They crowd your email inbox all the time – the jokes, funny pictures or links to YouTube videos. You also get the hoaxes – the fake virus warnings, Nigerian scams, edited pictures and phoney videos.
If something looks real, but turns out to be fake, is it any less funny? A video that did the rounds late last year raised another question – when is a fake not a fake?
It looks like a TV news item. Bart Sweeney, a journalist with an American accent, introduces us to “This edition of Spotlight on the World” from Copenhagen. He refers to the Danes’ “tolerant and casual attitude toward just about everything”. However, Bart tells us, they are becoming less tolerant of speeding motorists.
He then shows us an innovative solution being taken to address this issue: “speed control bikini bandits”. These young women do “whatever it takes so that motorists pay more attention to the speed limit.”
The video then (gratuitously) shows the bikini bandits running around the road waving speed limit signs – topless. The remainder of the video is vox pops of various supporters and detractors of the plan, with the Danish overdubbed in English. One reported problem of the system is the emergence of traffic jams as sightseers stop for a closer look. (The original movie at http://www.speedbandits.dk/ seems to have been taken down – see a copy here – you have been warned!)
It looks real. To the sceptic, though, it is no more than a very convincing fake. They wouldn’t really do that, would they? (Even in Denmark?)
As it turns out, the truth is not exactly either of these. In the top left corner of the video, there is the logo “RFSF”. This indicates the actual producer of the video – the Danish Road Safety Council. The video was distributed over the Internet as a viral marketing campaign aimed at “young male motorists with a chronic lead foot.” “Bart Sweeney” was Bryan Wilder, an American playing the part.
So it is true that the Danes are trying an innovative approach to traffic safety, but not in the way that it appears on face value. The campaign has apparently been very effective.
Allan Jenkins, a friend of Bryan Wilder’s, discusses this on his blog. This episode also highlights the impact of cultural differences on communications. As Allan states: “While America loses its mind over the Janet Jackson Super Bowl thing, Denmark says: “Hey, if it slows down a few speeders, go with it.”
Of course, this may all be a hoax, too…