In April 1967, Ron Jones, a history teacher at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, found himself struggling to explain to his class how the German people could have fallen behind the Nazis so easily. So he decided to show them personally, creating a student movement called the Third Wave (after the common belief that the third in a series of waves is the last and largest). The movement emphasized conformity and the greater good, treating democracy and individualism as the downfall of civilization. Jones started with things like drilling his class in proper seating and posture, before moving on to discipline, salutes (which conspicuously resembled the Nazi salute), and the transformation of himself into an authoritarian figure. In just two days, Jones had turned his class into a model of efficiency, discipline and community, with a marked improvement in academic achievement and motivation, and the Third Wave began to spread beyond his history class. By the end of day three, over two hundred students had been recruited, membership cards were being given out, banners were flying, and Third Wave members were telling Jones when others were violating the rules -- all completely unexpected developments.
Jones, realizing that he was losing control of the Third Wave, decided to end it. On day four, he announced that the Third Wave was actually part of a nationwide youth movement, and that tomorrow at noon, an assembly would be held in which the movement's national leader and presidential candidate would be revealed on television. At the assembly, the students were met only with an empty channel. Jones revealed a few minutes later that the entire Third Wave was an experiment in how fascism can so easily claim the hearts and minds of the masses (even those who had sworn "it can't happen here"), and played a film about Nazi Germany.
The Third Wave experiment has since been fictionalized three times. The first was The Wave, a Made for TV Movie that aired on ABC in 1981, and later became part of their ABC Afterschool Special series. The same year, a Young Adult Novelization of the movie was written by Todd Strasser under the Pen Name Morton Rhue. Finally, in 2008, the German movie Die Welle took the already-uncomfortable premise and brought it into the very country that birthed Nazism, to show that even a place that had experienced the horror of fascism could see it happen again. Most tropes listed here deal with the first two versions.
- All of the Other Reindeer
- Based on a True Story: As detailed above.
- Darker and Edgier: The German remake, especially the ending: In both the original film and the book, the conflict is resolved when Mr. Ross reveals the true nature of the experiment to his students, and no violence takes place. In the remake, however, the revelation causes one of the students to snap, and he pulls out a gun and threatens the other students with it and actually shoots one of them, then threatens the teacher before killing himself instead.
- Day of the Jackboot: A high school version.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: A gang of ideologically-motivated but otherwise ordinary youths take over a school and start threatening those who aren't part of their movement? Nah, that can't happen here.
- Downer Ending: The Remake
- Fascist but Inefficient: Even after adopting the ethos of the Wave, the football team continues to lose games.
- Foreign Remake: Die Welle, by the Germans.
- History Repeats
- Jerk Jock: Deconstructed Trope. The football players are all so obsessed with making themselves look good (often at their teammates' expense) that they barely function together, and have gone through several losing seasons. Even when they adopt the unity and purpose of the Wave, they continue to struggle, as they had never really trained as a team before then.
- My God, What Have I Done?: David has one of these after he hits Laurie for opposing the Wave.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Wave, of course.
- Only Sane Man: The school newspaper writers.
- This was not the case in the real life version; Laurie and David's resistance to the movement was made up for the fictional versions.
- Politically-Motivated Teacher: Obviously, or else this couldn't have even happened in the first place.
- Putting on the Reich: The Wave salute is fairly obviously (and deliberately) modeled after the Nazi one, and armbands are used as a sign of membership.
- School Newspaper Newshound: Laurie.
- Wham! Line: The scene where Mr. Ross reveals that Adolf Hitler was the "leader" of the Wave -- if not for the readers and viewers (who should know what's coming), then for the students.