For a long time, photographic evidence was the gold standard in court. But those newfangled moving pictures—or movies—have a different relationship to the truth.
A lifetime of exposure to cinema has trained us to suspend our disbelief whenever we see film. Its 24-frame-per-second strobe lulls and prepares us to be transported, fooled, and entranced, and it’s all OK because it’s not real.
Video is different. Its wide depth of field and faster frame rate—29.9 or 30 fps—along with a steady stream of news clips and disaster shows, have trained our lizard brains to accept things on video as the unalloyed truth.
Film is the fantasy; video is the reality. Film is Avatar; video is Cops. And that would be fine, except that the combination of cheap videocams, easy-to-use editing software, and YouTube has created the perfect storm for a whole new genre of movie fakery: the “I can do an amazing thing repeatedly” stunt.
So you dip into YouTube and watch a guy who apparently can coax basketballs into hoops any way he pleases: kicked, bounced off the seventh row of the bleachers, thrown over his head without looking. It seems incredible. But the cheapness of video has allowed him simply to play the law of averages: a day spent on a basketball court trying thousands of baskets from hundreds of positions yields 10 amazing swish shots (a not unreasonable ratio) and a video that makes him look like the next Michael Jordan.
Then there’s the soda-can genre: people walking along the street throwing an endless supply of soda cans into receptacles from the unlikeliest of places—over a bridge, down an escalator railing, behind a door that blocks their view.
Again, it’s the law of averages, not skill. (Well, the law of averages and editing.) It might take off like parkour and bring an end to littering, but I doubt it.
The problem is that these are computer skills masquerading as real-world skills. People with genuinely amazing abilities are being drowned out by these frauds.
Asking for self-disclosure won’t make anyone more honest. I suggest we work up a disclaimer and start shining a light on this dishonest practice. How about “edited for excellence”?
(This post originally ran on Wired.com in May 2012)