The first time, a comprehensive documentary on the background and the true facts of the experiment had been produced in 2019.
The much noticed one-hour documentary “The Invisible Line – Die Geschichte der Welle” by Emanuel Rotstein is the first in-house production of the new true crime channel in Germany, A+E Networks Germany’s Crime + Investigation (CI). Rotstein filmed in original locations, such as Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, and worked closely with Ron Jones and former student Mark Hancock on the development and realization of the production.
In “The Invisible Line – Die Geschichte der Welle” Jones looks back on the experiment 52 years ago: “I should never have carried out the experiment and put my class in such incredible danger. I crossed the invisible line and enjoyed my power, just like Stalin, Hitler or Trump today”, said Ron Jones at a presentation of the documentary in which the timeless aspect of the experiment from 1967 plays a central role. The production spans the arc into the present time and discusses the threats on our basic social order through anti-democratic forces. At the same time, it reveals how the mechanisms of manipulation that once led to one of the greatest crimes against humanity have lost none of their effectiveness, and even continue to serve as tools for criminal individuals and groups.
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