Andres Maimik: Optical illusion

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Andres Maimik. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

A merry mustache-touting politician is going from town to town in a van on the sides of which is written, "President of the Estonian People." The whole thing is a political party's PR trick, and I doubt the merry politician believes he is already serving as head of state. And yet, more than a few madams think nothing of wading through the crowds to get a picture with the "president," Andres Maimik writes in a comment originally published in the Sirp magazine.

The former president of the United States erects a row of columns imitating the White House in his golf club, surrounds himself with props resembling the president's official regalia and gives a press conference standing on the backdrop of a carefully selected entourage. Every visual component meant to instill in the viewer the conviction that while not elected, he remains the real president.

Impertinent but effective tricks betting on the well-known concept of cognitive dissonance. Wikipedia defines cognitive dissonance as perception of contradictory information that is typically experienced as psychological stress and requires one to try and find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.

The latter is attempted through all manner of rhetorical dodges, including hyperbola, associations, judgments, slogans and simple boasting until the ill-informed consumer is hooked.

Focusing the optics on the alternative reality creates perceived confusion, prompting the subject to ask themselves whether they missed something after which they are quickly convinced that is just what happened, whether directly or symbolically, and that forces working against us are denying, lying and hiding things. Even if the phantom dressed up as the truth clashes with factual reality, the true-believing consumer still tends to favor the former. One should not adjust one's expectations to fit reality but the latter instead needs to be bent to accommodate expectations.

Media manipulation and propaganda tricks are becoming increasingly effective at serving fiction as fact. Game shows imitate documentary film-making, while computer simulation is used to portray entire wars. Sprawling online fake news create more resonance than the old media's attempts to cover the reality outside.

There are theological schools that claim that the perceived world hides a more real one ruled by ideas and ideals. Spectacular illusion is the opposite – that the visual representation of something is its very meaning and no deeper idea need be sought. Things are the way they're depicted.

A professional wrestling fan has a feeling that the victor has been predetermined and that what they are being treated to is a choreographed performance, while it in no way hinders them experiencing the match as if it were a true bout. If you present something as the truth with enough persistence, the recipient of the message will come to believe it. And once they believe it, you are not far behind. Fake it till you make it.

Visual aids have been used to guide the perception of reality since the beginning of time. Cyrus the Great had his palace in Persepolis filled with bas-reliefs of representatives of different peoples bringing the ruler tribute. The message was aimed at professional tributaries, telling them that if everyone else brings tribute, they must follow suit.

Tools and means of communication have become more democratic. Everyone can construct their own reality and offer it to the multitudes. Everyone has a recording device in their pocket and only needs make sure to have enough consumers.

A study asked teenagers about communication between the sexes of the Instagram generation. It turned out that flirting has, with no false modesty involved, transformed into a system of rating. You advertise yourself using grotesquely posed photos and vane videos that you have others rate. Those who make it get a million likes, while the rest simply get swiped left. Impression overcomes the nature of things.

Craftier and more persistent self-directors become desired and admired influencers. Constantly rating, swiping and finding new ones does not bother young people. Instead, things allegedly become complicated when it is necessary to meet in real life. With the stage filters gone, anxiety sets in – how to communicate face to face and without the possibility of swiping left?

There is no way to escape this sprawling visual pollution. What we need is a finer eye net that can catch most of this merry clutter and throw it away. While the mustache-touting gentleman can boast all manner of titles in front of the madams, he will have to go home and take out the trash eventually.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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