I’ll be blunt: I was fascinated by this short documentary exploring The Mouse Utopia Experiments, the real-life inspiration for The Secret of NIMH (released in 1982) and the novel by Don Bluth (published in 1970) that inspired the film. With locations dubbed Rat City and Universe 25, it’s an immediately engrossing exploration that plays out like the most harrowing of dystopian fiction.
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Here’s a brief summary of The Mouse Utopia Experiments:
In a 1962 edition of Scientific American, the ecologist John B Calhoun presented the results of a macabre series of experiments conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). He had placed several rats in a laboratory in a converted barn where – protected from disease and predation and supplied with food, water and bedding – they bred rapidly. The one thing they were lacking was space, a fact that became increasingly problematic as what he liked to describe as his “rat city” and “rodent utopia” teemed with animals. Unwanted social contact occurred with increasing frequency, leading to increased stress and aggression. Following the work of the physiologist, Hans Selye, it seemed that the adrenal system offered the standard binary solution: fight or flight. But in the sealed enclosure, flight was impossible. Violence quickly spiraled out of control. Cannibalism and infanticide followed. Males became hypersexual, pansexual and, an increasing proportion, homosexual. Calhoun called this vortex “a behavioral sink”. Their numbers fell into terminal decline and the population tailed off to extinction. At the experiments’ end, the only animals still alive had survived at an immense psychological cost: asexual and utterly withdrawn, they clustered in a vacant huddled mass. Even when reintroduced to normal rodent communities, these “socially autistic” animals remained isolated until death. In the words of one of Calhoun’s collaborators, rodent “utopia” had descended into “hell”. (Source)
This summary is rather bland compared to the story illuminated in the documentary below, produced by Fredrik Knudsen as part of his Down the Rabbit Hole series. Give it a spin for an unprecedented look at a little-known societal experiment—one with truly sinister implications!
Official Synopsis: As the world recovers from World War II and fears of overpopulation swell in America, one researcher begins constructing horrifying experiments to model it.
About Fredrik Knudsen on YouTube: This channel is home to Down the Rabbit Hole, a series of videos diving deep into those strange parts of the internet as well as confounding and absurd parts of history. It is also home to The Grimm Archives, a collaboration with BAFTA-nominated animator Benjamin Tobitt that reveals the histories of creatures and cryptids from folk tales around the world.