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Does The Camera Eye Lie?
Posted by Dave Tirsch on Jun 4, 2004 - 3:40:00 PM

I was one of the lucky ones.  I was one of the people looking to purchase a house back in 1998 when house prices were at a low point.  There were so many sellers and so few buyers that homeowners were practically begging you to buy their homes.  House prices ranged from about $150,000 for a pretty nice fixer upper, to $350,000 for an amazingly huge, modern house with a pool!  At the time, I could afford the fixer upper and went around looking at dozens upon dozens of homes in this category.

Most of these homes had wallpaper straight from Greg Brady's room, window treatments more colorful than the curtains hiding prizes in "Let's Make a Deal," bedrooms smaller than the cone of silence in "Get Smart" and kitchen appliances straight from the set of "I Love Lucy." 


These house traits were not what I was looking for.  My real estate agent spent hours trying to explain that I could tear down a wall here, pull down the wallpaper there, re-do the kitchen, etc.  They all sounded like wonderful ideas, but, for the life of me, I could not visualize what he was saying, and thus, I didn't buy a home! 


I am from the television generation where everything is visually laid out for me.  If there isn't an actual picture or video of something, as far as my mind is concerned, it doesn't exist.


This has been one of the toughest issues for prosecutors trying to convict someone in today's courtroom.  Unless there is a video or picture of the defendant perpetrating the crime, you can have as much circumstantial evidence proving a case as you want, but juries are not going to be convinced. If you don't have visual proof, juries are not going to be convinced. Conversely, when there is visual media proof of an event, that proof seems to rush many of us to judgment more than any other facts.


This explains the uproar regarding the torture footage from the Abu Ghraib prisons.  If people merely talked about the abuse, and there were no pictures and no videos, it would have been a newspaper story hidden on page 34, but because there were pictures, it has been all over the front pages.  Through the past 50 years, visual media has taken the lead in shaping our opinions.


The video footage of Martin Luther King Jr. and his non-violent demonstrators being beaten by police incited the sympathy of a national audience and changed our nation.  The video of the Rodney King police beating triggered outrage and sparked riots.  The footage of the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought the event closer to home than a written account of the situation would have. 


As we all become more dependent on visuals to stimulate our opinions, we have to remember that video can be manipulated just as much as a written or verbal story.  The camera merely tells the story that editors, cameramen and photographers want to tell.    For example, regarding the Rodney King footage, the media only showed the specific sequences that indicted the cops, rather than the intoxicated King's continual physical resistance.


As helpful as video footage is to telling the story, if we aren't careful, we can confuse it with absolute truth.  There is always more to the story than the camera tells.


Cliffside Malibu




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