Our power to manipulate stories

Computer graphics are so sophisticated these days it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake. These two videos are clearly in the latter category. No one watching them would believe a squirrel can play hacky sack or a penguin become a table tennis whiz.

The ads are no less fun for that. Both tell stories. Both are engaging. Whether or not they are effective in selling beer is something only Carlsberg knows. The first video shows the two ads. The second shows us how the animators created the squirrel ad.

Our digital world puts the story making in the hands of anyone who can afford a computer, a camera, and editing software. I celebrate that because I believe in the power and importance of creativity.

Story making is in our DNA. We can contribute our unique perspectives without needing a stamp of approval, a publisher, a film or recording studio, or a contract.

Where the issue becomes dicey is where the truth of what we’re seeing counts. Consider health claims on processed foods, safety assurances by chemical companies, and promises from politicians.

Documents can be manipulated. Photographs can be cleverly edited. Sound recordings can be pieced together from clips to make someone say something entirely fictional. Research can be skewed.

I do my best not to add to the confusion. A friend has asked me repeatedly why I insist on tracking down the truth of a story before posting it on my blogs. “You’re a storyteller,” she says. “Why does it matter, if it’s a good story?”

That’s a good question. It matters to me because I get tired of the emotion-manipulating stories that prove to be false. I love fiction and appreciate the craft involved in creating a world that is believable from the first paragraph to the final page. But I don’t appreciate being hoodwinked, and I know that much of what comes to me in print or digital form intends to do just that.

I love the stories I find and that people send for my blogs, and I always check them out before posting them. I cannot give an iron-clad guarantee they are true, but I can guarantee I have done enough sleuthing to have confidence in them.

They express points of view. Everything does, even the most “objective” news report or scientific research or courtroom testimony. But they do not intentionally add to the web of deceit that keeps us from making truly informed decisions.

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