Sunday morning, March 5, 2017.
How what happened at the Oscars explains the media’s fawning reaction to Trump’s address to Congress: People see what they expect to see.
La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz un-awards his movie the Best Picture Oscar to give it to the rightful winner, Moonlight, while a befuddled Warren Beatty, still holding the wrong envelope, tries to figure out what the hell happened.
Was easy enough to figure out what happened at the end of the Oscars last Sunday night. Somehow Warren Beatty was handed the wrong envelope. How that happened is for the folks at the Academy and Price-Waterhouse to figure out and deal with. But however it happened and whoever made the mistake, Beatty knew right away what he had in his hand wasn’t what he expected to have in his hand, the card with the name of the winner of Best Picture. What he didn’t seem to know is what to do about it.
The obvious thing would have been to call someone over from the wings and ask them to get him the right envelope or go over and get it himself. He didn’t do that. He turned to Faye Dunaway for help. Which makes sense. She was standing right there. That’s who any of us would turn to in a similar situation, the person right there next to us, and if you think about it, life is full of similar situations.
Forget that it happened at the Oscars and on national TV. Imagine that Beatty and Dunaway were a couple of junior high school teachers monitoring a spelling bee and Mr Beatty realized he had in hand as the next word to spell the word that had just been spelled. He’d turn immediately to Ms. D, wondering what to do next. Beatty turned to Dunaway reflexively and she reflexively thought...not that he had the wrong card because when has that ever happened? She did not think the unexpected had occurred. She thought that he wanted her to read the winner either because he was being gracious, which is routine at the Oscars, one presenter handing over the big moment to the other, or she thought he was having trouble reading the card. He’s about to turn eighty years old. Maybe his eyes aren’t so good and she knows that. He wasn’t wearing his glasses. Maybe she thought he was having a senior moment. Maybe she knows he has those. Or maybe she knows enough old people she expects people to have them. Maybe she’s had a few herself lately. She is seventy-six now. What she expected is a big part of what happened up there. The question is why didn’t she see it was the wrong card? Why didn’t she see Emma Stone’s name at the top? It was in larger print. And the reason is probably that Emma Stone’s name is not what she was expecting to see.
She was expecting to see the title of a movie.
That’s all she was looking for.
And there was one on the card and she saw it and she read it and that was that.
Happens to all of us all the time. We see what we’re expecting to see. And we don’t see what we don’t expect to see. More to the point, we ignore things we do see because they’re not what we expect to see.
Kevin Drum suggests there was something more to it. Dunaway wasn’t just expecting to see the title of a movie. She was expecting to see the title of a particular movie. La La Land was the betting favorite. Everybody expected it would win Best Picture. Lots of people were rooting for it. Maybe Dunaway was one of them. Perhaps she saw only the words spelling out La La Land because those were the words she was not only expecting to see, they were the words she wanted to see.
Our expectations are shaped by more than the practical considerations of the moment. We see what we want to see, what we hope to see, what we need to see.
We see what we think we should see.
This is has a profound effect. We will un-see something because it isn’t what we’ve been told we should see. We will tell people we see what they’re seeing to save ourselves from the embarrassment of wrong in trusting the evidence of our own eyes. We will tell ourselves we saw something we didn’t see. We will think we made the mistake before we will think everybody else has.
Television, popular culture in general, what we’re taught in school, what our friends and family and co-workers tell us they’ve seen combine to tell us what we should see. And it usually turns out we’re good at seeing what we “should” see. We have better than 20-20 vision when it comes to that.
Our own memories will argue against us and tell us we should be seeing what we’re used to seeing or have seen. We’re naturally in the habit of comparing new experiences to past experiences in order to make sense of them and we tend to see the resemblances, even if they’re few and vague, and overlook the differences even when they’re significant and glaring.
We’re also pretty good at not seeing what we don’t want to see.
Which brings me to Donald Trump.
Of course it does.
What doesn’t these days?
The point here is what do people see when they look at Donald Trump?
By people I mean the people who voted for him and say they would vote for him again.
The easy answer is something I’ve been saying all along. They don’t see Donald Trump.
They see what they want to see. They see what they need to see. They see what they’re expecting to see based on what they’ve been seeing on television for the past ten years.
They see “Donald Trump.”
Fade out on Scene I. Fade in on Scene 2.