Unmasking the Medium

An article on ideas to ‘break the spell’ of media productions. It bugs me that we allow ‘entertainment’ to influence our opinions, and set societal norms, in an uncritical way. I’m aware of my own adoption of ideas and opinions directly from what I’ve watched on a screen. Conversely, I quite like the idea of Brechtian Theatre, because it encourages critical thinking about what’s being watched.

I will use this page to write down the ideas that occur to me from time to time about how to make ordinary shows a bit more Brechtian. Here’s the first.

1. It’s hard to not suspend reality

I think that maybe it’s because we’re so biologically wired to trust our eyes that visual media has such a powerful influence over us.

I can still get a fear response by closing my eyes and recalling scenes from a gory horror film that I watched when I was a bit too young. Absurd as it might seem, I’d bet that most people have similar experiences. I say absurd, because I know I was watching props and make-up, I know that it was all acted, filmed and edited by a bunch of people who were just doing their day job. That’s the reality, yet clearly the belief persists.

Take a typical intense scene from a drama, perhaps between a man and a woman in soft low light, and it’s easy to imagine the emotional response that this is intended to evoke. However, change that scene in just one little but ridiculous way, for example paint a red-nose over the nose of one of the actors, and the emotional response will be entirely different.

We still believe what we see, but what we see is no longer just two people having a heart to heart. It’s also a mischievous observer or, more generally, an indicator that something is amiss and that we need to do some critical thinking to figure it out. A change to perhaps around one percent of the image results in an entirely different response – it breaks the spell.

Perhaps this is why, when broadcasters started overlaying logos and ‘up next’ promos, it seemed so annoying and disconcerting. I remember feeling that the whole experience was spoiled because of some one-percent change in the image. However, now I barely notice. It’s no longer an anomaly, nothing is amiss, which suggests to me that whatever is used to ‘break the spell’ needs to be varied to prevent it becoming the norm.

Please use the comments below to share your thoughts about media influence on our beliefs and values, or ideas you might have to reduce our innate susceptibility to influence – to break the spell, so to speak.