​Movies, Facts, and Auditing - Act III​

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For those of you who missed Acts I and II, we are making the case that the public’s acceptance of the media as the purveyor of truth is leading us to the precipice of disaster. And, as proof, we are exploring an article that appeared in USA Today about a simple (but not cheap) little sequel to the movie “Night at the Museum.” And now — Act III.

Now I present the most damning statement from director Shawn Levy. The article makes the point that, in spite of what is “suggested” by the movie (my quotes), the Smithsonian is not one museum. Levy states, “We’ve created a geographical convenience that is not entirely accurate. It’s semi-accurate, so I feel OK about it”

Semi-accurate???!!!

Isn’t that the clarion call for every misappropriation, every misstatement, every shoddy product or service that you’ve seen? But, to the director/writer who feels facts can be sacrificed for “story,” he feels “OK” about semi-accuracy. We have another word for semi-accurate. We call it incorrect. We call it wrong. We call it unethical. And, in the vernacular of the professional auditor, we call it a lie.
 
Okay, lie is a little strong when we’re talking about a movie. But how many people drawn to the museum because of this movie (again, the point of this article) then blame the museum because it doesn’t match the movie?
 
And there it is, the crux of the biscuit. It must be true because it is in a movie, on television, or on the Internet. These are the Wikipedia-trained inhabitants of idiocracy who march-step to a truth fed to them by a little screen — people who, rather than do actual thinking, begin to think it is the real world that is wrong, not the digital perceptions that are designed by people who think semi-accurate is enough.
 
And this is where the powers that be — the directors who twist natural laws to get that one shot, the writers who are too lazy to look up the facts, the actors who just read their lines — have abdicated their responsibilities. Everyone in the entertainment industry understands the power of what they do. (Why do you think there is so much product placement?) They understand that people watch the soaps and think those actors are the people they portray. They understand people glued to the screen take every word as gospel. They understand that they are writing new truths in their pursuit of box office glory. But they refuse to take responsibility for it. “It’s just a movie” and “I did it for the story” replace their own realization that these lies become truths to the millions who watch, and that their innocent dalliances with fact become reality for a populace that force-feeds itself on the latest explosion of the day.
 
So, what does this all have to do with auditing? (Come on — you knew I’d get there somehow.) Auditors are supposed to be critical thinkers. We are supposed to look at things and question why. We are supposed to dig deeper than the surface to ensure things are really as they seem.
 
Sure, Mike, but these movies are just for fun. You don’t need to take it that seriously. 
 
For fun you say? Of course it’s in fun. And I am not saying everything has to be fact-based. I’ve been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy for years, so I do not insist on stark realities. What I will not tolerate is the blatant misrepresentation of known facts forced to dance to the whims of people who have convinced themselves they are so correct that the reality of those facts does not matter. (And does anything in that previous sentence sound familiar? Think Enron et al. — blatant misrepresentation of known facts. People who think they are so correct that the facts don’t matter.)
 
And this all speaks to the constant, systematic, unending dumbing down of the populace that affects you, me, our auditors, and our auditees. I’m not advocating giving up on frivolities, but I am saying don’t accept facts as facts if you really don’t know. 
 
Here is a story I recently heard from another audit shop that provides an example of this issue. The auditor talked to the auditees about the risks and associated controls. The auditees described their controls. The auditor asked if they actually conducted the steps necessary for the controls. The auditees said yes. The auditor provided the information to audit management, and a clean report was issued because the risks had been identified and mitigated by the audited department.
 
The blind acceptance of a truth that is unproved.
 
It is evidenced by something as innocuous as people accepting what they see on movies/television/the Internet as fact. And it feels as though I see it more and more in everyday life. And my greatest fear now comes to life; I am starting to see it translated in the critical thinking we, as auditors, pride ourselves on.
 
Am I wrong? Have I gotten too upset over a minor thing? In defense, I quote one of my favorite bumper stickers: “If you’re not upset, you’re not paying attention.” 
 
And, if I am wrong, please speak for the defense.

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