The Art of Deception

"The Art of Deception" is a Randall Evans documentary that explains the various methods used by people to produce "puppet" documentaries that push a specific agenda and that are so convincing that their audiences do not question the falsehoods. Well known works like Al Gore's the Inconvenient Truth and Jason Russell's Kony 2012 come under attack for seeking to enrich their producers by startling audiences with trumped up claims.

The overall message of Evans' documentary is that when presented with information, faith should never supersede critical thinking. In the media storm of the 21st century, it is often easy to forget that it is very simple for so called documentarians to twist facts and to lie so as to promote their agendas and make a profit. Though some documentaries are legitimate, many more are out to fool their audiences with baseless statements and sensationalist claims. By pointing out the deception used in the screenplays of famous documentaries while also deliberately misleading the viewer and then explaining the deception, "The Art of Deception" demonstrates that one should never trust information blindly. Aesthetic appeal does not make a video's content truthful.

Copenhagen climate conference

Two main ideas run parallel to each other throughout the narrative of Evans' documentary and both teach the audience the various ways that a documentarian can make a false message sound convincing (in other words make propaganda). Firstly, by picking apart misleading documentaries such as “White Wilderness”, the opening video to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, and “An Inconvenient Truth” the speakers expose the five main tricks, i.e. scripting, fear, a lack of references, pleasing images, and majority rule, that were used in each to propagate misinformation.

White Wilderness

For example, the Walt Disney Company produced "White Wilderness" while it was trying to make its way to the top as a media company. The director wasn't interested in producing an honest nature documentary representative of actual animal behavior, instead he was interesting in producing something exciting that people would watch avidly. To that end, he filmed a sequence in which lemmings are seen participating in mass suicide, jumping off a cliff to their death in the ocean below. The result was so powerful that to this day many people believe that lemmings actually do participate in mass suicides, contrary to any kind of logical thought about how animals behave. The truth is that during filming the crew of "White Wilderness" were told to drive and even to throw the animals off of the cliff so as to allow for a film sequence that would capture its audience and make Disney a household name.

The nature of ruthless tricks such as this range from subliminal direction to bald faced lies, but all have the goal of replacing argumentation and fact with the emotional impulses of the audience. The speakers also explain that the ending of a documentary, which in the case of deceiving ones usually consists of a request for donations, reveals the true agenda of the documentarians. Finally, by ending with the revelation that these same tricks were being used all along to make “The Art of Deception” itself much more convincing to its viewers, the speakers powerfully deliver the documentary’s message: information should not be considered with the eyes alone but rather with the help of a critical mind.

Inconvenient Truth

The two tiered delivery of the message of Evans' documentary is for the most part highly effective in convincing its audience. The fact that the viewer doesn’t notice the documentary’s use of the same tricks that the speakers are simultaneously criticizing proves how elusive and deceiving these tricks truly are. In addition, throughout intellectual and emotional content operate in combination rather than being mutually exclusive; the reveal at the end provides a powerful reinforcement to the more standard  approach of picking apart misleading documentaries with reason.

Even if the viewer notices the more obvious tricks, notably the use of flashing images, rhythmic sounds and the lack of real speaker credentials, the impact of the reveal is barely diminished. The conclusion is however adversely affected by its brevity and small scope; the parts of the documentary covered by the explanation are only just enough to explain the tricks that were employed. Nonetheless, on the whole the integration of the two tiers delivers the message in such a way that it sticks with the audience, a characteristic that is indicative of an effective documentary.

In conclusion, by complimenting an intellectual discourse with an emotionally powerful surprise ending, “The Art of Deception” demonstrates that one should never trust information blindly. The tricks that documentarians can use to fool audiences into believing lies are varied and subtly deceptive; a critical mind is a necessity if trust is not to be misplaced in the modern media storm.