Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Benefits of Speaking Up...

Honesty is allegedly "the best policy", although we all ignore this rule when it comes to receiving hideous gifts, viewing children's artwork and responding to the boss's proposals. (One day I'm going to write a blog about all the stupid things I've heard while working in the advertising business. It will be a long and cathartic post.)
If only one person at Adidas had piped up with "I don't think slavery IS very chic, actually..."
The importance of being upfront came to mind when reading the story of 20-year-olds Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, from Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively. The girls had both found bar work in Ibiza before apparently falling in with the wrong crowd and getting caught trying to smuggle cocaine out of Peru. 

They now face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty, with their only defence being the claim that they were coerced into being drug mules. Held at gunpoint, their distant families threatened, and told they would be watched at all times; the girls insist they had no choice in the matter. 

Whether we say "pull the other one, love!" or accept the story, it brings up the point that shouting your predicament from the rooftops is nearly always the way to go. Alberto Arian Barilla of the Ibiza police force pointed out what we were all thinking: "The first thing you do is go to the passport control and say 'listen, this is what is happening to me'. The policeman will react." (For the record, the girls claimed that their "kidnappers" had told them they had people working at the airport too – so whistle-blowing seemed too risky.)

It may be hard to believe that these girls could truly fear that every single airport worker was in on the plot, but it's not entirely unrealistic that someone could make the mistake of keeping schtum – it's been shown on the big screen many times. The trouble with movies is that they sort of need the protagonists to make stupid decisions, because films wouldn't last longer than twenty minutes if everyone just called the police at the first sign of trouble. Maybe I'm getting jaded in my old age, because I used to be able to simply put my "Suspension of Disbelief" hat on and enjoy a plot-hole-ridden caper, but now it's getting on my nerves so much that it's ruining my enjoyment of perfectly good films. 

Take Red Eye for instance. Great cast – Rachel McAdams being adorable and feisty and Cillian Murphy flashing the piercing blue eyes which have made him Hollywood's go-to guy when casting sexy young villains. (Where the hell was he when they were auditioning for Hannibal Rising?) Great director (Wes Craven) and a script which allowed for decent characterisation as well as plenty of twists. I almost loved it, but got too frustrated with all the gaping logic holes. For instance, when terrorist Cillian explains to Rachel that he's got henchman waiting to kill her dad if she won't go along with his assassination plot, he's apparently relying on all the surrounding passengers being completely deaf. Ok, so there's no other way to make a "hostage on a plane" film; we'll let that one slide. (But surely someone would have noticed him punching her in the face?)

This wasn't even the biggest problem. Seeing as there was a hitman waiting for instructions to target Rachel's dad, she could have alerted a flight attendant to the fact that (gunless) Cillian was a bad guy, and asked them to contact the FBI to get protection to her father ASAP.  But that would have been way too easy and there wouldn't have been a big chase scene and stuff, so whatevs. 

I got similarly frustrated with Taken 2 when Liam Neeson's poor teenage daughter was about to get kidnapped again. (As a side note, I don't know what it is about the Taken movies, but I find Liam Neeson really wooden in them. What's up with that?) In the first movie his advice was ok – she didn't have any means of evading the traffickers (assuming she couldn't get to a fire escape) so hiding under a bed was her only option. But in this sequel, her "expert" CIA dad tells her that she should go and hide in the hotel room. Um, no dad, I think I'll just head for a slightly busier place than that, seeing as it's the first place the kidnapers will try and if they do catch me there will be no-one to stop them. How about if I go to the town square and call your colleagues from there, yeah? 

At least make it hard for them to get you without 
embarrassing themselves in public.

All sense of reality slides out of the hotel window when he calls her mere moments after the crooks  have gone – what great timing, huh? Could have been tricky if he'd been any faster at dialling... 

The third movie in my "Nonsensical Decisions" hall of shame is Collateral. (Yes, I'm catching up with lots of movies I've never got round to seeing, I'm bad at going to the cinema). When Jamie Foxx realises that Tom Cruise is a hitman, he makes no efforts to escape (until the worst possible moment, but I won't spoil it for you). While they're trundling along in LA traffic, he could easily have made a sudden bolt out of the car and run for it. Tom wasn't constantly holding a gun to his head, and if he had taken a pot shot at the rapidly retreating Mr Foxx, he's unlikely to have hit him. What's more, it wouldn't be in his best interests to pursue; he'd have just quietly got into another car, safe in the knowledge that the police can't exactly stop and search all the yellow cabs. (Of course, the fact that he chose to take a taxi in the first place is a huge plot hole but we'll pretend we didn't notice it, shall we?) 
I'll just wait until you know something about my personal life and can 
threaten my family before I attempt to defy you. That seems to be the best plan.

One movie I have always loved is Ransom, with Mel Gibson and Rene Russo as the parents of an abducted child. When he realises that paying off the kidnappers won't make them return his son, Mel does what he does best and goes batpoo crazy, taking control of the situation by making the ransom a reward for anyone who will turn them in. Striking back at villains is always a winner in my book, even if we're far more likely to come across them when they're trying to hack into our bank accounts or computers...

We're all familiar with the "You've inherited money from a relative you've never heard of in Nigeria" emails, but there is a particularly nasty credit card scam which keeps cropping up and is convincing enough to fool many who considered themselves savvy. It's detailed here but in a nutshell, the con artists convince their victims that their cards have been compromised, then alleviate suspicions by telling their victims to "Call 999 and you can check my identity." 

Most of us would be suspicious if we were told to use an emergency number in this way, but top-notch persuasion techniques assure the victim that the "police officer" who phoned them is kosher. This bluff is dependent on landlines not disconnecting when the original caller stays on the line; using a separate cell phone would solve the problem, but elderly people who might not have mobiles (and may be generally less savvy to scammers) are often targeted. (Seriously, how do these criminals sleep at night?)

So if this happens to me (let's pretend for a moment that I occasionally pick up my landline) my plan is to alert the coppers via mobile (so they can tail the courier back to scumbag headquarters) and then assemble my "credit cards" for collection in a nice jiffy envelope full of dog poop. (Except that I don't have a dog, so I would have to, er... improvise.) The thought of the crooks' disappointed and disgusted faces would make it all worthwhile.

The moment they used the letter-opener...

There must be a special place in hell for con artists who zero in on sweet little old people with rosy cheeks and knitted cardigans, and this story shows just how vile scammers can be. 86-year-old Frances Brown was the target of a similar trick to the phone call above, but she was actually persuaded to go into the bank to  withdraw cash. It gets worse: 

"Barclays cashiers were suspicious why a widow who had never been overdrawn before wanted to take out so much money and asked who was calling her. But the conman had told Mrs Brown not to tell the bank staff why she needed the cash, stressing that the bank was itself under surveillance. So Mrs Brown told staff she needed the cash to pay for a funeral, and they reluctantly allowed her to take the money."

And this is why you should always shout it from the rooftops if you're in trouble. Not everyone in the bank could be in on it, could they? It's easy for us to call victims of these tricks "gullible" but when someone calls you with the news that your account is being drained, you can see how panic mode could set in. Let's save our vitriol for the people who deserve it: the soon-to-be-receivers of our little poop packages. Come on, we can make this happen!

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