I suppose it's not unique to photography that fictional accounts are exaggerated beyond all reason. Perhaps it's silly for me — a science fiction fan — to complain about the unreal portrayals of photography in fictional accounts, but it bugs me. I was watching a crime show last night in which the murderer was undone when his license plate became visible in an enlarged digital image. It could happen, unless you know something about photography. The plot line had a dash cam in a police vehicle making a video through the front windshield where it happened to catch a reflection in the rearview mirror of the car in front. The clever crime investigators supposedly magnified and enhanced the digital image until they could clearly see the license plate number of the car behind the police car. The dramatic moment was enhanced when the Photoshop guru zoomed in on the rearview mirror to show the license plate in crystal clarity — a feat only possible if the dash cam happened to be roughly 100 megapixels by my rough calculations. Otherwise, it would look something like, well, this . . .
This kind of stuff is amusing and, I suppose, harmless enough. The problems with this kind of fiction, however, arise when the unknowing public thinks that this kind of absurdity is factual. It sets up an expectation of what the technology is capable of that is completely misinformed. Then, when a truly accomplished photographer uses superlative craftsmanship to create a tack sharp image, the public is nonchalant and unimpressed with the photographer's actual accomplishment. "Any dash cam can do that!" But as you and I well know, it can't.
This reminds me so much of the fundamental problem we photographic artists have with the public at large: everyone thinks they can stand on Wawona Point and use their handheld snapshot camera to make an image that's identical to an Ansel Adams fine art print of Yosemite. It's a cliché, but it's also true. Compounded by the occasional "lucky shot" and the fiction blossoms into a belief that is unquenchable.
Photography is not and never has been as easy or as capable as its fictional representations — be that fiction in literature or film, or fiction in the assumptions so prevalent in the public at large. It does, however, make for entertaining television in spite of the fact that it's so technologically improbable. Sort of like when the Star Trek characters beam onto an alien ship whose language they do not speak and whose writing they do not read yet they can instantly crack the security codes, operate the computers, and save the day. If all it takes to solve the murder is an implausible Photoshop enhancement filter, who are we to second-guess the Hollywood script writers? Oh, that's right. We are photographers.