Negative Realities  

The_Wraith_1969 47M
203 posts
1/19/2006 3:44 am

Last Read:
3/5/2006 9:27 pm

Negative Realities

When I was maybe 13 or 14 years old I stood in line at a boat show in Providence, R.I., and, when it was my turn, received an autographed picture of a Playboy Playmate. Oddly, one of the things I remember most about the encounter was that she spelled my name right. When I was growing up, no one ever spelled my name right.

I have long forgotten who the Playmate was, but I remember it was a black and white picture, and she was a pretty blonde. I put it in the top drawer of my desk with a lot of other junk and it has long since vanished; lost to the garbage bin of history.

It served a useful purpose, though, because I could say to friends who came over to the house that I knew a Playboy Centerfold. This was usually followed by a negative frathouse reply, but when I produced the picture the encounter was proved. I would still be good-naturedly called a jerk for embellishing the relationship, but a moment or two was nonetheless taken to look over the picture and debate the physical aspects of our mutual acquaintance. Give me a break on this; we were teenage boys.

What's important about this story, in so much as it is important, is that a photograph was used, and acknowledged, as proof that something happened. I had met a Playboy Playmate and no one disputed that because you could see it with your own two eyes. She had signed it, written my name, and so there it was.

No more. A photograph -- one of the great tools of journalism, one of the great methods of recording history as it has happened -- would no longer be taken as proof-positive that anything had happened. There isn't a kid at the age of 13 or 14 who wouldn't come back after looking at what I once used as evidence, and say: "What'd you use, Photoshop?"

This all came to mind when I read a recent story in the New York Times about how networks use computer generated images to insert some product placement into TV shows. There, in the photo, was a depiction of a couple of actors from "Yes, Dear" and a coffee table in front of them. Here's how the New York Times described it on Jan. 2:

"Viewers of last April 25's episode of the CBS show "Yes, Dear" may have noticed a box of Club Crackers sitting on a living room coffee table, next to a plate of cheese. What they did not know was that the box did not really exist, at least not on the set.

"The Club Crackers box was inserted into the scene through virtual product placement, a process that uses computer graphics and digital editing to put products like potato chips, soda and shopping bags into television programs after the shows are filmed or taped. As with traditional product placement, producers can sell screen time on their programs to advertisers eager to reach consumers who now have the ability to skip traditional commercials using digital recorders like TiVo.

"According to PQ Media, a media research firm, spending on product placement totaled $3.45 billion in 2004. Of that amount, $1.88 billion was spent on television, $1.25 billion on movies and $326 million on other media. While digital product placement has been around at least since the 1990s, when it was introduced largely for greater flexibility in featuring various brands, it has gained traction on network television recently as advertisers increasingly look beyond the traditional 30-second spot to reach consumers."

It's fast becoming very easy to simply not trust our eyes: I see the box of Club Crackers, but I also know it isn't really there. How does my brain learn to process and accept this conundrum? Should it even bother, or simply relax and get used to the idea that everything might be fake?

Last year the movie version of the beloved Christmas tale "The Polar Express" came out. The movie, which was poorly reviewed -- largely because the computer-generated people in the movie looked creepy (an assessment with which I agree) -- and because it had padded out what was essentially a very succinctly written fable.

It was strange, though, when the actors tried to explain the process of the filming, which was something called "captured performance." This meant their bodies were wired up, the movements recorded on a computer, and then those detailed records of the bodily movements were used to create the computerized "performances" on the screen.

I remember thinking: Why didn't they just film the actors? What is this business of recording the movements, then recreating them through a computer? It was as though the performances wouldn't be considered real unless they had been replicated digitally. And from what I saw of the film, neither the actors' movements nor their faces looked real at all. (But it does beg another question: When a movie created entirely inside a computer finally gets put out on DVD, in what dimension does that movie actually exist?)

I think it is a very tricky thing to start altering the reality around us. We need to trust what we see, of course, but we've already started to question that. I can understand and even appreciate the cleverness of using this new technology to send a message to consumers, but it reminds me of that line in "Jurassic Park" -- a movie reference that is appropriate enough -- when Jeff Goldblum asks if even though something can be done, should it be done?

Some self-governance is needed here. There are all kinds of things that can be done, but should we, for the sake of how we relate to our world, and how we fix our own place in it? A thousand years ago a sailor could get across the ocean by looking at the stars and trusting what he saw. There was no questioning the reality of the stars, or the information they provided. The same stars are there, but these fixed points almost seem antiquated now, obsolete -- certainly not terribly sophisticated or fancy -- and we certainly don't use them to find our way in the world any more. We have a GPS for that.

Well, I wish I still had that Playboy Playmate picture. Not that I have any affection for the photo, or the woman in it, but so many years have passed since I first got it, and I've been faked out a million times by what I thought I've seen since then, that I'd like to see the picture again just to make sure that that brief adolescent encounter I thought I had actually happened.

MaggiesWishes 59F

1/26/2006 2:03 am

One has to wonder ... anymore,
who is behind the "Foster Grants",
especially around this site.

good point, hon.
warm wishes

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