It's more worrying than entertaining to watch someone on YouTube, when presented with a world map and asked where Iraq is, confidently planting their finger in the middle of Australia. How does anyone know anything these days? Hollywood seems to have replaced good old-fashioned reading and talking to people who have seen things as the way to learn about the world around you, particularly history. Using the movies of the postwar era as your reference library, you would be forgiven for now believing all kinds of historical lies and revisionisms. Not all of Hollywood is bad, it's only entertainment after all. I’d say the best Hollywood can offer is the best the world can experience. However, if you accept that the Hollywood version of events might sometimes stray from the actuality just a little, it means that there are two kinds of people responsible for actually making and financing movies: those that believe the viewing public is sophisticated enough to enjoy their films, knowing them to be fictions and keeping their disbelief willingly suspended in order to be entertained; and those who really don't give a fuck what lasting impression moviegoers leave the cinema with as long as they have left their money behind.
So, movies are often well-intentioned and entertaining lies. Within those lies there are often truths buried, facts so incontrovertible they add a gloss of realism to your viewing experience. One of these facts, for instance, is that London is in England. I know this to be the case because I have seen it captioned so in movies. London, England. Usually over an establishing shot of the Houses of Parliament being passed by a red Routemaster bus full of men wearing bowler hats, or guardsmen standing to attention outside Buckingham palace in the rain. What I want to know is this – for whom is this caption instructional? Can there be any doubt that the action has not moved from Paris, France to London, Ohio but to the capital of the United Kingdom, one of the world's major cities?
It makes me wonder how many Americans have ever been abroad. One mitigating factor is that the United States of America is so vast, it has to reference its own cities by citing which state they are in. Hence New York, New York. There is an entire episode of Friends in which the characters struggle to name all fifty states. Lest this turn into us laughing behind our hands at the silly Americans, I doubt many of my work colleagues could point out Spalding, Lincolnshire on a map of Great Britain. But they don't make international blockbusting films in Spalding and they do in Hollywood. It's in Hollywood that it is deemed acceptable to issue films to be watched in London, England where the audience is told explicitly that London is in England. Hollywood directors – leave the captions out. We know where Prague is. More to the point, even if we didn't, it wouldn't matter. We don't hand over our £5 for a geography lesson.
I have a radical proposal that would not only make the movie-viewing experience less stressful for me personally, but might, eventually, bring harmony to the troubled regions of the world. Developed nations – don't send your armed forces to sort out the world's conflicts. Send tourists. For the same money as maintaining huge mechanised armies far from home, you could send millions of regular folk to Kabul, Basra and Jerusalem. And not just camera-toting pensioners of independent means. Send everyone at least twice. That way, when Jason Bourne is running through Alexanderplatz, Berlin, Germany, they can say "oh, that's where we had a Currywurst, right there under the tower" and enjoy the action sequence just a little bit more. OK, less work for the industry's caption writers but that's an egg I'd be willing to break to make the omelette. A spin-off from this mass travel would be a better informed populace when it came to voting. What's the alternative? One of these days we're going to find ourselves in the middle of a war with Australia because somebody advising the President got lucky with their day job. Think I'm kidding? One small change to the American Constitution and Arnie is President. Hasta la vista, baby.