Everyone has seen it played, and lost, at least once. There are three tea cups and one prize. The prize is placed under one of the cups. The cups are shifted rapidly and randomly, usually with the remark that the hands move faster than the eye, and then the patsy is asked to pick the cup with the prize.
He never can, and the term "shell game" has become synonymous with a con.
Today’s shell game is often much more subtle. After all, the best cons are the ones where the patsies never know that they have been fooled.
Global warming advocates are conducting such a con right now. The tea cup portion, with the hands moving faster than the eye, is being supplied by a commercial on polar bears. It’s a straight-out pitch for the heart, with an image of a solitary polar bear adrift on a dreary ice berg somewhere in the Arctic Ocean, far from home and safety. It’s supposed to make us understand that the melting ice cap is causing blocks of ice to separate, stranding polar bears who will starve in the middle of that cold and dark ocean.
Let’s forget for a moment that the ice cap is in fact growing and not shrinking.
Let’s forget that the polar bear population has more than tripled since the 1950’s.
And let’s forget that polar bears can, and do, swim, regularly.
Let’s just focus on the image of that polar bear standing on a lonely ice berg, drifting across the Arctic Ocean.
Who took the picture?
It strains the bounds of credibility to think that there just happened to be a professional photographer, with a video camera that just happened to be fully charged, with lighting that just happened to be perfect and a setting that just happened to be emotionally exquisite, who was also drifting across the Arctic Ocean at the exact place and time as that polar bear.
Especially when one considers that video cameras respond to getting wet about as well as Dorothy’s wicked witch, so no trained photographer would have been holding an unprotected camera in a place like an ocean on the off-chance that a polar bear might come drifting by on a ice berg.
And especially when one remembers how difficult it is to achieve perfect lighting. Even in a professional studio, photographers make multiple adjustments, before the lighting is correct.
Not to mention the power requirements – either the unknown photographer not only happened to have a fully charged and water-proofed camera, but fully charged and protected lighting equipment and batteries in the middle of that ocean as well.
In fact, the photographer was standing safely on the shore, facing out to sea to give the look of being in the middle of the ocean. And the exact placement along the shoreline had been pre-selected and lit to give the exact emotional context to the message. The picture was staged. There was no polar bear drifting out to sea to face a lonely and painful death.
There was just a shell game, where the photographer’s hand was quicker than the viewer’s eye, to create an image and elicit an emotional response. Those who created the image knew it was false. But like all shell games masters, they were hoping that their patsies (in this case, us) would not see through the con.
But now that we know that it is a shell game, we can choose to walk away and leave them with their cups.