I received an email the other day about a story in Arizona. It seems a resident there was complaining about the sound of Air Force planes flying close to his home. He thought the pilots were fooling around and pretending to be Maverick from the movie Top Gun. According to the email, however, the planes were paying tribute to a fellow pilot who'd lost his life in Iraq.

I'm not going to get into the argument about Iraq policy here, no. Instead, this story reminds me how people let themselves misinterpret messages because of distortions created by Hollywood products. As a communication practitioner, habits that cause misinterpretation between people are an ill. There is a simple cure for this ill: before we come to a conclusion about an event on the basis of something we saw in a Hollywood movie, take a moment to think of an alternative conclusion. As someone who studied film and watched plenty of TV over the years, I suggest that most alternatives to a Hollywood take will be more plausible.

There's probably always been an element of wisenheimerness in movies and television, but this seems to've become Hollywood's principal convention. I'll let psychologists contemplate whether compulsive wisenheimerness is a form of insecurity, or whatever on the part of people creating entertainment. I don't watch much fictional entertainment anymore, but the stuff I see invariably has characters trying to show how clever they are, and that cleverness is usually sarcasm at the expense of some other character. In real life, sarcasm and wisenheimerness leads mostly to bad feelings and uncommunication.

I wouldn't give up movies and television, they're good business and amusement has its place in a healthy lifestyle. Perspective is the point. We like to see universals in the world, the big idea, the one answer. Perhaps that is the problem. The answer to that problem? Pause and look again, and try to think of a good reason for other people's behavior, even if that behavior disrupts your life briefly. Hollywood admits to fictionalizing history when the accurate story isn't sensational, so consider de-fictionalizing your interpretation of events when you think you're in the middle of a movie scene.

Copyright 2007 Charles Fleeman