by Lewis Manalo
Though paling in comparison to the attention a Michael Bay-brand disaster would receive, the real-life Gulf of Mexico oil spill may be doing more to change the way we see than did Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
The government is not new to media projects (ever hear of the War on Terror?) but when Rep. Edward Markey demanded that British Petroleum broadcast a live stream of the oil spilling out of their blown-out well, he asked to bring environmental disasters into an entirely new visionary realm. From cbsnews.com:
“This may be BP’s footage, but it’s America’s ocean,” Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Edward Markey, the chairman who made the demand, said in a statement. “Now anyone will be able to see the real-time effects the BP spill is having on our ocean.”
We’ve all seen natural disasters on live TV (Icelandic volcano anyone?), and by now street crimes on live TV are a mundane occurrence. But what are the implications of seeing a corporation’s mistake on live stream? With the recent recession, the public consciousness has accepted the corporation as the Bad Guy in the Black Hat, but never has a congressman demanded the public broadcast of live footage of a corporation at work in the name of transparency.
Thinking that a live stream is the equivalent of transparency is as naive as assuming that all the affected ocean belongs to America. In that great media show called politics, there will no doubt be more demands for live streams in the name of transparency, and caught up in its “liveness” most viewers will not doubt that the camera’s disembodied eye sees Truth. But unanalyzed footage is nothing more than an easy-to-digest message for an uninformed audience, and whatever emotions it may call up in a viewer will work wonders in covering up the facts.
I see Rep. Mackey’s point in demanding a live stream. Seeing the oil continuing to gush out no doubt feeds public outrage, and that enmity towards BP should only motivate them to fix the problem – also on live stream. Though Mackey’s tactics may have helped speed up the efforts to stop the oil spill, what has it done to the viewer’s concept of truth and fact?
Viewers are no longer following the oil leak as news, but they are watching it as witnesses. I for one, don’t really know the real implications of all that crude oil out in the ocean. Crude oil’s organic, isn’t it? So what makes it bad? Yes, I see the images of the poor, mucky ducks on the shore, too, but the point is that an ignorant witness may see facts but not Truth.
The impact of this shift in vision will be seen in the public perception of BP if and when BP stops the oil spill. What the public reaction will be and how they hold BP accountable, I won’t predict, but I’m sure we’ll be able to watch it live.