Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2002 / 11 Shevat, 5762

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

Suspension of disbelief has nothing to do with whether we accept something as real or not -- EARLIER this month, the America's war on terrorism took a great leap forward when it distributed a leaflet showing Osama Bin Laden with a shave, a haircut, and a beige Western suit. The text on the reverse side said, "The murderer and coward has abandoned you."

I guess that finders of this pamphlet are supposed to infer that Bin Laden has not only fled Afhanistan, he fled disguised as an American businessman. "Many experts," according to, "have warned that the artistic license employed may backfire in the Muslim world."

Certainly, the picture was doctored. At least I assume that Bin Laden did not pose for a camera dressed like a grocery store manager at an employee-of-the-year banquet.

But maybe some Bin Laden followers might be fooled by this. In chilly caves all across Afghanistan, the wails of the faithful go up: "Osama, what happened?" "Say it ain't so, Osama." "My golden idol is tarnished." I doubt it though. I think the general reaction will be, "Hey look what the CIA did to Bin Laden! He looks like a Lexus salesman!"

But then, even we in the West, who are supposedly sophisticated about this sort of thing, are fooled all the time. There was the famous picture of the kid in the backpack standing on the observation deck of the World Trade Center with a jet plane bearing down. Several friends e-mailed this to me, asking, "Is this real?" Of course, it wasn't real! The observation deck wasn't open, the shadows were wrong, the plane was coming from the wrong angle, the clothes were wrong, the shadows were wrong-- and how would a camera have survived the impact, much less been found, and the film developed?

We're a weird combination in the world today. We expect more and more realistic special effects in movies, for instance, but the more real they get, the more bored we become. The last Jurassic Park movie, for instance, had more dinosaurs than ever-- little ones, giant ones, flying ones-- and it just seemed-- not fake, exactly, but too much more of the same.

We reached some kind of nadir last summer with the release of FINAL FANTASY, which you will recall featured computer-generated actors in lieu of actual living people. They looked real enough. As a matter of fact, they looked and moved exactly like bad actors. But they could have hired untalented unknowns at a fraction of the cost it took to make animations resemble untalented unknowns. What was the point?

Suspension of disbelief has nothing to do with whether we accept something as real or not. We don't need evidence. If we want to believe something we'll believe it, no matter what the evidence is. You name it, somebody will believe it.

JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Ian Shoales