Saturday, 3 November 2012

Leveson and the Apocalypse

The final, second part of Derren Brown's outstanding Apocalypse programme was shown on Channel 4 last night. The scenario of the show was that Brown would convince a hapless fella called Chris Bronson that the world had been hit by some kind of meteorite infected with a virus. Bronson would then be transformed by manipulated circumstance from being a shy lazy type to a strong willed leader.

With his usual mix of hypnosis, showmanship and cheeky faced manic manipulation, Brown pulled of another brilliant ruse. But how did he do it? How did he take his hapless manipulee from a fairly normal life to suddenly believing that the world had effectively ended?

Well, much of it involved expensive stunts; a bus journey abruptly interrupted by fireballs and explosions signaling that meteorites had crashed into earth (somewhere near Bracknell I think) and a remote compound that Bronson woke up in believing himself to be in some kind of secure location away from the hordes of infected zombies that clamoured to get in to the compound and infect him and his small band of survivors.

But under-pinning this, was some very simple and subtle manipulation that laid the foundations for the dramatic stuff later. Brown had some software installed on his victim's phone and computer that allowed him to manipulate the news that Bronson was receiving.

Brown was able to feed Bronson, various news stories via websites, news websites, radio and television that made him susceptible to the belief that the world was quite possibly about to end.

In so doing, Brown illustrated how utterly dependent we are on the news media not just, obviously, for news, but for forming our beliefs, attitudes and actions and of course, he illustrated how easily we can be manipulated. By feeding the same, or very similar, information from multiple supposedly unconnected and ‘independent’ news sources, a huge distortion of reality was made possible. The recipient, receiving information from multiple trusted sources, was completely, unquestioningly convinced.

I hope this point will have been grasped by many who watched Derren Brown's show.

And, although it’s probably too much to hope that Lord Leveson was watching Apocalypse last night, I really hope Leveson too understands just how critical it is that the news we receive is factual, balanced and from a plurality of independent sources and that he is uncompromising in pushing these points in his forthcoming enquiry report.

If he does, then there is at least some hope that the government will feel a little more emboldened and be prepared to pass legislation to properly regulate the media.

But what next for Derren Brown? How can he top this latest manipulation extravaganza?

How about flying some old planes into some office blocks to make a large number of people believe a ‘terrorist attack’ has occurred?

Or, as the conspiracy theorists would have it, has this already been done?

Makes you think doesn’t it?

Follow-Up - Journalist James Delingpole alleges here that the BBC have heavily distorted public perceptions regarding the issue of man-made global warming with hugely damaging effects.


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