JAN 20 — When people watch the news, it is automatically perceived as something real because that’s what news is all about, which is the reporting of actual happenings.
When people watch documentaries, it is also automatically perceived as something real because that’s what documentaries are.
Sometimes, this perception that people have can actually be manipulated and used against them.
I remember showing a group of undergrad students of mine the popular 1980s film, “This is Spinal Tap”, directed by Rob Reiner.
For those who aren’t familiar with the film, “This is Spinal Tap” is a mockumentary about a fictional rock band called Spinal Tap.
The film follows the band as they go through their career from uber famous to uber has-beens in true documentary form.
The film is hilarious and absurd since the band members are not that bright and make ignorant and comedic comments and actions all the way.
After the film ended, my students and I had a discussion about it. Many of them were shocked to see how stupid these rock stars were.
In fact, several students even asked me if I knew what happened to the band and its members since they were just unbelievably stupid.
Now this seemed hilarious to me. All of the students thought the film was a real documentary about a real rock band.
When I revealed to them that it was really a mockumentary, they actually got angry and said that I (and the film) had lied to them. They felt cheated and fooled.
But it was all fine and all was forgiven because it was just a story about an insignificant rock band from a country far away and no harm was done.
Now what if this was to happen in the news instead?
Take a look back into history. In 1938, the famous film director Orson Welles produced a radio drama called “War of the Worlds” (an adaptation of HG Wells’s novel).
It was about aliens invading the Earth and attacking several cities in the United States, and he had broadcast it on radio as if it were a real news story.
What happened next was chaos and panic as people from several cities and towns in the country packed their bags and evacuated their homes.
The public had believed the story to be real since they heard it as news and they were all scared, even though the story is pretty absurd if you think about it.
Now, these are cases where the people who created these stories actually revealed that their stories were mere fiction and were supposed to entertain.
I wondered if there were people who actually created fictional stories, and then released it into the mass media and never revealed the fact that they were fiction.
The public would have consumed these stories and believed it to be real, and continued to lead their lives believing these stories as real.
Imagine if the stories we see in the news every night at prime time on television were all fake and were intended to manipulate and influence the public.
Now that would be pretty irresponsible, wouldn’t it?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.