Posted by Ian
"If you don’t want to know the result," BBC newsreaders used to intone every Saturday night, "look away now".
The days of being able to avoid accidentally finding out the result of a football match, indeed the days of football matches being played only on Saturdays, are long gone. Even when, from time to time, enough games have been played for a newsreader to resurrect that immortal phrase, contemporary human instinct is surely to carry on looking. Nowadays we don’t like being told about something then not being allowed to see it for ourselves. We simply don’t trust the motives of people in authority.
In some senses this is a good thing. Because deference doesn’t mean anything anymore, the very fact someone is in a position of responsibility no longer qualifies them to demand our attention more than, say, the person standing next to us at the bus stop. People who tell us what to do and think have been increasingly exposed as having a desperately loose grasp on reality. We no longer take politicians, newspaper headlines and – you’d hope – celebrity "interviews" at face value.
On the other hand, it’s a thin line between scepticism and cynicism. If someone tells you not to do something, or warns you not to do something before giving you the chance to do it anyway, even if they’re acting for the most sincere of reasons, we instantly suspect fishy business. In other words, when we’re ordered to look away now, we want to know why the order is being given, as well as wanting to know what it is we’re being ordered to not look at.
On today’s homepage we’re running a gallery of images from the new Jackass film. Most of them are pretty ribald and near-the-knuckle. Some are downright disturbing. It’s surely the case, though, that nobody in their right mind would view these images and promptly decide to try and recreate them themselves? Or is it? If we had run the feature with a stern warning advising people to look away if easily offended, would that not have merely encouraged more people to look at them and hence increase the chance for copycat chicanery?
Debate along these lines rattled around MSN Towers before adding the feature to the homepage. The way we eventually chose to promote it (see the graphic below) does, we hope, avoid sensationalising the subject while giving an upfront description about the kind of content it contains. Right-thinking people will be able to judge for themselves. Wrong-thinking people will quite probably have already searched for, found and downloaded far more offensive material online already.
As such a cumbersome warning about the gallery’s images would, in black and white type on your computer screen, have looked and felt as disingenuous as printing a swearword with a few letters starred out. Respect and trust your readers, we work to believe, and they’ll respect and trust you. Talk down to them rather than with them, though, and whatever chance you had of educating and enlightening them goes out the window.
In truth anybody who is afraid of what they think the internet, or indeed TV, does to the world is probably just afraid of the world. As this world goes, they may have just cause to be, but sympathy for such a person shouldn’t make us forget to ask them what they think the world would be like if the internet and TV weren’t in it.