There’s a lot of nonsense on Youtube – entertaining, but nonsense nevertheless. A lot of it is prefaced with “You’ve got to see this….”, ” You won’t believe this….” and similar examples of carnival-barkery. I consider myself a rational, even sceptical, person so I am always intrigued to view the wilder fringes of what might be considered the “conspiracy-theory” genre. Sometimes the uploads are genuinely mystifying, like a well-executed trick in a magic show. Sometimes, though, they are so bad you can figuratively see the card being palmed.
One that I came across recently and would like to share concerns a Hillary Clinton rally held recently in Reno. The conspiracy revolves around the fact that the official recording camera at the back of the auditorium appears to show a different image from the hand-held phones of some members of the audience. You might think that would be obvious, but this Youtuber manages to talk it up to a full blown establishment conspiracy in which imaginary rallies are staged and inexpertly photoshopped in order to disguise the absence of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The truth is more obvious, and prosaic. If you can stand the hysterical faux-outraged commentary, watch this clip (astonishingly, it’s just one of several similar ones). You may see through it immediately but you can read my comments after and see if you agree with them.
Well, I don’t know if you could stomach five minutes of your intelligence being insulted like that, but if you did – well done you and thanks for staying with me. My hint at the outset indicates that my explanation for this crock of nonsense revolves around what anyone who’s ever had a camera knows – that images look different depending on where you are standing and what camera settings you use. The video is shot from a point-of-view high up and at the back of the auditorium with a zoom lens or narrow arc of field so that the speakers do not appear as small dots in the distance. This also means that the depth of field will be flattened, giving the illusion that the members of the audience that we can see appear to be closer to the stage than they are in reality.
The cameraphones we see in the audience are thus further away from their subject than they appear in the video, their point-of-view is much lower (looking up at Hillary rather than down) and they are recording with a wide field of view rather than the narrow one the main footage is shot on. We would thus expect two completely different images – which is what we get – and this answers the question “Where is Hillary?”.
Here are two images; one of one of the audience’s phones being used as evidence that she casts no image on a screen and one of the hall before Hillary arrives. The first, rather obvious point, is that we can’t see much in the cameraphone image at all – mostly ill-resolved blurs – but we can interpret it in the light of what we know the hall looks like from the right-hand image.
I can’t make the first image any clearer but I can make it bigger.
What’s immediately apparent is that we get a much wider vista than the official footage – we can see all the lighting scaffolding at the top of the screen and then the grids of what look like reflective squares high up on the wall. The people on the staircase are mistily visible and the red-white-and-blue horizontal decoration is also identifiable. We can clearly see the main flag, very fuzzily and the large blue “Better Together” card across the lectern. We can also see a blue/turquoise smudge above it and towards its left side. That’s Hillary. The mystery is solved. It turns out that if you stand back quite a way and get an image on your iphone which is then video-ed by another camera much further away and focussed somewhere completely else, you may well find that a person that you can see as plainly as a pikestaff is rendered as an amorphous smudge. Well, who knew? Practically anybody who ever took a photo and saw that it didn’t exactly agree with the image in their mind, that’s who.
My point in this blog is not to ridicule the people who post this sort of thing, ridiculous though they are. Generally they have a specific agenda they wish to forward and they are not scrupulous about being honest about it – they are not fools, except in the sense that being exposed makes them appear so. My real point is that the world is full of those who would like our money, our vote, our admiration or our credulity, or all of these without really meriting any of them. And if something actually beggars belief, it is unlikely to be true. We owe it to ourselves to be alert and sceptical and to cultivate those qualities even though it is often much easier to be credulous and unreflective or to take things on authority or because they conform easily already to our own prejudices and preferences.
I would love to hear your comments on this or if there are other subjects you would like to see covered. As always, no trolling or name-calling please.