doing what one is told

We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)

"We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" is a track by Peter Gabriel on his breakthrough album So.


Unlike the rest of the tracks on So, "We Do What We're Told" is darker in meaning and in composition. Its title refers to one of Stanley Milgram's infamous experiments in obedience that tested whether people would obey an authority figure giving them morally questionable instructions to administer electric shocks of up to 450 volts to subjects who failed to answer questions correctly. About two-thirds continued to follow the experimenter's instructions to the end, despite prerecorded shouts of pain from the apparent subject and the knowledge they would be paid regardless of whether they completed the experiment or not.

In one variation he conducted, forty subjects were put in a position where they did not administer the shocks but played a subsidiary role either doing paperwork or reading the questions, where they would not be directly responsible, just morally culpable. In this variant, all but three continued in their duties without asking for release. The remainder who did what they were told were "Milgram's 37".

The song is also featured in a Miami Vice episode, "Forgive Us Our Debts" (season 3, episode 11).

Live version

"We Do What We're Told" has been performed live at Gabriel's concerts prior to, as well as following the release of So. However, before So was released not many of the crowd knew the meaning of the song. This caused a lot of confusion, and when Peter Gabriel got the crowd to sing, "We do what we're told," hardly any of the crowd knew what the point was, they were simply doing what they were told.



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