Thursday, December 31, 2009

Entertainment and the Trades

I have always been a movie buff. When I was a kid, I was a sucker for anything new coming up on the silver screen. About the only movies I shied away from were horror films. And now, even those can keep my attention if they’re done well. Aliens grabbed me: a tight storyline, action, and a genuinely chilling antagonist. I like stories in almost all forms. It’s led me to become quite the storyteller myself. I can bend a number of ears telling longwinded stories whether they concern work or play.

I’m pretty sure I picked this up from my father. Without a doubt, my dad is the quintessential tale-spinner. I sat at his feet listening to every big fish story he ever told. I remember sitting around a campfire listening to him and his pals swapping deer stories until late in the night.

Any good story starts with the suspension of disbelief. A person has to be able to believe the tale that is being spun regardless of how incredible the story may be. The storyteller’s job is to make this happen. He can use a number of tools to make the story more realistic: rich details, an engaging story, and so on.

And here’s where I bring it back to a technical question.

Hollywood pays a great deal of money to technical consultants in order to make their movies more realistic. By making sure that their movies follow the guidelines of reality, Hollywood makes their movies more respectable. The practice isn’t new. Technical consultants on Star Trek would make up appropriately scientific verbiage to fit in where the writers needed.

So in today’s movies, we are getting progressively more technical storylines that rely more and more on truly creative consultants.

While watching Sneakers, I worried a number of movie-goers by laughing out loud during the middle of the movie. The cast had snuck into the ceiling and were navigating the building using the crawlspace. I don’t know that I have ever seen such a clean ceiling.

In a Sandra Bullock film, a number of spies were chasing poor Sandra to get a “disc”. Unfortunately, she never thought to copy the disk. Or, maybe she could have distributed copies across a number of servers that she showed mastery over earlier in the movie.

In Jurassic Park, the perky young girl was excited to see the computer boot up with its neat clean interface. “I know this, it’s UNIX.” Every knowledgeable IT guy in the world groaned.

I suppose my point is that we all need to be careful what we learn on TV. What I’ve observed above is just a small sample of IT snafus in films. I expect that same circumstance applies to other trades. I wonder if plumbers roll their eyes every time someone navigates a crawlspace. I expect electricians shake their head every time someone gets electrocuted. I’m sure even English teachers get annoyed at something they’ve seen in a film.

But, a number of us learn how the world works through the stories we’re told. How much does everyone learn about the law from all of the various “Law and Order”s and “CSI”s. How much has America learned about healthcare from “ER”, or even worse, “Grey’s Anatomy”.

In all of our various fields, we need to understand that out coworkers and customers may have a number of misconceptions. It is everyone’s responsibility to help repair the damage inflicted by the storytellers.

But if the movies are good enough, I think the misconceptions are worth it. After all, we can’t expect writers to know all the facts of our trades.

So consultants, start earning your pay.

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