Deadly Truth

I’ve been thinking a lot about narrative structures recently. Then I heard that the Fox show, America’s Most Wanted is finally being taken off the air, after over twenty years. The show might have been a forerunner of the ‘reality TV’ genre, but it was another aspect that caught my attention. The show did re-enactments of the crimes they were ‘investigating.’

The person I was listening about this said, however, that the show did not start this trend. In the 1930s, newsreels shown in cinemas before feature films also included crime stories recreated for the audience. Like this.

What I like about that newsreel is the inversion of ‘illustration’ and ‘truth.’ One knows on some level that the narration is the news and the images on the screen are only there to illustrate. The camera was not there to witness the actual events talked about, but that rather this is a subsequent dramatization. Despite that, the impression one gets when watching is that the narration, the talking voice, only explains the events that we can see for ourselves, events brought to life in themselves.

The practice of re-enactments goes even farther back. The sensational murders of Jack the Ripper in London in the 19th century had newspapers printing graphic illustrations of various portions of the stories, as they came out.

Notice how the illustrations seem to imply that we the readers are there, at the crime scene, at the moment of discovery. As if to say, this is surely how it must have happened. And again, the text in the graphics serves to invert the relationship between truth and illustration: in stead of the graphic illustrating the news, it’s the text that illustrates the truth we have just learned with our eyes.

The simple retelling of the truth, it appears, is not enough. There needs to be a story told, or the moment of truth enacted dramatically, and it needs to come in images as well as text for information to become knowledge.


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