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A flashing arrow is a metaphorical audiovisual cue used in films to bring some object or situation that will be referred later, or otherwise used in the advancement of plot, to the attention of the viewers.
The device is not introduced into the plot or the dialogue, but is something peripheral; however made obvious (hence the name) by a particular camera shot or background music. An example of this device is a camera close-up in a horror movie that suggests information like danger from an unlocked door. A literal flashing arrow was used in the 1981 film Student Bodies to mock this clichéd use. The use of flashing arrows and that particular joke were both mentioned in Everything Bad Is Good for You, where the authors says works that have little use of this and require figuring things out yourself have a more deductive viewer base.
Another example of a literal flashing arrow can be seen in the Ouran High School Host Club. This device is used several times throughout the anime—for instance in the first episode, a flashing arrow and high-pitched beeping noise indicate a vase that a character breaks later on in that scene.
Yet another instance is a cut,situation blank in an action film when the hero is in a difficult-to-escape situation, to a brief shot of the item he will use to save himself.
A form of flashing arrows is used in some video games as well; in these cases, the important object or clue is itself glowing or flashing. However, this use can be forgiven to an extent,[according to whom?] as a realistically sized key (for example) would be nearly impossible to see on a standard-sized television set without some sort of illumination.
A case in point of this can be seen in the film Natural Born Killers during a scene where the protagonist stabs to death a young woman with a pencil. The pencil shows up in nearly every cut scene before the girl's death.
Another example of a flashing arrow is used in the film Stranger than Fiction, when the child with the bike and the bus driver appear in numerous scenes, before both of them become a factor in Harold Crick's "death".
- Google cache of "Watching TV Makes You Smarter" by Steven Berlin Johnson, an article from The New York Times containing some information about the phrase.
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