According to Boston College history professor and Harvard graduate Dr. Heather Richardson, “(A shock event) is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order.”
Meanwhile, while society is rallying, protesting, and shouting (IN CAPS) on social media, “those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event.” (Source) Distraction: the age-old, best kept secret of all magicians. Keep everyone’s attention elsewhere while adding a card, releasing a trap door, preparing the rabbit to pop out of the hat.
In “Chicago” one of my favorite performances (and based on a real crime story), smooth talking, slick attorney Billy Flynn tells his worried client prior to stepping into the courtroom, “Relax, kid. It’s all an act.” He sings how the trick is to keep everyone off balance, looking the other way, while the legal team pulls a myriad of distractions to make people say and recall what may not be true. “Razzle-dazzle ‘em,” he croons, “Show 'em the first rate sorcerer you are.” Sure enough, his very guilty client is found “Not Guilty” based on stoic belief in the truth, when the truth is only a puff of smoke.
In the media, in politics, in crime, there is the dynamic of “Shock Event” / “Razzle-Dazzle” that keeps us buying papers, watching the news, arguing and debating, and tuning in tonight for the BIG announcement. Anyone who calls “bluff!” is labeled a whiner, conspirator, un-American, a bleeding heart. “You bleeding heart, whining, liberal Commie hippy, go live in Russia if you don’t like it.”
The Un-American Activities Committee shocked and razzled with the “Red Scare” in the 1940-1950s. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was a result of a shock event, “WMD.” The War on Terror creates a national distrust based on the actions of a few. While they all created a “Bad Guy” (because there always has to be a bad guy) and everyone was distracted by pointing the finger at this Bad Guy, the card was turned, the secret trap door sprung open, the rabbit slipped through a hat. Meanwhile, the media sold news, the politicians worked it, and crimes were clandestine.
Criminologists know there is always more (to any story) than what meets the eye. As an investigator studies a crime scene, and a researcher keeps digging for information, our society can learn the truth by refusing to be blindsided with “shock and razzle.” Society needs to be investigators and researchers when faced with chaos. While everyone else is gasping at the magic, look for how that rabbit gets into the hat.