On a popular Australian TV panel show, Spicks and Specks, there is a game that asks each panelist to choose whether the subject of a photograph is a musician or a serial killer. It is extraordinary how many times they get it wrong, choosing a guitarist as a mass murderer or a psychopath as a pop singer. With only one external representation of a person, it is easy to make false judgements.
Without wanting to trivialise such an horrific subject, I bought the photos above, because the sitter reminded me of Myra Hindley. She was one half of the duo responsible for the gruesome UK Moors murders in the early 1960s. I think my photobooth lady, above looks more like a sinister serial killer, with her sharply plucked eyebrows and unsmiling expression, than Myra herself,who is pictured below.
The tendency towards judging a person’s character from first impressions or one or two pictures, making our minds up on flimsy, visual evidence, is well-known to us all. How often do we see someone walking down the street and make judgements on their characters and lifestyles, based on how they look in that minute? How often do we assume a handsome Hollywood star, with a good PR machine on his side, to be as kind and sweet as the characters he portrays, only to eventually find out that behind the scenes he is a manipulative harpy or wife basher? How often are media representations of people, through careful selection and editing, used to manipulate our opinion?
Are we supposed to sympathise with the innocent abroad, falsely accused of drug smuggling? Yes? Then choose a flattering, smiling, professionally taken photo of the person. And if we are supposed to despise the calculating drug mule, caught red-handed with the dope? Well then, choose an unsmiling photo, taken from a bad angle, by a drunk friend, in bad lighting. Doesn’t matter that it is the same person, the perspective of the publisher is what we are seeing, not necessarily the reality.
Have a look below at the same lady of those wild staring eyes, photographed again, without the severe make-up and with more sympathetic expressions. I can now see her as a model or movie star.
In our media savvy world, I think we are mostly aware how often our opinions and emotions are played with by the Fourth Estate… or are we? I think we enjoy having our prejudices confirmed in the popular press and quietly disregard the tricks used to persuade us to a certain opinion.