Red Wagon Wheels or Jerking the Sense of Urgency

An old Walt Disney movie called Toby Tyler tells the story of an orphan who ran away to join the circus. His constant companion was a pet chimpanzee (“Mr. Stubbs”) who followed him everywhere. One day the clowns are practicing their act on a fast moving wagon. Mr. Stubbs gets excited and runs out into the ring and between the wagon wheels without looking – the next thing you see is close-up of a wagon wheel – all red!

Red wagon wheelChildren all over the theatre gasped in horror. Then the camera drew back: the wagon wheels were painted red, and had been red all along. Mr. Stubbs was safe!

As writers, news makers and social media people, we need to be careful that what we write does not impart a false sense of urgency; that we do not cheat for effect. What works as a literary device is often not useful or proper in the real world. Hence, when someone reporting on victims being treated in hospital after today’s shooting in Ottawa (Oct 22, 2014), said “Access to the ICU is restricted”, he said something true – because it is always true. Access to a hospital’s ICU is ALWAYS restricted. Newscasters reported that Parliament Hill had been on a state of medium alert today – and then correctly added that the Hill had been in this state for a long time.

It may be tempting to create “Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead” headlines, but we need to beware of cheating for effect, which wears out people’s attention and their adrenals – and then all but the addicted stop paying attention to us at all.

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One Response to Red Wagon Wheels or Jerking the Sense of Urgency

  1. Pascale says:

    Thank you for your measured voice. I am just reading the headlines this morning and voices like yours are few and far between…

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