Thursday, 14 June 2012

Cherry tarts

We all cherry-pick don't we? 

Telling our best jokes, anecdotes career highlights, problems, successes and disasters, best and worst relationships, best and worst holiday experiences. It's a habit - picking out life's salient features, building a narrative from peaks and troughs, leaving out the mundane and commonplace. 

A BBC programme shown on Monday was called Britain in a Day.  

On Saturday 12 November 2011 an eclectic range of British people turned the camera on themselves, capturing the entertaining and mundane, the exciting and unusual, the poignant and the everyday. The result, Britain in a Day tells the fascinating story of the British public in their own words.

Following on from the feature film Life in a Day, this 90-minute film directed by BAFTA winner Morgan Matthews offers an extraordinarily candid look at 21st century life across the UK, crafted from over 750 hours of footage, including 11,526 clips submitted to YouTube. The documentary offers remarkable insight into the lives, loves, fears and hopes of people living in Britain today. This captivating self-portrait of Britain forms part of the BBC's Cultural Olympiad.

I suppose it was a mildly interesting project, although I didn't watch it. What struck me was how the BBC distilled over 750 hours of video footage into a 90 minute programme.

Suppose we regard the 750 hours as social data? In that case the BBC programme is an extreme case of cherry-picking - discarding 99.8% of the data. We are left with 0.2% - chosen by BBC editors to give what they call a crafted 90 minute programme.

Of course TV people do this all the time - they couldn't make their programmes otherwise. We are familiar with the idea of editing because it's similar to what we do when we narrate the salient features of our lives. From the BBC, we expect the slickness of a polished product and that's what we get.

But surely we should raise at least one eyebrow at how extreme the cherry-picking can be, especially when we are supposedly dealing with factual programming. It isn't disguised either - the cherry-picking is not only acceptable, but seen as the only way to present such an unwieldy mass of video footage.  

Well maybe it is, but when we complain of climate scientists cherry-picking, perhaps we should remember that it's a major aspect of our society and media folk see nothing wrong with it.

Perhaps there is a cultural divide here between science, the media and daily life which many scientists are far too prone to cross as they bull up their narratives for public consumption. Cherry-picking drama tarts.

Journalists won't put them right - cherry-picking is their bread and butter.


Demetrius said...

But in each cherry there is a stone.

Anonymous said...

Very true Demetrius.

I suppose cherry-sellers learnt early on how to tempt gullible buyers - probably from practicioners of the oldest profession. Buyers soon learnt to avoid manky cherries and if they were wise to check the very glossy cherries very carefully - even if they were alleged to be 'peer-reviewed'. Scum and cream always rise, telling the difference is important for the scum tends to disguise itself as cream; especially if it has friends who are peers.

James Higham said...

Like falsifying cooling data.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - I can't resist the tarts though.

Roger - you even have to be wary of cream - a creamy head can mean a short pint.

James - yes because you have to choose a starting point. Start from a low temp and it's warming.