I have been reading a lot of articles recently about the enhancement of video media. News reports, and TV shows being subtly altered to, in the words of network executives, “enhance” the experience for the viewer. Isn’t that so considerate, making our viewing experiences “better”. In most cases, “better” means whatever the producer thinks will make the show/clip/event more attractive (read lucrative) to an audience. For example take Fox who was recently busted for making the crowd at one of its dismal reality shows twice as large. Now first of all this is a surprisingly bad fake. I mean look at the obvious woman in the orange jacket repeated twice. I only have a semester of final cut experience and that is a mistake that I could have avoided, and I am certainly not making as much money as the video editors for Fox. Fox apologized for the fake, stating that it was a clear reproduction, but if it was so clear, how did it get by the editors, producers, and directors in the first place?
How about ads retroactively being placed in old reruns of your favorite show. I mean it would be convenient to watch old episodes but still be in the know for what current crap to buy next. Consumerist.com recently highlighted this practice. Below are two shots from an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” The one on the top is from the original broadcast, the one on the bottom is the rerun. You can see that the lamp was replaced with a script? For the new film The Zookeeper.
But how did that get there? This episode is from 2007? Well thank goodness that corporate executives don’t have to worry about a little thing called continuity, I mean good writing and acting only get in the way of the commercial message. Lets not forget that the primary function of television is to sell you stuff, not to tell you stories.
But if you think this behavior is relegated to the relm of fictional narritive, than you are sadly mistaken. CBS recently aired a broadcast of the fireworks show in Boston. After a few people called in and questioning some of the impossible views of Boston’s most historic landmarks, CBS admitted to “digitally altering” some of the broadcast to “highlight great places in Boston, historical places with direct ties to the Fourth”. Unfortunately in some cases that meant removing other parts of Boston to get these impossible perspectives. In essence CBS took it upon themselves to reorganize the landscape of Boston to suit their interests, and as a consequence gave viewers an “unreal” representation of the city.
But what is real? Is it what really happens or is it what is reproduced and people experience through media? Does CBS have the right to air these altered footage without a disclaimer? Does it matter that Fox faked the crowd to look bigger? Can we call these things lies or they merely misrepresentations or are they neither? Are they just the vision of an artist who uses any means necessary to paint the kind of picture he or she wants you to see?
Theorist Jean Baudrillard talks about the hyperreal, the simulacra. It is the inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, and is a symptom of technologically advanced cultures. When we watch a broadcast, see a photo or view media with our own eyes and it appears to be “real” there is really no way for us to know if it has been altered or not, unless we are experts, and even then the experts miss things. When we live in a world that is saturated in “enhanced” images and media, how do we begin to perceive real life? Are the women we met in real life less attractive because if all the “unreal” women we are used to seeing? Do we care about the forests in our backyard as much as the forests on Pandora, even though they lack the richness of color and lushness of foliage? Do we join the protest against corrupt politicians and corporations when the crowd had been “enhanced” to half of its actual size? In a society that has come to rely so much on consuming media, we often don’t stop to ask ourselves, is this true? Is this correct? My eyes may not lie, but media, in all its varying forms, is almost predisposed to.