Last night Mrs Bloke and I settled down and watched the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne. The critical review of which I can give as a solid ‘meh’. It was alright, though it felt like a rehash of earlier films and gave in to the urge of sequels to add significance to characters’ back stories. But anyway, I digress.
They did a thing in the film, that is such a lazy plot device, but is repeated so often people really believe it is possible. They took a grainy, low resolution camera image and said ‘Enhance’. The image gets processed and a now pin sharp picture of the lovely Julia Stiles appears. It simply doesn’t work like that. A digital image is made up of a mosaic of different coloured squares (or pixels). When you zoom in, all you are doing is making those squares bigger, a computer can’t magic up extra squares from nowhere to give you a sharper image! But, it has been repeated in so many cop shows and thrillers we have started to believe it is the truth. Think about it, when you see actual CCTV footage of criminals or terrorists, are they ever pin sharp?
It is a cliché that has become accepted as truth, whilst being utterly incorrect and misleading. And that folks, is my theme for the day. The clichés we live with that mislead us, subconsciously or deliberately.
Now, film and TV clichés are one thing. Although annoying, you can wrap them up in ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. But where I think they really start doing damage is when a cliché is used in realms where we are being asked to believe it is the truth.
I was listening to a news report the other evening, (Just before The Archers since you ask, so it was Radio 4, a sensible news product you’d expect.) And they were reporting on a story of a young man, Damon Smith, who had been found guilty of terrorist offences, placing a pipe bomb on a train. As part of the report they mentioned that Damon had Asperger’s Syndrome. Just that, no context. Just that little nugget that all but invites you to make a link between Asperger’s and this kind of behaviour, and by extraction, that people with Asperger’s are inherently dangerous. When I read the story online, they had changed Asperger’s to the more accurate Austism Spectrum Disorder, but then added that he was a ‘former altar boy’. Another little nugget of apparently tangential information. But it’s not, is it? It’s shorthand. By hearing ‘former altar boy’ we’re encouraged to think, here is someone who was good, but has gone bad. We’re not told if he is left- or right-handed? Whether he takes sugar in tea, whether he has read all the Harry Potter books? They are equally irrelevant but we don’t attach any cultural meaning to them.
The same thing happens in the reporting of sex. Police officers or members of the armed forces are generally all reported as being male. ‘A solider was killed in Afghanistan today’ or ‘A police officer was injured today…’ But if they happen to be a woman then we get told ‘A female police officer was injured today….’ And if she happened to be a mother, that will get mentioned as well. It’s that subtle sexism, that we are supposed to think ‘she’s a mother; she has no business doing that kind of thing.’ Never mind that all the men may be fathers as well.
Here’s another hypothetical. A 15 year old youth has been arrested for robbery. It’s a boy right? ‘A 15 year old youth’ is shorthand for a feral thuggish boy. If it was a girl, it might be ‘a teenaged girl has been arrested.’ If they are the innocent victims they might be called ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’
Look at this headline from today’s Daily Mail website. (Don’t worry, I’ve cleared my browser history.)
“Confident Macron, 39, and his wife, 64, cast their vote while Le Pen, 48, is targeted by naked protesters as France goes to the polls in presidential election.”
Now, for a start it’s a terrible run on sentence. But why mention the ages of those involved? How is that in any way relevant? It’s not, but, gosh, look how much older Macron’s wife is than him! That’s weird isn’t? And poor Le Pen, who is a sensible age, is getting targeted, (‘targeted’ that’s a loaded word as well) by naked protesters. We have to mention naked of course, because if we click on the story we might see boobies.
Just from that one sentence, which is factually correct I’m sure, we can easily tell which side of the French presidential election the Daily Mail is on. Once again, they seem to be siding with the ‘black shirts’ as it were. Now, how many stories about Donald and Melania Trump, who have almost the same age gap, mention their ages? Couldn’t find any on the search I just did. There are a few that mention her age, but also seem to mention how lovely she looks or how short her skirt was.
We’re in the midst of a general election campaign and, if the local elections results are anything to go by, something weird is going on. But please, please, try and be a little critical about the headlines and stories we are given.
When you are given a superfluous little detail, what is the cliché? What is the stereotype that it is trying to subconsciously create? The British media, though far less partisan than its peers in the US, still carries an agenda.
Think; be critical; look beyond.
And if you are ever in a high octane, action packed, chase sequence, don’t try shooting a gas canister to create a dramatic explosion to hasten your escape. It won’t work.