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The Ludovico Technique

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Taken from A Clockwork Orange, this was the name of the morally dubious "aversion therapy" undergone by the Villain Protagonist to "cure" his sadism. This procedure involved him being drugged and strapped to a chair with his eyes held open and made to watch hours of violent scenes (at one point, while his favorite music, Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, played in the background). Although in the original novel and film, the end result was that Alex felt extreme nausea whenever he thought about committing violent acts (or whenever he heard Beethoven's Ninth), the scene has been subject to much Popcultural Osmosis, often ironically as a form of Mind Rape to foster psychopathic behavior in the subject, rather than quell it.

Unfortunately, as this is basically Classical Conditioning (or Operant Conditioning) taken Up to Eleven, this is very much Truth in Television.


See also Restraining Bolt. May overlap with Sleep Deprivation Punishment, as the subject is often forced to stay awake for the conditioning. Compare 2 + Torture = 5. Not to be confused with Forced to Watch.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In The Umbrella Academy, this is how the Rumor gets revenge on an amnesiac villain who nearly caused the apocalypse. (Yes, the heroes of the series are morally ambiguous.) She leaves her restrained in a room filled with TVs broadcasting all the destruction and chaos erupting in the world as a result of her actions. It works, although whether that's because Amnesiacs are Innocent or the White Violin wasn't all that bad to begin with is unclear.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: In issue 3 (published in 1943) Paula von Gunther's methods for conditioning her usually initially unwilling agents is revealed. As a Nazi agent Paula would drug her restrained victims, then use a rig to hold their eyes open to force them to continuously watch what she chose in order to break their minds and modify their behavior to her liking.

    Films — Animation 
  • Spoofed in Igor, where Eva is strapped down in this manner and forced to watch gory scenes in order to turn her evil, but the channel on the TV gets changed to an episode of Inside the Actors Studio, and she becomes an aspiring actress instead.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Cypher: The bunch of poor schmucks who are brainwashed by Sunways without their knowkledge are all drugged with chemicals that will keep them catatonic and susceptible for the duration, strapped down to devices holding their eyes open and play a film.
  • Similar in premise to A Clockwork Orange, the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques used on the protagonist in The Ipcress File film is pretty close to this. He is subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded by bright lights and loud noises as part of a procedure also used to give kidnapped scientists complete amnesia of any scientific knowledge.
  • In The Island (1980), John David Nau performs a low-tech version of this when he brainwashes Justin into believing he is one of the pirates. He straps Justin to a chair, propping his eyelids open with a stick and reading him the history of the pirate colony and the lineage of the Nau family for several days until Justin believes that he is a pirate called Tu-Barb and Nau's son.
  • The Street Fighter film had Guile's friend Charlie transformed into the monstrous Blanka by Bison in a scene evocative of this. However, the scientist in charge, Dhalsim, snuck in good images and sounds as well, like children playing and MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech, to subvert the brainwashing.
  • In Tales from the Hood, gangbanger Crazy K is put through a "therapy" session of this kind by Dr. Cushing, where he is strapped to a machine and shown scenes of black victims of gang violence interspersed with black victims of lynchings. Then he undergoes sensory deprivation, where he's confronted by the bloody ghosts of the people he's killed. After he fails to reform, however, his whole experience is revealed to have been All Just a Dream as he lays dying, having been shot by our main characters. As he says "I don't give a fuck" for the last time, they shoot him dead. (Word of God says this segment of the film was an homage to A Clockwork Orange.)

  • As mentioned above, the Trope Namer is A Clockwork Orange. Despite what the countless parodies of the scene would have you believe, this trope was a deconstruction of this very form of 'conditioning', showing that Heel–Face Brainwashing is ultimately impossible and any attempts at such would be incredibly damaging to the victim's psyche.
  • The Hunger Games describes a technique called "hijacking," which involves simultaneous exposure to delirium-inducing venom and specific stimuli. In the victim's delirious mind, the stimuli come to be associated with pain and fear. And from the results we see in Peeta, if the stimuli are related to a certain person, then "hijacking" can produce a homicidal hatred of that person in the victim.
  • Happens in Indecent Exposure by Tom Sharpe when Luitenant Verkramp enlists the help of a female psychiatrist to provide the police garrison with aversion therapy, with the aim of stopping them from fraternising with black girls. This is done by strapping them to chairs, propping the eyelids open and showing them slides of naked black women while electro-shocking their genitals. While this has the desired effect of making them averse to fraternising with black women, it also made them averse to fraternising with all women and turned them into Camp Gays. It was even worse for one officer when the terminally stupid Konstabel Els decided that the subject must be bored looking at all of these pictures of naked women, and started showing him slides of his last holiday to nature reserve instead—while continuing to administer the electric shocks to his genitals! A horrified Verkamp comments that the poor bugger is never going to be able to take his kids to the zoo again.
  • In The Tribe: A New World, post-apocalyptic technology has apparently advanced enough that cultist leader Eloise can brainwash dissidents by trapping them in virtual reality scenarios. It doesn't let her mold them directly, but it erodes their hope and sense of self enough that they will capitulate to any orders she gives them. The brainwashing isn't permanent, however- freed victims need a bit of time to adjust, but they are just the same as they ever were.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Faustus technique used by Daniel Whitehall to turn Agent 33 into a compliant agent of HYDRA looks very similar to the Ludovico Technique; in particular, Kara Palamas is shown with her eyes forcibly opened and watching hypnotic patterns while Whitehall speaks to her in a soft monotone.
  • In an episode of Alcatraz this technique combined with electroshock therapy is used to turn a wrongly imprisoned man into a psychotic killer who keeps trying to recreate the crime he was wrongly convicted for.
  • Used in a sketch on The Armstrong and Miller Show, against someone who threatens to reveal that half-price pots aren't actually half-price because you never see them anywhere for full-price. The images flashed up are all of pots marked "For Sale! Half Price!". He even gets to squeeze a shard of pottery in his hand until he bleeds, in reference to The Ipcress File (mentioned above), where Caine's character Harry Palmer resists a similar brain-washing session by painfully cutting his palm with a hidden object to keep himself distracted.
  • Blake's 7. In "Animals", Dayna is brainwashed to hate a former crush of hers so that she will let Servalan into the secure underground bunker where he works. The scene is somewhat underwhelming due to B7's limited budget, involving just Dayan being strapped to a chair-like device and told "You hate him" while being shown his photograph.
  • An episode of Eerie, Indiana had a teacher brainwashing students using an eye examination as cover.
  • On Lost, an Other named Karl is being subjected to this kind of treatment as a punishment, in what seemed to be a direct homage, but we don't actually know what it was for. It was because Ben didn't want Karl getting his daughter pregnant. Yeah... there's Overprotective Dad, and then there's Ben Linus. Considering that pregnant women on the island all get sick and die, it's a bit more understandable, but still. They revealed later in "A new man in charge" that the purpose of this treatment was to erase the memories of the subject, after being subjected to interrogation.
  • A recurring sketch on one episode of MADtv involved a quite novel aversion technique for breaking habits like smoking: dressing up a pair of hillbillies as the vice in question and having them take turns violating the horrified patient.
  • Sledge Hammer!: Parodied when an evil TV company tries to brainwash Sledge Hammer by breaking his spirit with horrible scenes of violence. It backfires because Sledge is a Cowboy Cop Affectionate Parody, so he just cheers on everything they show him and is even dismayed when they stop.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "Dagger of the Mind," it happens to Captain Kirk (and various other prison guinea pigs) thanks to a flashing light hypno-thingy.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Mind's Eye," Geordi gets captured by Romulans and brainwashed into a Manchurian Agent by being shown a series of horrifying images sent directly to his visual cortex via his VISOR neural implants.
  • Treadstone. In 1973 John Bentley is captured by the KGB and undergoes brainwashing to turn him into a Cicada. This involves him being drugged, tortured and electro-shocked, which is shown to be ineffective at breaking his will until Petra Andropov decides to adds sympathy and seduction to the equation. At the start of the final episode we see a Treadstone asset undergoing the more refined modern technique. As a volunteer he's not restrained at all, sitting calmly in a chair while a montage of images invoking family, home, invader, God, and sexual dominance are projected on multiple screens.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Shown in 31 Minutos in "El maguito explosivo". When Dante is sent to a institute to heal him from his addiction to explosions. Of course, one scene shows him enacting the scene, while being forced to watch various videos of explosions and demolitions.

    Video Games 
  • The technique is an item in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. It straps Isaac's eyes open, and replaces his ability to cry with a single giant tear that you can control with the arrow keys - a pun off of "controlled tears".
  • In Bioshock Infinite, this is implied in Comstock House, when Booker comes across an abandoned classroom littered with chairs and a projector showing random propaganda clips, mixed in with subliminal messages, set to a creepy organ cover of Pachelbel's Canon.
  • In Destroy All Humans! 2, Ponsonby threatens Crypto with the treatment if he doesn't tell them the location of an unidentified "it". One of the response options prompts Crypto to remind him that he has no eyelids to begin with. The other is for Crypto to beg them not to subject him to Beethoven.
  • In End Roll, this is what the Happy Dream Rehabilitation Program boils down to; the experimenters use a drug on a person who is on death row; the drug creates dreams intended to induce guilt in the dreamer.
  • In Gadget: Past as Future, the Empire performs this on dissidents using the Sensorama by strapping the victim in a chair facing it, which then beams visions of propaganda and other strange images into the subject's brain. You are also unwittingly subjected to the Sensorama several times throughout the game.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Homestar Runner cartoon "A Jorb Well Done", Pom Pom uses this technique to condition Coach Z against mispronouncing the word "job", by strapping him to a chair and forcing him to stare at phrases containing the word.

    Western Animation 
  • In the "My Purity Ball and Chain" episode of American Dad!, Steve undergoes sex aversion therapy like this with pictures of couples interspliced with images of close-ups of herpes sores and Guns N' Roses frontman, Axl Rose.
    Steve: Please, stop! Stop it! Please, stop showing me photos of that hideous woman! Eugggggaaaaaaaaah!
  • In the "Super Trivia" episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frylock puts all the world's knowledge on one giant DVD then props open Shake and Meatwad's eyes and leaves them to watch it so he can win a trivia competition.
  • Lampshaded in Archer, where the team use a "modified Ludovico" (along with a mind-control chip) to convince Len Trexler not to marry Mallory and buy ISIS.
  • One episode of Duckman has Duckman subject Cornfed to a Ludovico-like setup, but rather than trying to condition him, he's forcing him to watch Duckman's old home movies, which is far more evil.
  • Family Guy: Brian gets sent to an obedience school in the "Once Bitten" episode and is subject to the technique with things that dogs fear, including a lady using a vacuum cleaner, a dog catcher and a picture of Michael Vick.
  • In Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats, doctors subject Heathcliff to a nasty ride that causes him to fear all things related to fish. He then steals other foods instead, until the neighborhood demands that he be cured of this fear. (Hey, Status Quo Is God.)
  • The Parent's Day episode of Invader Zim had Zim trying to do this using a wall of TVs on his robot parents so that they'd act normal. Then GIR changed the channels for the TVs...
  • Justice League. Used by Project Cadmus to brainwash Doomsday into hating Superman. Even when it is explained to Doomsday how he's been manipulated, he doesn't care and continues to fixate on destroying Superman.
  • In Phineas and Ferb episode "Phineas and Ferb Get Busted!", the boys are caught by Candace for the first time ever and sent to Smile Away Reformatory School where they are strapped to seats and have their eyes forced open to watch films that attempt to destroy their imagination. Luckily, it was All Just a Dream.
  • This is what the Robot Chicken intro with the Mad Scientist placing the chicken in front of the TVs with its eyes forced open is referencing. In a later season, the chicken is doing it to the scientist instead.
  • Robotomy "Mean Green": After they find Thrasher helping out a plant, his friends and Gore-Ax use this technique to brainwash him into hating plants but since they cannot find the right video, they use one about "talking trains" instead.
    Thrasher: I'm a steam train and a really useful engine.
  • The Simpsons
    • In "Dog of Death," Smithers props Santa's Little Helper's eyes open and forces him to watch a sequence of destructive scenes set to Beethoven's 9th Symphony, a la the Ludovico Technique. Santa's Little Helper transforms from playful and friendly to vicious and violent, the opposite reaction of Alex.
    • Appears, aptly enough, in a Treehouse of Horror segment spoofing A Clockwork Orange. In this case, having his eyes clamped open is the only way Moe (as Alex) can get himself to watch Fox.
    • In "Homer Goes To College", Homer realizes he has his final exam the next day and he hasn't studied all semester. So, his nerd classmates try to help him cram, which includes holding his eyes open while speeding through a textbook.
  • In Teen Titans, Malcolm McDowell (who portrayed Alex DeLarge in the film) voiced Mad Mod, a recurring villain who used technological illusions and brainwashing techniques. His appearances have included several nods to A Clockwork Orange, including a scene in the episode bearing his name where Starfire was attempting to resist a brainwashing that was strongly similar to the Ludovico Technique; her eyes were held open by the chair restraining her in front of a hypnotism screen.
  • In the short "Slaughterhouse Jive" from the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Going Places", Montana Max is strapped to such a machine so that he'll stop eating meat byproducts after his meat factory turns Buster, Babs, Plucky, and Hamton into giant sausages. By the end of the episode, he is so disgusted by the Nausea Fuel-inducing informative video about how burgers get made that he destroys his meat factory and replaces it with a veggie emporium. Unfortunately, just as Buster is about to eat his lunch of a veggie sandwich, the vegetables beg for him not to eat them and run away.

    Real Life 
  • Psychologist John Broadus Watson did something similar in his Little Albert experiment. He selected a nine-month-old baby ("Little Albert") at a hospital, let him play with a white lab rat, and then made a loud sound so Albert developed a phobia of rats (and by extension, other fluffy white objects). We still don't know who "Albert" was for sure, or whether he maintained his phobias after leaving the hospital (and if so, for how long). note  Today, the experiment is known as an example of classical conditioning in action — and as an example of bad scientific ethics.


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