Monday, November 22, 2010

Parks' "Planet Patrol"

In "Planet Patrol" Lisa Parks explores the use (and misuse) of satellite imaging and how practices such as anchoring can be used to manipulate interpretations of images.

A key point about the perception of satellite images lies in the knowledge of the person analyzing the image in comparison to the knowledge of onlookers. The history that surrounds the use of satellite images gives them some type of prestige and authority because they are something that only the government usually has access to, and they are typically used in contexts of national security. But as Parks points out, the satellite image is only an approximation of an event - not the real thing.

The ambiguity between what the images actually are and what they can be portrayed as is problematic. Because the public is less familiar with satellite imaging, the public can be easily deceived by anyone of authority who interprets the image for them. As the example with Powell showed - the less people know, and the less clear and precise the strategy or explanation, the easier it is to manipulate their perception successfully. This ambiguity allows for what`s referred to in the article as a "strategy of deception".

Rebecca's presentation did a great job of explaining how anchoring of images is done and also how it can manipulate perception. It's not just about the photo, and it's not just about the person's perception - a photo must be prescribed with something to be convincing or manipulative. Whether it's tabloids, advertisements, or even a photo caption in a magazine - when something is added to a photo that supposedly gives context, it totally changes a person's interpretation of what it is - whether the given context is true or not, it provokes certain thoughts.

While this article discusses anchoring specifically in relation to satellite images, the same types of techniques are applied to events and people in public relations to shape public opinion. A lot of public relations is about establishing lines of control so that the public gets their information from one "trusted" source. Making sure that people don't get the information from other sources is key to successful persuasion and key to maintain that ambiguity to allow for the strategy of deception. I think that lines of control were key to the anchoring of the satellite images as well. The public couldn't obtain those images for themselves, and nobody had seen them before - so everyone was relying on Powell's interpretation. Nobody at the time could contradict him, so most people trusted what he said.

Also, a lot of images - not just satellite images - are partial and selective, which is why they can't be taken as objective truth - even if they're not given some sort of prescription or anchored context. Even a simple camera shot is not objective - the photographer has an angle in mind and forces the viewer to look at something in a particular way, a particular light.

Parks is urging the reversal of the anchoring process... I think the trouble with this approach for increasing awareness is that a lot more plays into the public's perception than simply anchoring. Sometimes people want to believe what they are told. It needs to be taken into account that a person's politics and education affects whether or not the person accepts what an authority is saying about the image. It's not always about if the fact is true or not - it often comes down to the politics a person values. I'm sure a lot of people realized that Powell's explanations of the satellite images were total crap - but they liked hearing a reason to invade Iraq and go after Saddam. While the strategy of deception played a major role in manipulating the public's thoughts, the anchoring of those satellite images was not the only dangerous tool used to get the public's support.

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