Faking It: #Fakenews, MSM and Alt Media
There is nothing new in realization that media lie. In certain sense, the media cannot help but at least partially deceive, because their primary purpose is the transmission of facts – of something experienced by one fallible human being to another fallible human being.
In the best – and largely imaginary – case, where there’s no interruptions in this communication channel – no prevailing influence of money, politics and other kinds of pressure, at least some mistakes made by one man get multiplied by others, as the message is passed on.
Namely, the media does not primarily deal with the truth, but with perceptions.
The real danger of being led terminally astray doesn’t lie in following “false narratives” but in believing that something like a “narrative” can be the truth in the first place. And this peril cuts through whole spectrum of media, including the alternative media.
The meltdown of Mainstream Media (MSM) in the West was met with the celebratory mood by people creating and consuming what we call alt media or media. It culminated with the so-called “fake news” controversy and subsequent hysteria – which backfired terribly, and added to the disgrace of establishment media.
The idea among the “independent” media creators, as it seems, was that the erosion of corporate media outlets marks the end of an era where information and news was controlled by a few. I see no reason why this would call for jubilation just yet. Namely, the crumbling of the establishment initially does nothing but create vacuum – the alternative media does not have resources to fill that vacuum adequately and it is highly questionable whether it can be filled by anything else than some new kind of ideology, or indeed some new kind of establishment.
As people in the West – above all Americans – are quick to forget how the crumbling of their establishment does not automatically imply a global domino effect, because there are other power players, both hostile or relatively indifferent, to an American or more generally, a Western outlook. And if history teaches us anything we can all agree upon, it is the fact that impulses moving great global “players” are rarely vegetarian ones. People who hold their own media to be the enemy are at the same time extremely naive – not to use the harsher term – if they think that the enemy of this enemy is their friend.
Therefore, if a vacuum of meaning created by the fairly real meltdown of Western establishment – overwhelmingly of the Left or liberal bent – media could, and probably will, end up being filled by some other kind of ideological power or ruling mindset. In this context, there’s no sense in talking about “independence” just yet.
But that’s not to be apologetic of the Left. The cognitive dissonance oozing from the hard-core of the information establishment was almost palpable in the days after Trump’s victory. It was blatantly obvious that people creating the content at The Guardian, New York Times, The Washington Post et al – were finally coming face to face with their own shadow, something that usually ends up with projecting one’s own moral failings on the other – a path of least resistance indeed taken and exemplified by Mainstream Media by incorporating the services of “fact checking” websites that rely on the Internet to check their facts: something that makes them a kind of alt-mainstream – relying on the same sources and information ecosystem systems as the alt media, but serving the needs of mainstream media.
The greatest ideological advantage of the Left was always its ability to create coherent and self-sufficient systems of ideas, seemingly able to explain away everything or, in other words, to assimilate reality within the parameters of its ideological matrix. If some fact does not fit, the system it can be discarded and denounced as “reactionary”, “bourgeoise” (a typical old-fashioned Communist slur) or “fascist” (a notoriously imprecise slur recently reintroduced by the New Left in the Sixties of the last Century) lie – a fake disguising as fact.
This was made possible by the purely abstract structure of Marxist and post-Marxist outlook, i.e. its veritable mania to conceptualize what the man is and what he ought to do without bothering to have a peek at what he really is and what he wants to do. The high moral stance somewhat typical of the Left stems from this, because it is very easy to proscribe the higher morality from the standpoint of the abstract self-referential system.
Ironically, this unreal notion of man and his historical existence was deemed founded in the most real – and in the language of the Left, this means: the marginalized social groups, precisely because they were thought of being unable to escape realities of life: in Marx’s time that was a class of industrial workers in Western Europe, in our day and age it is a whole plethora of designated victim groups – all kinds of minorities, racial, sexual, ethnic and so on.
The reasons for this inclination of the Left are too complex to extrapolate here, but suffice to say here that they are deeply fundamental and deeply flawed. And, which is most important, they transcend both extremes of political spectrum, i.e. they could very well be appropriated by the Right, especially now when the mainstream Left has managed to reduce itself into near meaninglessness.
The application of “political correctness” was the greatest triumph and at the same time it was the swan’s song of postmodern Left. It remains to be seen if the same moral nominalism will now be appropriated in some new and unforeseen way by the emerging dominance of the Right populism winning the hearts and minds of many people in the West.
The corporate media to a large extent assimilated this nominally Leftist stance, which led to such oxymorons as “humanitarian bombing” or, originally introduced in early Nineties to describe goings on in my own country, disgusting term “ethnic cleansing” (I would rather go with “bleaching” for the sake of black humor).
Over the years this situation became more and more surreal as the American power started to overstep its bounds while corporate media simultaneously devised new and ingenious ways to make moralistic discourse ever more systematized, finally to a point when even a single word could make someone eligible for the gravest moral condemnation in the column section, while the world affairs section of the same media outlet was describing the escalation of some proxy war with not an iota about its real causes and casualties.
This system would have had to break eventually, and it finally happened in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, when the complete impotence of establishment mainstream media to sway the public opinion became apparent. Their defeat was completely deserved, yet it does not call for celebration by any stretch of imagination.
Namely, impotent attempts by MSM to gain some footing in reality like launching the #fakenewsgate, and rightfully denouncing the #pizzagate – while completely failing to note that “fact checkers” they employed to beat the “truthers” are “citizen journalists” of the same ilk and no better than the #pizzagate “citizen researchers” – laid bare the fact that there are emerging forces moving in from the fringe towards the center; after all, many websites listed as “fake news” in my opinion deserve to be deemed as such – and worse, all while #pizzagate displayed just how deeply flawed is the idea of “citizen investigator”.
Moreover, movement from the fringe towards the center is the emerging trend here – a kind of archetypal situation – embodied in Donald Trump, a “non-establishment” President, and further copied by individuals and social movements, both new and old.
This means that in the future it will probably be fairly normal for a “non-establishment” pundit like Alex Jones, who is now apparently serving as a Trump mouthpiece for the “conspiracy culture” (or truth movement, ‘liberty’ movement) crowd, to be considered a “non-establishment” mainstream (alt) media.
Similarly, the most radical ideas of the Right could go mainstream by the same route – from the channs and Alt Right outlets into the everyday life and into the consciousness of common sense of people who are probably oblivious of the existence of these intellectual currents.
After all, #pizzagate was to a large extent a display of swarm mentality – a leaderless, chaotic, movement which morphed into an alternate reality, a veritable parody of some of the historically significant investigations into elite pedophilia.
This trend, as it seems to me, demonstrates the dialectical nature, not only of Left vs. Right political culture, but also of Mainstream vs. Alternative media culture. Two opposites depend on one another and are in fact stages in the same process I name “discordian dialectics”; a process of making differences between people irreconcilable.
In this respect I see no great difference between Obamamaniac and Trumpophrenic. Eight years ago masses of people were unable and unwilling to see any spot on the blank canvas upon which they projected their hopes and called it Barrack Obama – mutatis mutandis, masses of others are now unable and unwilling to see any spot on the blank canvas upon which they project their resentment and call it Donald Trump.
One of the prominent and by now fairly consolidated “narratives” disseminated by both mainstream and alt media of the Right bent is re-imagining of Islam as the designated enemy, feeding upon an insane appropriation of the near same poster religion of the Social Justice Warrior and – oh, the irony! – notably for feminists. Both the political Leftist misrepresentation of simulacrum of Islam, epitomized by women protesters bearing images depicting a woman wearing American flag hijab and Rightist appropriating the Wahabi sect as the face of Islam as essentially being an ideology, not only distort but completely annihilate any understanding of the real thing, notably, but not exclusively, the fact that Wahhabism is an extremist heretical movement primarily hostile towards Islam itself and that the feminist outlook cannot be accommodated to any of the three religions of The Book.
In the alt media sphere, some formerly Right-leaning outlets – like Red Ice Creations, have now reached the intensity of ‘post-Nazism‘ and, as far as I’m concerned, are eligible for shut down by judiciary of their home country, if this could be done in the context of fundamentally homeless and countryless Internet based media.
The media that rely on the partisanship of this kind and/or the principle that enemy of my enemy is my friend are indeed prone to produce far worse things than ‘fake news.’ Namely, the truth is not stricto sensu something media produces, rather, it produces an accurate reflection of facts. The truth is a matter of far wider reach, and a media reflection of reality can at best serve as ancillary in this respect. While what we call mainstream media was worth its salt, this was something that went without saying.
However, nowadays media is completely into producing narratives, i.e. into interpretations of reality based not on facts, but selections of facts conditioned by the producer’s own place in the all-encompassing power struggle.
This is something that is taken for granted and alt media doesn’t challenge it in any way. So the substance is still the same – media are here to produce activism, world-view, political options, etc. By definition, they are not doing their job of reflecting the facts, but calling the narratives “true” and “false” while the truth/lie binary does not exist in the context of narratives, outside of power relations they reflect.
The truly new and independent media would be the one that rejects this all together. And that kind of media is, unfortunately, not on the horizon, despite the meltdown of the MSM. Also, the clear turn rightward of the good deal of alt media outlets indicates that they are not rejecting the mainstream, but embracing it.
There’s nothing to celebrate in that, and the meltdown caused by #Fakenewsgate apparently created nothing but power vacuum. Seeing it filled now, I must conclude with the expression of deepest possible skepticism towards the content moving from the fringes of the Right, into the center – from the alternative to mainstream.
It is not a victory of independence. This could be viewed as a victory of the Right over the Left and has nothing to do with truth, but everything to do with partisan politics. There’s nothing alternative and nothing independent about those who exploit this as a window of opportunity for their “narratives.”
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