The Importance of Visual Cues

Tonight we got a surprise – Leive’s cousin Edna is in town again!  She flew up from Dallas without warning and is staying with Rezia until Monday, sort of like what my brother Chris did last week.  When she visited in August 2008, I wrote here about our parrot, Brin-Brin, developing a crush for her; it looks like that bird-brain remembers her, too!  Meanwhile, downtown as I write this, it is Big Blue Madness, the annual celebration of the start of College Basketball Season.

I tried to watch last night’s vice presidential debate on my computer, and was partially successful.  I could hear it all right, but the streaming video kept starting and stopping – I guess there was a huge demand on bandwidth.  Consequently I heard more than I saw – most of the time I had some windows open to work on other things (e.g., e-mail, Facebook, my current history project) – while the debate window ran in the background.  When I pulled the debate window to the front, I often got a still picture, so I missed what those watching on TV noticed – that when he wasn’t talking or interrupting, Joe Biden was grinning idiotically, as if the whole event was some kind of joke.

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Charles Krauthammer explained it best this morning:

“If you read the transcript, I think it’s dead even.  If you heard it on radio, Biden won.  If you watched it on television, he lost.”

Because I was just hearing the debate most of the time, I was like those who heard it on the radio.  Biden sounded in control, and almost as sensible as Paul Ryan.  Almost.  Therefore it didn’t seem to me like there was a clear winner, so the campaign would go on without the debate having an effect.  I did see some of Biden’s grinning, but with still pictures it looked no more objectionable than all the grinning Jimmy Carter did in the 1976 campaign.  It wasn’t until today that I learned what the full picture was, and that Biden’s talking points were undermined by his refusal to act his age.

A few years back, I learned that one of the techniques for successful propaganda is that people are more motivated by pictures than they are by words.  That is part of the reason why the world is polarized by news stories from the Middle East, which are usually accompanied by pictures, but we ignore wars and other horrible events in places like the Congo; it’s hard to drag a camcorder through the jungle, especially if the local warlords don’t want one there.  Now I know why pictures are important; I have just seen how the lack of pictures can affect me.

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