Saturday, April 2, 2011

Confessions of an April Fool Hoaxer

Skip all this "how we decide" mumbo jumbo and take me straight to the James Polk joins FOX NEWS April Fools post! I can come back here later.

OK, time to fess up.

Yesterday's FOX NEWS blog post was, of course, an elaborate April Fools hoax. I know, I know, if you bought into it, right about now you're most likely nose diving into that uneasy feeling in the gut that comes when you realize you've been had. Believe me, I've been there. I was taken in a few years ago when I fell headfirst into a Marketplace story about how the government, instead of sending out stimulus checks as authorized by Congress, decided to mail homeowners the equivalent value in the form of an air conditioner or a washing machine explaining it was being done to boost manufacturing. They interviewed mock government officials and mock homeowners and Robert Reich, who I think has some brilliant sociological observations, and the report had the the tone and structure of the typical story airing on Marketplace. But it was fiction. I had developed a rigid set of assumptions about the Bush administration, so the constructed narrative, aided by atmospherics and Robert Reich's righteous indignation, played on my own preconceptions to hook me in. And I never saw it coming.

And you know what they say about the word "assume"? When you ASSUME, you make an ass out of Uma Thurman. (Ouch! Sorry, that's my favorite Al Frankin joke.)

Such is the power of narrative to pass off misinformation as truth and get away with it. When cynically used as a device to trump facts and reality and rational thinking in an effort to con people into acting against their own good judgment and best interests to enrich the perpetrators of the narrative, it's immoral. FOX NEWS became the setting of this little hoax, in a wicked twist of absurd irony, because it's their standard modus operandi.

So I decided to take advantage of the age-old April Fools tradition to put together an art piece that I hope was an entertaining and stimulating read (it's packed with oblique references, so if you're into dry contextual humor, you might want to give it another run-through) with a creative commentary on the cynical (and dangerous) ethos of America's modern-day mainstream corporate media.

Why is it that this pearl necklace of absurdities strung one after another was, for many, plausibly believable? In the most positive light, I am comforted and humbled that so many who know me and are familiar with my work truly wish the best for me and are of the opinion that I've earned the legitimacy of an opportunity to step onto a bigger stage with a national audience, and a story like this - even with it's outrageous twists and turns and questionable venue - triggers a suspension of disbelief born purely out of goodwill.

But it also might have something to do with the media phenomenon of manufacturing drama by "sensationalizing the trivial," especially on cable television with FOX NEWS as standard-bearer. In the current media environment, reality shows pluck talentless individuals out of obscurity solely on the basis of their ability to create drama and conflict, and those who offer reasonable ideas and speak in whole paragraphs can't find a minute of airtime as the 24/7 news cycle is monopolized by the politicians and talking heads who push the most divisive ideas, claim the most outrage, and loudly spew the most anger. In an environment where the critical societal and environmental problems of our day (many of which, coincidentally, have solutions that might possibly cut into the bottom line of vested corporate interests) are buried under layers of highly stimulating distraction, anything - even the implausible scenario of FOX NEWS hiring James Polk as a sustainability commentator - is possible.

And, if we are not aware that this ongoing cascade of melodrama is indeed a distraction, we fall into the trap of accepting the chatter as "normal."

In a way, this is a cautionary tall tale. Because we're all pushed and pulled by savvy marketers who feed us bogus narratives, whether it's the hip branding of a soft drink designed to drive up sales when the taste tests are crummy, or a political "movement" that triggers and activates our fears as a method of winning elections and setting policy then the candidates are disingenuous and the ideas are unpopular. A little bit of healthy skepticism and some awareness of context helps. But we're all taken in from time to time. And we either figure it out, or someone clues us in, or we remain oblivious and robotically move in the direction of the bogus narrative all the while ignoring our better judgment.

In a way, it's easier to just go with the narrative. It doesn't require much thought or messy introspection. And even when we wise up, a part of us doesn't want to believe we've been betrayed. It's still easier to dismiss reality with the cloak of denial and run with the narrative, because as soon as we fully acknowledge that we've been had, here comes that sickening feeling. And the feeling might just be unbearable if we have to admit we've been fooled into enthusiastically supporting bad ideas and backing candidates who push through policies that hasten our demise.

So better to just go along with ruse, right? At least we'll have company.


My wife and I gave up TV when the US underwent the digital conversion back in 2009 (not that either one of us watched much television anyway) opting not to invest in the necessary hardware. We haven't missed it a bit, and in fact, we've found that by dispensing with the small amount of habitual TV watching in which we did engage, we freed up time for more rewarding activities, and we both feel that not watching television has enriched our lives.

But the biggest advantage of nixing the TV is the refreshing absence of so-called news. Americans watch a lot of TV, and I've been in homes and businesses where the television is always on, even when no one is actively watching. The more TV we take in, the more we are desensitized to the harshness and not-so-subtle behavioral triggers buried in the chatter. Try going without watching TV news for a while, say a year or two, and your experience and perception will be profoundly different. On a recent trip to local airport to pick up a friend, it was impossible to ignore two mounted televisions both tuned to FOX NEWS as they blared vitriol to passive onlookers who seemed completely conditioned to the idea that this was normal. Yet the messaging was a loud constant stream of hate, anger, and divisiveness. Normal? To me, it felt like I was being force-fed poison - the kind of poison that tears societies apart.

Apologies to anyone who did not appreciate the little April Fools prank. But I have to say, it's probably the most fun piece of writing I've created in quite some time. I promise I'll not set set you up with another bogus piece of fiction masquerading as reality ... until next year!


Jane Talkington said...

I thought you were Incredibly courageous to dilute fox snooze with your intellectual contributions. I work in the belly of the beast, in the shadow of Inhofe, on what I refer to as the frontlines of unconsciousness where the clear truth of sustainability actually does penetrate occasionally. Change does happen from within so be careful how you jest dear James. Fox News might actually hire you as a whipping boy, but I would still place my bet on you every time. Logic, integrity, and truth eventually win. (as if we have an abundance of time to get savvy but that's another issue for another day)

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