Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Reality versus perception

This post has been triggered by the Amanda Knox / Meredith Kercher case.

Now, I don't know the details of the case, so I'm not going to comment on the initial verdict or its overturn in the subsequent appeal. But what has struck me is the opposing views of Amanda Knox.

To much of the American media, she is a heroine, unjustly accused, fighting for a thousand days to clear her name. To most of the rest of the world she is evil, manipulative and a sociopath.

Whatever the truth, she will profit from it, no matter how just or unjust that may be. But why the discrepancy?

Why do the American public view her as a clean cut, pretty, young American girl and therefore innocent, persecuted by depraved and corrupt Italian officialdom? Why do the Brits feel she's slithered out of her conviction because of incompetence on the part of - yes, you've guessed it - corrupt Italian officialdom?

Perceptions. That's why. Most of the world regard the Italian police and judiciary as hopelessly corrupt. Most Italians probably think the same. But that does not make it true. Most Americans regard clean-cut American girls abroad as incapable of being criminals. Doesn't make it true. Some people believe the Moon is made of green cheese, and if it isn't then it's really, really unfair. The Moon doesn't care. It isn't made of cheese and isn't going to change for anyone. It has no motivation to make the change. It is made of rock and dust and it's staying that way.

Reality is what it is, and no matter how you view it, it will remain unchanged.

What about the Observer Effect? I hear you cry. You know, where the act of observing (perceiving) something alters the fundamental nature of the thing being watched.

Deep philosophical point. The effect of bombarding sub-atomic particles with X-rays in order to discern their structure might well change their structure, position, spin, charge or any other properties. True. The act of looking at Amanda Knox as an innocent victim does not make her one.

If a branch falls in the forest and no-one is there to observe, has it fallen?

Duh, yes it has. Does it make a sound? Well, who knows. And, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

So the true role of a PR agent is to change our perception of reality and thus influence our actions with regard to that (apparently) altered reality. Not Public Relations but Permeable Reality.

Cool job!


  1. Perception is a tricky little thing, isn't it? Excellent post as usual, Paul.

  2. Paul,

    Speaking of perception,is it your perception that the American public and the American media automatically agree?

  3. Paul,

    Speaking of perception,is it your perception that the American public and the American media automatically agree?

  4. Thanks, Renee.

    Jeann e, I'm not sure there is such a thing as 'the American public'. Which one? The Californians? The New York/Washington DC crowd? The Western states? The Bible belt? They are vastly different in outlook.

    It's probably fair to say that my perception of the American public is formed by New Yorkers, who by strange coincidence also seem to dominate the media. I'd guess they were in fairly close agreement.

    I'd also guess that the rest of America, who we don't hear from much, are almost totally opposed.

  5. Ha! I'm not sure how the American public would feel about hearing that Europeans think that New Yorkers' opinions represent them. New York is actually more European than the rest of the country.

  6. Every time I switch on the news I'm increasingly aware of being told what to think.

  7. Helen - exactly my point. Perception does not equate with reality.

    Mike - yes. And do I care what a reporter on the spot senses is going to happen?

    No! I want to know what HAS happened.

    The fact his/her predictions are listened to by the very people who make them self-fulfilling prophecies should deter media people from grim pontification.