The Era of the Plausible: Fake News and Alternative Facts

‘I don’t know. Guess so. It’s plausible’

That’s what I found myself saying while taking an online quiz to see if I could identify fake news. I did okay, but I had some problems.

Some of the questions were about vague news stories you wouldn’t really hear of. But I also found myself finding many of the fake news headlines and stories very believable. I just kept thinking ‘well, that’s believable… given… well, the world we live in… now a days’.

Indeed, ‘the world we live in now a days’… like even as of a few weeks ago, that is!

While the world has turned upside down very recently, the road that led us to where we are now was a long one. We have over the last 30 years become more accustomed to the unusual becoming the usual at rapid pace.

Societal changes have been really profound and also pretty fast paced. I’m thinking feminism, women’s rights. But more so LGBTQ rights, same sex marriage and, more recently in social focus, transgender persons.

I wasn’t aware of the colourful array of trans persons until I came across an article entitled ‘Vancouver Women’s Library opens amid anti-feminist backlash’ all about a turf war between trans groups and feminist groups over the definition of woman. I can see the contention. Handbags at dawn!… well at least for the trans gang… the feminists would be more like MEC backpacks at dawn! The article is on the Feminist Current – a Vancouver based blog whose moderator, like a lot of feminist blog moderators, tolerates only token dissent.

(In fact, I note there are whole Reddit subreddits dedicated to feminists who have been banned from other feminist subreddits! I wonder what kind of news people who read these heavily moderated feminist sites get? ‘Safe space’ news, I suppose. Better than fake news? …debatable.)

But I digress. The point I want to make here is that Western individualism and the concern, a near obsessional fretful concern, over individual identity, be it sexual, spiritual, political or whatever, has led to a breaking down of ‘normalcy’ or a cohesive ‘reality’.

That might seem a bit reactionary and conservative. But in our individualistic society, unlike in a community focused society, you are free to find your own ‘normal’, your own ‘reality’ relatively free from the community ‘normal’ (other than the subgroups that you identify with).

The result of individualism, especially when pushed to extremes, is a fragmented reality, where there is no ‘normal’. Nothing surprises anymore. When a man can live as woman, elect not to have his penis removed and be called a lesbian woman, or a trans lesbian, well I think we can safely say that little can be assumed.

And I make no bones about it. I impart no judgement. Trans people, like all people have a right to pursue happiness and contentment. I only mean to explore and explain the implications of individualism. Transgenderism suites my purposes because it is a relatively more extreme example, that clearly shows the impact of individualism on ‘reality’ and what we find believable.

It is bigger than interracial marriage or same sex marriage. Transgenderism explodes a fundamental ‘reality’, the male-female binary, upon which we believed our assumptions could safely rest.

They cannot any longer. When individual’s relatively extreme ‘reality’ challenges such a fundamental concept, the impression is that almost anything is plausible. Fake news and alternative facts also become… quite plausible.

‘Normal’ in a very fundamental way, just went out the window. And with it, our ability to determine the credibility of information and the likelihood of events.

Novel Politics

Not only are the variations individual experience so varied that there is no longer a ‘norm’, but the politics that grows from this extreme individualism is equally novel.

For instance, the growing pressure for toilet facilities for transgender people. Toilets easily become a complex and sensitive political issue, as maybe you can imagine.

If, as it has been said, the personal is political, than there is no greater political urgency than to go pee. Particularly, if you’re disabled or you don’t know which bathroom you’re supposed to use.

(Even greater urgency, if there’s another darn tranny using your designated disabled toilet! To add all the other issues, your catheter bag is near overflowing, you need to go to job interview for a job you probably won’t get and few people want to fuck you! Fuck. Or you feel threatened no matter what toilet you use, and get cursed at by disabled people if you use the disabled facilities, even when told to! Double fuck.)

The issue over toilets is further complicated by the fact there is a degree of conflict between disabled and trans people as to who has primacy when it comes to the provision and use of toilet facilities.

It has also become an issue splitting opinion among traditional allies (typical these days), the left wing and feminist groups. For the right wing the response is predictable. North Carolina passed a law requiring people to use the toilets that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate.

15 maybe even 10 years ago you couldn’t’ have made this up. Let alone imagine it becoming an issue for political debate!

The political debate, reflects the experience of individuals within society, which have become more diverse, more unusual. Given the ‘unusualness’ of actual political debate, how are we to distinguish real news headlines from fake ones?

The fake is so plausible, because the real beggars belief.

You couldn’t make it up

Our individualistic society, by itself, is not responsible for false news and alternative facts. The merging of politics and humour have also undermined our sense of reality.

While society, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, become more diverse and more unpredictable, politics remained relatively predictable until, of course, recently.

When I think back at the progression of comedy, particularly political comedy, I am amazed. I feel like, how could we not have seen it coming?

I’m referring to a certain style of comedy that started in the 1990s, although there was similar stuff before. We’re talking the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Onion, etc. It was all so innocent, just a spoof.

But I think somewhere in there it got so good, so slick, it started to shed the elements of it that identified it as comedy and not news. At the same time politics got more ridiculous.

I’m thinking the kick off of our era of the outrageously ridiculous politician came with SNL’s spoof of Sarah Palin’s 2008 interview with CBS’s Katie Couric. The SNL spoof was largely a repetition of the actual interview Palin gave, simply because Palin’s answers were already so lacking in any thought or intelligence, it was ridiculously funny enough!

Things like The Colbert Report, a spin-off of the Daily Show, while sort of like the Daily Show, was one step closer to emulating actual news. Comedy seriously started looking like news, and news seriously started looking like comedy.

Another, similar example is Ali G and Honey G. Ali G, was an obviously comedic piss take interviewer in the role of a white London wanna-be gangster.

Now we have Honey G. The middle aged white female rapper on the X Factor that is doing pretty well, substantially helped by one of the judges, Sharon Osbourne. She is good as a musical act. But her appeal appears to be that you just really can’t figure out if she’s for real or not.

Google Honey G and you will find article after article expressing all level of perplexity as to whether she is a joke or not. She is confusing people so much, some people seem to have real animosity for her. Her popularity receives the same treatment as when the bitcoin prices surges: incredulity and ridicule in some, glee and a ‘hey, why not?’ in others.

She is genuinely perplexing. With Ali G, I knew what was what, with Honey G I don’t know what to believe.

It is the Honey Gs and ‘is it comedy, is it fact?’ comedy styles that have added to our current atmosphere of confusion and disorientation. Like with our individualistic society, as good as it is, our comedy, as funny as it is, has created an environment primed for finding almost anything plausible.

And then the Reality TV star became President

Now, this is the icing on the cake, isn’t folks?! I mean you couldn’t write this stuff. Right. I mean look at him, look at what he says.

The last bit of early autumn afternoon sun that ripened the fruit to perfection, bringing to fruition a long summer of ripening for our Era of the Plausible. It is you know him well, by now, the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump.

This man has galvanised and catalysed all the elements of the Era of the Plausible that I mentioned before. He is the apex of a process of confusion and endless plausibility of information. This process having in the last few months or weeks even, culminated in the coining of the terms fake news and alternative facts.

A reality TV star himself, so much of what he says or does is imperceptible from comedy. SNL is likely to forget how to write political comedy, because he’s doing it for them!

A quote you know well:

‘I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.’

This statement by Donald Trump is something, that before his election, you would expect to come out of the mouths of an SNL piss take. Not from the mouth of a serious candidate for the Office of the President of the United States.

But, of course, that’s not the case. Those are real words coming from (at the time) a to-be President. No matter what you think of a wall on the Mexico border, what he said, the way he said it and the manner of delivery had a distinct unreality to it.

Trump is the final spectacularly bewildering touch to the Era of the Plausible that had been a while in the making.

Our society, exemplified by individual expression that beggars belief, political satire, that merges comedy with fact and politicians that say stupider things than comedy writers, it is no wonder we are so susceptible to fake news and alternative facts.

I don’t know about you, but nothing I hear about surprises me anymore…

… even if it didn’t even actually happen!!

 

Check out these news stories and tell me what you think is fake:

‘Transgender tampon now on the market’ – I find this believable, certainly not unbelievable. For purposes of wishing to feel authentic or genuine I can see that. But then again I’m pretty open minded, unlike bigots like you. Nonetheless, it’s fake.

‘Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Wanna Leave America’ – Again, I find that believable, given what he’s said. Fake news story.

‘Alt-Right Gathering Exults in Trump Election With Nazi-Era Salute’ – I find this believable, but the I’m gullible. It’s a real news story.

‘Ru Paul claimed he was groped by Trump’ – It wouldn’t surprise me. But it’s a fake story.

‘Parents too nice for their own good get tattoos of their children’s bad drawings’ – Fuck knows, but apparently more parents are doing this.

‘Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge Of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide’ – You probably came across this one as it was pretty big. I said maybe, because I’ve been marginally sympathetic to Trump and Trump supporters probably were likely to believe this one. Even anti-Trump people believed this one. But this was a fake news story.

‘Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring’ – I didn’t find that believable. It’s a fake story.

‘Woman Stabbed Her Husband To Death Because He Wouldn’t Eat Her ASS! – Its possible. ‘You go girl!’ Lorena Bobbitt did similar, but to be fair for more serious reasons. Fake story.

‘Boris Johnson to be British Foreign Secretary’ – Not fake. It happened.

‘Kanye West to run for President’ – Well, like me he compared himself to Jesus, which in effect he compared himself to me, Radicalized. So I find it believable. BTW, it’s a true news story.

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