Lie to Me: Fiction in the Post-Truth Era

I’m trying to remember what it was like, a few months ago when I was thinking about picking “fake news” as the topic for a media course, when I was briefly worried I wouldn’t be able to find enough background reading on the issue. I’m no longer worried about that. (I am, however, a lot more worried about fake news.)

The problem with our “post-truth” politics is that a large share of the population has moved beyond true and false. They thrill precisely to the falsehood of a statement, because it shows that the speaker has the power to reshape reality in line with their own fantasies of self-righteous beleaguerment. To call novelists liars is naïve, because it mistakes their intention; they never wanted to be believed in the first place. The same is true of demagogues. From its beginning, the novel has tested the distinction between truth, fiction and lie; now the collapse of those distinctions has given us the age of Trump. We are entering a period in which the very idea of literature may come to seem a luxury, a distraction from political struggle. —The New York Times

3 thoughts on “Lie to Me: Fiction in the Post-Truth Era

  1. The reason I post these things is precisely so I can have these conversations! Thank you for the recommendation. One of the things I love about teaching media classes is that each time I teach the course, the media landscape has changed so much that I pretty much have to throw away all my notes. I feel an urge to teach my students Plato and Aristotle, so that they can practice applying long-standing theories to the fleeting circumstances of the ever-changing present. I hope to hear more of your thoughts as I work through this issue myself!

  2. Have you ever read “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America” by Daniel J. Boorstin? He doesn’t address “fake” news as we know it, but he lays out a framework of increasing layers of “images” and “pseudo-events” that build up to the point where we stop discussing “reality” and “events,” but rather, the press conference for the event and the polls about about the polls, and each generation adds another layer between ourselves and reality. I would propose that the “fake news” crisis is the next step in this evolution: the layers of images have gotten so thick that reality can no longer be discerned clearly at all, and people bafflingly propose that what is real for one person might not be real for another (Philosophy might be a truly useful major in the near future). Is it possible to peel back the layers? What would that even look like in a world with social media, which, as far as I know, Boorstin never addressed.

    Sorry to fill up your comment space with this, but there aren’t a lot of places for these conversations.

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