Less than meets the eye


We've been spoilt. The delights of the modern media have ruined us. Our predecessors would have little or no idea what a polar bear was, let alone be presented with the vision of one giving birth to unbelievably sweet baby polar bears. But now, we merely have to activate the shimmering screen in our lounge rooms, settle back with a mug of Horlicks and the majesty of the Arctic giant reproducing is displayed in HD colour. But do we gasp in awe? Do we shed a silent tear at the sheer beauty of the wondrous event? Do we heck. Instead, we rush to the Radio Times website and type away like a secretary on speed, denouncing the whole charade because we suspect the scene was filmed at Bristol Zoo and not the Tundra.

It doesn't much matter if avuncular naturalist David Attenborough is attacked and eaten, we want authenticity, damn it!

As I say, we have been spoilt.

Strange then, that we don't seem to give a monkey's when advertising is not only faked, but blatantly tells us so, in real time, as we watch.

"Poor" Cheryl Cole, invites us to wash our tresses in a chemical soup designed in a French laboratory. Do this, she tells us, and our crowning glory will be thick, healthy and so swishy the world will drift into slow-mo each time we turn our heads. This tends to be aimed at girls and American soft rock acts, admittedly, but it's all very impressive, nonetheless.

Until we spy the small print, transparent and apologetic at the foot of the screen: 'Ms. Cole's hair enhanced with natural extensions'.  What? WHAT? Surely the whole exercise has been a soft-focus demonstration of the astonishing properties of a magic elixir in a plastic bottle, not an exhibition of the finely honed skills of Girls Aloud's hairdresser of choice. Despite complaints to the ASA, the ad was given the go-ahead, the campaign still runs from time-to-time and we are drawn to the Cole endorsed brand in the supermarket.

But now, what's this? An unthreateningly pretty lady in a shopping centre is having her teeth scanned with some sort of UV, light sabre, wand device. And then her gob is revealed on a monitor which wouldn't look out of place on the flight deck of a space shuttle. Did she brush her teeth this morning? Why yes, of course. She's a pretty lady, after all. So what's with all this icky bacteria revealed by the slightly sinister apparatus? No! The horror! The humanity!

Fear not. After a night with a tube of 21st century dental scrub, she's back. And the wand is back. And the monitor is back. She's clean and clear; the bacteria just a distant nightmare. Oh, the relief! The pretty lady is impressed. So impressed, she says 'I'm impressed'. Fabulous.

Not fabulous. That wand? No such thing. There's a strapline on the screen telling us it's all a 'reconstruction'. It's, quite literally, science fiction.

Perhaps we've become inured to artifice. Maybe it started with news and documentaries (and, ironically, we tend to rely on these shows for a hefty dose of authenticity). Maybe it's all down to Crimewatch. To be honest, I'm not sure when straightforward reportage became infected by the 'reconstruction' bug, but now they're riddled with it. As a dramatic voice-over relates a murderous event which nobody witnessed, we are 'treated' to shadowy actors playing out a violent scene the producers imagine may have taken place. They have no idea, of course, but the deception is justified by the single, overlaid word 'Reconstruction'. Worse, a news report may refer to an ambulance, rushing to an incident. In which case, it's not uncommon for the story to be accompanied by library footage of a white van, racing through the streets with blue lights whirling. And you know what the caption says ...

So, if we're going to become so animated by the sight of a real female polar bear, giving birth to real polar cubs, simply because they are in a zoo and not at the North Pole, we would do well to make an even louder noise when advertisements and news bulletins genuinely fabricate the very things they're claiming to show.

Magnus Shaw - writer, blogger & broadcaster




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