Eyewitness testimony has never been incredibly reliable (especially when it comes to race), but Dr. Gary Wells, a professor at Iowa State University, has taken an interesting approach to demonstrate just how unpredictable and difficult eyewitness testimony can be.
Wells created a video of someone planting a bomb on the roof of a building (probably not a real bomb, unless he had one hell of an IRB proposal! Am I right people? HEY-OOOOO!) The idea is for you (yes you) to watch the video, and then identify the suspect in a police lineup. You can watch the video here.
By the by, I’m sure Dr. Wells is a swell guy, but try to avoid his Web site if you can. It’s only slightly better than any Top 40 radio station Web page, though, admittedly, it’s still not as bad as this monstrosity of Web site design.
Okay, have you watched the video yet? Go ahead and do so–spoilers ahead.
I do think not having the guilty man in the lineup is a bit cheap, considering that the page actually reads, “Can you identify the bomber on the roof from the lineup? Click on the number of the lineup member you identified.” So, it definitely suggests that the culprit is somewhere in the lineup and your options are limited to those on the screen. A little ridiculous–it’s like chastising your students for not writing in “None of the above” on a multiple choice exam or telling your roommate that his lost keys are definitely somewhere in the apartment (Ha! They were at the zoo the entire time, IDIOT!”).
IRregardless, it’s still intriguing. Wells can talk all he wants to about eyewitness testimony, but I look at this from a media perspective. Just as juries continue to insist on nonexistent forensic evidence from their favorite CSI spin-offs, this mini-experiment speaks to the power of television.
Basically, cultivation theory states that television shapes the way we understand the world around us, at times so profoundly that we behave and believe irrationally. This study is a perfect example of that. Quick, when was the last time you sat through a police drama and they showed a lineup without the bad guy involved. Probably never, because it’s unheard of. You either put the guy in the lineup and he’s eventually convicted, or the witness refuses to identify the bad guy (in which case they have to turn to Detective Infringeonrights, who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules (not even his own)). And why wouldn’t you? If you actually showed the pure monotony of forensic science or being in the courtroom or filing paperwork on a car crash…well…it would not make for compelling television (see Fig. 1).
However, in the process of making TV more predictable, it has molded our expectations the same way. Of course the guy is in the lineup, because few of has have ever (or probably will ever) be in that situation. So, we draw on the next best thing: television. It becomes our sole reference point for solving problems and, in the process, we actually end up creating a few.
I would love to see this conducted as an experiment–show the video to two groups, but make sure the first just watched a couple of episodes of Law & Order. I’d love to see those results.
Dr. Wells, I understand your argument (and it makes sense, especially from a hegemonic standpoint). But you may want to consider the added impact of media and how cultivation theory may be shaping our beliefs.
You know, I complain so much about The Blind Side I sometimes forget I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen the publicity-hype around Sandra Bullock to snare her the Oscar, I’ve seen the trailers, and I’ve read my share of reviews (this one is particularly good). But I’ve never actually seen the movie.
So, I figured it was time. I am going to type my thoughts while I watch this movie. I should warn you that there is no hint of objectivity here–just sarcastic Joshua T. being bitter at a movie. Oh, and this movie is over two hours long, so this may be a lengthy entry.
Okay, let’s get started.
• Oh, good, the writers awkwardly managed to work in the phrase “blind side” a whopping 3 minutes into the film. Hey, that’s the name of the movie!
• What a lame-ass stretch to show the infamous Theismann/Taylor tackle and then paint it as something other than a pathetic YouTube/Boomer shout-out.
• Obligatory drive through the “bad part” of town. OMG, a lingerie store??!! They must be in the ghetto!
• Maybe this is just Larry Liberal talking, but these shots of suburbia are far more disturbing than the so-called projects we just saw
• BAHHH! You’re right, movie. White people are crazy! Have you ever noticed how White people drive cars like this but Black people drive cars like this? Cutting edge humor.
• Sandra Bullock finally shows up! Chew some scenery, girl from Speed 2!
• Crikey, that kid has spoken eight words and already I’m annoyed.
• Jesus, we learn “Big Mike” can write, but even the White teacher reads it aloud for him. He entitled it “White Walls.” Do you get it people?? Symbolism! I’ve seen more subtlety in a Michael Bay film.
• The kid has a name–Shawn Jr. He’s giving Big Mike pointers on how to be nice to girls. Stellar.
• In case you were curious, we’re 18 minutes into the movie and Big Mike has said exactly 20 words. Shawn Jr., who we met like 3 minutes ago, already has more.
• It’s possible that this Shawn Jr. lowered the bar so drastically that Bullock’s performance was Day-Lewis-esque by comparison. Right now he’s decked out in a full-length American Indian headdress. He’s the second-most offensive stereotype in this movie.
• Sandra Bullock doesn’t swear. I’m sure that won’t be a running joke/dramatic speech later on
• But the gym is closed, Big Mike! BAM! Sandra Bullock: P.I.!
• Bullock glares (stares thoughtfully? What the hell is she trying to convey?) at her husband (Tim McGraw/Shawn). Tim: “I’ve seen that look many times.” Yeah, so has anyone who has seen any Sandra Bullock movie ever. She’s got the acting range of Hayden Christensen.
• Oh, her husband sleeps on the couch when he’s bad. No doubt who runs this household!
• Of course they have a book of Norman Rockwell paintings sitting on their coffee table. Who doesn’t? Nothing like being beat over the head with clunky metaphors. It’s about CONTRAST, people!
• Wow, he folded the sheets. Diamond in the rough indeed!
• Big Mike is sitting at the dining room table while the family is watching football! WHAT??! Now Bullock has brought them all into the dining room too. Man, they can learn a lot from this guy. This is what family is really about. Seriously, I’ve seen less heavy-handed writing in a Danny Tanner monologue. Keep ’em coming, Blind Side. I’ll keep throwing out references if you keep doling out this bullshit.
• Hesitation by the daughter, but then she metaphorically takes Big Mike’s metaphorical hand to say metaphorical grace metaphorically.
• Oh ZING! Bullock is taking Big Mike shopping because he “obviously doesn’t know how.” She’s so outrageous! She’s saying what everyone is thinking!
WORD COUNT: It’s 30 minutes into the movie and Big Mike, who so far has been in practically every scene in the movie, is up to 36 words. Seriously. That’s okay, Blind Side. Let’s just let Whites characters talk about racism–what could a Black character possibly have to offer?
• Ahhh, Big Mike doesn’t like to be called Big Mike. He prefers to be called Michael.
• Oh PG-13 ghetto–you are terrifying. Loud music and people sitting outside??! Take that, Hamsterdam!
• Shopping for clothes. A purple shirt on Michael? Sandra, what were you thinking?? You know what they need? “Pretty Woman” playing in the background. Kind of an homage to Julia for her bullshit Oscar.
• Oh, but don’t worry–he has picked out a shirt that they’re not showing the audience, and Sandra seems incredulous. Oh, man, when they show that shirt, it’s going to be outrageous!
• Here comes the pay-off…OH NO! A striped shirt that is gold and maroon? I’ll bet the audience was rolling for hours.
• Sandra talking with her haughty Southerner housewife friends. I’m sure this will end well. Jesus, is everything in this movie a walking cliche?
• Oh good, they’re talking about Sandra’s interest in the “projects” with disdain, suggesting that she’s just taking on another “charity case.” (And yes, the character in the movie used scare quotes). Oh, and Sandra’s already indignant. How could they possibly be saying these kinds of things? My god, she’s been living with a Black man in her house for almost two days and she just drove him to his place on the so-called wrong side of town. She’s so much more enlightened than they are.
• They’re looking over Michael’s scores and, after testing in the third and fifth percentile in everything else, he tested in the 98th percentile in “protective instincts.” Ummm…they test for that? In the 8th grade? God, I’d love to see those questions.
WORD COUNT: 40 minutes into the film and we’re at 85 total words that Michael has spoken. Awesome. Seriously, the guy has been in every scene except for the shots of the teacher’s lounge, Sandra and Tim talking in their bedroom, and Sandra’s scene with the school counselor. 85 words.
• Fantastic–Shawn Jr. is suggesting that his dad (Tim) donate leftover food from their restaurant franchises. All those employees, all the people he consults with, and all this time all Tim had to do was ask his son. His ridiculously annoying son.
• And now for some product placement at Borders®. Where they find a book. A book they used to love. Ferdinand the Bull. Let me assure you, America, I’m positive that this isn’t some heavy-handed metaphor and I’m sure this will never be mentioned again.
• Michael sees someone at the restaurant where he just worked. Someone Black. But that person wasn’t eating there…he was working there!
• And it’s his brother. Seriously. His brother. What a small, contrived world.
• Seriously, that was his fucking brother.
• Now they’re back at her house, and Sandra Bullock is reading Ferdinand the Bull to her family. And Michael is laying there too, listening obediently.
• Move ahead to Tim and Sandra in the bedroom. PG-13 sex. Hot.
• Family portrait at Christmas and Michael’s not in it. Oh, I’m sure Sandra will have something to say about that.
• Yep, she did. And a freeze-frame of the family picture with Michael. I’m sure it’s heartwarming, but all I can think is the Christmas card at the end of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Season 6. What a good show.
• And we’re back to the Southern housewives at the hoity-toity restaurant. And they’re making comments about Michael. Uh-oh, Sandra’s getting offended. “Is this some sort of White guilt thing?” one of them asks. You know, that’s actually a valid question. Anyway, Sandra scolds them and responds, “I don’t need you to approve of my choices, just respect them.”
They apologize. One asks, “Isn’t it amazing that you’re changing his life?” Sandra’s writers reach into their Hallmark bag and pull out, “No, he’s changing mine.” *vomit*
And now one of them asks if Sandra is worried that Michael is going to rape her daughter. Sandra sneers at her and says, “Shame on you.”
You know what, Blind Side? Shame on you. This scene offends me on so many levels it hurts my brain.
Go to hell, Blind Side. Racism in the United States is a ridiculously complex issue encompassing practically every facet of our lives. It is everywhere, and…brace yourself…it’s not just people who are in the KKK. Shocking, I know. It’s something that needs to be explored and discussed, but this piece of shit film actually shuts down the conversation. It completely glosses over issues of wealth and poverty in exchange for some trite epiphany about Michael never owning a bed. It belittles the education discussion by suggesting that if teachers only tried harder, it would make up for the massive disparities that students of color experience. And, worst of all, it depicts racists as thoroughly unlikable people who we can spot a mile away and avoid. They act like they’re better than everyone, they’re hyper-privileged, and they are completely disconnected from reality. This way, suburbia-types can shake their heads in disapproval, reassured that racism is safely segregated in the 1960s and maybe elite social circles in the South. Vindicated! Whew! That was close! Now they can go back to talking about “urban youths,” the “bad part” of town, and talking about how stereotypes exist for a reason. Way to go, Blind Side. Build up that straw man and then burn it to the ground. Oh, and get that Black guy to shut up! We came to see Sandra tell it like it is to racist caricatures!
WORD COUNT: We’re at 50 minutes and Michael has spoken a whopping 154 words. Wow. To put this in perspective, in broadcast news the average speaker talks at around 130 words per minute. For reals.
• Oh boy, the daughter (whose friends have mocked Michael because, you know, everyone in the South is racist) is warming to Michael. She sees him pushing the girls on the swings.
• Wow, that happened quickly. She defies her friends while studying in the library and defiantly walks over and sits with Michael. METAPHORICALLY! Take that, society! Defiance is not just a city in Ohio!
• You know, whenever Sandra walks on-screen, I am just blown away that she won an Oscar. Seriously.
• And we’ve hit the football scenes. But there are problems. Michael doesn’t know anything about football. Seriously. Not a thing. And I’m not talking “girlfriend stereotype from a beer commercial” clueless, I’m talking “aliens from another world who never discovered competition” clueless.
• And now he’s distracted by balloons. Seriously. Balloons.
• Sandra sure has some sass. But she’s insightful! Michael doesn’t want to hit anyone…because he’s Ferdinand the Bull! Just like the book they casually pounded into the script earlier! This is officially no longer a movie, people. It is a film!
• Dear gods, Shawn Jr. is in charge of training Michael. I liked this racism better the first time I saw it, when it was called The Toy.
• Do they still make training montages? Apparently so. I liked South Park’s much better.
• And now they’re going to adopt Michael. I think the problem with this movie is that it’s too much like real life.
• Hey, it’s a sassy Black woman in a Hollywood movie! How uncommon!
• Sandra is indignant that the State would let her adopt Michael without even asking Michael’s mother! What a horrible loophole! I can’t believe it even exists! I’m sure it’s not for any logical or serious reason.
WORD COUNT: One hour into the film, and Michael has said 186 words. I really can’t even believe this.
• “Mrs. Orr, you’ll always be Michael’s momma.” You can cut the condescension with a knife.
• Now they’ve adopted him. And Michael said something funny! If there’s something more awkward than child actors laughing, I don’t know what it is
• Shawn Jr. is using condiments to learn about football plays.
• Now Shawn Jr. is singing “Bust a Move” with Michael in the car. And they’re in a car wreck. It looks like the kid will be fine, though I was kind of hoping his voicebox would be temporarily disabled (for about another hour or so)
WORD COUNT: One hour ten minutes into the film, Michael has said 228 words (though about 20 or 30 of those came singing “Bust A Move” with Shawn Jr.
• Michael can’t play football. They need Coach Bud Kilmer out there! (or, better yet, Coach Lance)
• Sandra Bullock explaining how to protect the quarterback by equating the team with her family is easily the most condescending, contrived, idiotic thing I’ve ever seen on film. Utterly unbearable. You know, I saw clips of this in the trailer, but I had no idea how bad it was going to be. This is weapons-grade stupid.
• And now he knows how to play the game! Cinematic gold!
• Racist fan in the stands! That’s right, Sandra–“sticks and stones!”
• Racist football player on the field!
• Holy shit, it’s the aforementioned fan’s son!
• Sandra called her coach on the sidelines on his cell phone. She’s so outrageous!
• Don’t worry, America–she told off that stupid fan. But Shawn Jr. pointed out the “sticks and stones” comment. Oh, Shawn Jr.!
• Racist player is racist! And so are the refs! But coach stood up for Michael. And now Michael will protect him too! But not before Sandra’s voice echoes in his head. Literally. Ugh.
WORD COUNT: 247.
• Don’t worry, White people. Michael took the racist football player out of the game. We’re safe from the racists!
• Another montage of SEC coaches. This is a really long movie.
• Now Michael needs to get the grades. But he’ll have to make all A’s or else he can’t play college football.
1) <sarcasm>Yeah, because the SEC has been really stringent with academic standards and football.</sarcasm> “If Michael doesn’t pass his ethics class they won’t even consider him for USC!” If he’s the world-beater like they portray him, I’m sure a team would make it happen.
2) Timmy McGraw suggested that he go to a junior college, but Sandra wisely points out that “most inner city kids who go to junior college drop out in the first year.” Yeah, Sandy, because Michael’s life is exactly like that of other inner city kids going to junior college. Idiotic.
• Kathy Bates: tutor. You know what this movie needs? Another White person spouting knowledge!
WORD COUNT: One hour 30 minutes into the movie, and Michael has said 256 words. Using the earlier estimate, if he said his lines in a row, it would almost be 2 minutes. If someone pays me thousands of dollars, I’ll watch this movie again and count Sandra’s words.
• In case you’re wondering, Shawn Jr. just sat down with Michael and Nick Saban. The scene with the three of them takes exactly 45 seconds. Nick Saban says about 80 words. Shawn Jr. says about 45 words. Michael says 0. My 130-word estimate may have been way off.
• More football. You know, when the movie is about an individual and not a team, football scenes are incredibly boring.
• The coaches are all pitching their offers to Shawn Jr. Phil Fulmer getting fired was apparently not the low-point in his career.
• Now Sandra (a huge Ole Miss fan) is giving the inside track to the Ole Miss coach. She actually said that, on one of the recruiting trips, she said they “took him to a titty bar” and “he had nightmares for weeks.” She advised the coach to take him to a movie “but not Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he’ll just cover his eyes the entire time.”
My GODS, this movie is going to extremes to make sure the Black man doesn’t scare audiences. Give him a fucking personality! Must everything be absolutes? The family is unnaturally perfect, Michael is a puppy, and racists are loud and obnoxious. The fact that this movie is being touted than anything other than a Lifetime Original Movie is a crime. Seriously, put Penelope Ann Miller in Bullock’s role and that baby’s airing after the Jessica Lynch Story and a Mary K. Letourneau event!
• Who thought this kid was a good idea? It’s Hayden Panettiere in Remember the Titans all over again.
• He chooses Ole Miss. Wow, that was suspenseful.
• Isn’t this movie done yet? Crikey, it’s like watching Transformers 2.
WORD COUNT: One hour 40 minutes into the film, and Michael is up to 259 words.
• Tim McGraw…breaking down “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Interspersed with shots of Shawn Jr.
• Holy crap, Michael’s paper that he wrote he read (in a dramatic voiceover) was almost longer than all the words up to this point combined
• “Way to go, bro” from the daughter after Michael graduates. Oh dialogue…so natural-sounding.
• This movie just keeps on going! He graduated! What a natural ending! Now they’re prattling on about Ole Miss and potential NCAA violations. Ugh.
• This NCAA representative is accusing Sandra and Timmy of being boosters. You know, it kind of sounds like they are. Way to go, movie.
• I think he believes what this NCAA representative is saying. Why did I ever think watching this movie was a good idea?
• And now the movie has a misunderstanding of romantic-comedy-esque proportions. OMG, Sandra said something in a tone she didn’t mean!!!1!!
WORD COUNT: Well, it’s much better this time, thanks to Michael’s narration of his paper. In one 10-minute segment (and really only a few minutes of that), Michael more than doubled his word count with 295 more, for a grand total of 554 words. Just imagine if he had been allowed to speak the whole movie!
• Christ, Timmy is comforting Sandra, and here comes the Full House music. Make it stop. This is so amazingly bad. Seriously, how in the holy hell did she win an OSCAR for this???
• Now Michael’s at a party in the Blind Side hood. Oh no! Alcohol is also attending the party! And he took a sip! I’ve been to karaoke parties that were scarier than this.
• Oh, Blind Side. Now the head Black guy (the one who was making eyes at Sandra earlier in the film) is suggesting that Michael had sex with Sandra’s daughter. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
Just to clarify. Just so we’re ALL on the same page, the film first creates these ridiculous cartoon racists who ask in a restaurant in front of their friends if Sandra was concerned Michael would rape her daughter. And, with that underhand pitch, Sandra knocks it out of the park, storming off with righteous indignation. But now, about an hour later, there’s actually a fucking Black character who is suggesting and encouraging this exact thing happening. This movie is so ridiculously racist I don’t even know how to handle it.
• Michael loses his temper because this dial-a-bad-guy keeps talking about doing Sandra and her daughter. But not before the bad Black guy says he’s going to “bust a cap in yo’ ass.” Because, you know, they have to use painfully outdated slang that the White theater-goers would recognize (and quote). “Hey Michael, that’s a radical shirt! NOT! Waazzuuuuuuppppppp!”
• Apparently Sandra’s accent kind of optional. Anybody can use an accent the entire time!
• And now Sandra is telling off the evil Black guy. And she said something that I’m sure was meant to be witty (Sarah Palin-style). Something to make housewives across America pump their fists in the air. Absolutely disgusting.
• Ferdinand the Bull reference. Again.
• Seriously, writers, cram in the word “family” one more time. It might have an iota of meaning left.
• And Shawn Jr. eyes some college women. Don’t worry folks, he’s straight! It’s okay to still like this movie, Bible Belt!
• I’ll be honest, I stopped counting Michael’s words. He hasn’t said a ton more. It’s 2 hours into the movie. I just want it to end! MAKE IT STOP!
• Another Sandra narration. How powerful. *Yawn*
• Oh, and what the hell happened to his brother?
• And Shawn Jr. gets the freeze-frame. Painful.
And it’s done.
That movie was Phantom Menace-esque in its god-awfulness. Remember the movie’s valuable lessons:
1) Blacks should be seen, not heard.
2) Metaphors are defiantly metaphorical
3) Stereotypes are bad, unless they bring in money at the box office.