Viewfinder: Persuasion

Wikipedia defines persuasion as a form of social influence. It is the process of guiding oneself or another toward the adoption of an idea, attitude or action by rational and symbolic (though not always logical) means. Video is perhaps the most effective tool for persuasion because it involves two senses: sight and sound, which people use to form opinions. All of us who make video have some desire to influence our audience. Many video creators also desire to change opinions. Video allows creators to selectively present facts and ideas that foster a particular synthesis of ideas. Video is a fantastic tool for people seeking the truth but is often used to deceive. As we make video, we can be tempted to skate close to the line separating truth from lies.

For some, it is easy to produce video with loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. While this isn’t quite lying, it may not be all that truthful. Making video is really a tremendous responsibility as the creator, you are challenged to grapple with the truth. Many things in life appear in shades of gray but the truth has always been black or white until Steven Colbert coined the term truthiness; defined as a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. The power to present what you believe to be the truth, may be the exact reason that you were drawn into the craft of video production to begin with.

In 1978, I attended a lecture in New York City by the first video artist, Nam June Paik. He was fascinated with the power of video to present the truth. He began working with the Sony Portapak in 1965 and was amazed how a non-technical person could harness the power of television. Nam June Paik loved unscripted video making and seemed to acutely enjoy moments when people let their guard down. He had lots of clips of people saying “Did you record that?” or “Please erase that, I don’t want anyone to see that”. Nam June Paik saw these moments as the absolute truth. He seemed like the kind of guy that would enjoy Candid Camera or Punk’d. In 1998, when meeting President Bill Clinton, he stood up from his wheelchair and his pants fell down. If you searched the web for “nam june paik pants” it might be the first item up. Does it look like an accident to you?

Perhaps the greatest thing about video is that no one person has control of the camera. We have all seen the truth presented by large numbers of people who traditionally would not have been “trusted” to present the truth. During the 2009 Iranian election protests, Neda Agha-Soltan was killed and her death was recorded by several people with mobile phones and broadcast over the Internet. What would have been a unreported death by the Iranian media became a rallying point for the opposition. Video is a powerful and sacred tool for presenting the truth. Use it responsibly.

Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

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