This morning I mentioned to Chad a remarkable phrase from a post earlier this week by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Patrick Lawrence. In a piece with the title “Totalised ignorance” and subtitle, “The creeping impotency of language,” Lawrence claimed that “since 2001 media have taken as their purpose the creation of an alternative reality within which the reading and viewing public is to be confined to the fullest extent possible.” The phenomenon he describes goes far beyond the “alternative facts” once vaunted by Kellyanne Conway on Donald Trump’s behalf.
I reminded Chad that for years, in my Devil’s Dictionary column for Fair Observer , I have been associating this same phenomenon with a term invented by the French sociologist, Jean Baudrillard: hyperreality. Lawrence describes a system cultivated by the media in the US and built to filter the information it deems relevant or “fit to print.” That means not only selecting what is news but also agreeing on the information we the public must never see. Could this active commitment to “totalised ignorance” explain why the one thing we will never be told about is hyperreality itself? As a society we are put in the role played by Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.
As we had already spoken in an earlier conversation about hyperreality, Chad had clearly been thinking about it and was eager to weigh in this time.
Chad immediately cited “a number of reasons why this trend has gone largely unnoticed by citizens in liberal democracies. One reason is that the media itself is complicit in the creation of hyperreality. In an effort to capture market share and generate profits, media outlets often prioritize sensationalism over accuracy and depth of reporting. This leads to a situation in which news is increasingly driven by entertainment value rather than the pursuit of truth.
Additionally, the rise of social media has created a fragmented information environment in which individuals can curate their own news feeds and consume news from sources that confirm their existing biases. This has led to the creation of echo chambers in which people are only exposed to information that reinforces their preexisting beliefs, further exacerbating the phenomenon of hyperreality.
Finally, the increasing polarization of political discourse in many liberal democracies has made it difficult for citizens to agree on a common set of facts. When individuals cannot agree on the basic facts of a situation, it becomes almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation about how to address it.”
“In order to combat the trend of hyperreality, it is essential that citizens remain vigilant and critically evaluate the news and information they consume. It is also important to support independent media outlets that prioritize accuracy and depth of reporting over sensationalism and entertainment value. Ultimately, the preservation of a functioning democracy depends on a well-informed citizenry that is able to engage in meaningful dialogue and debate about the issues that affect their lives.”
This is where I couldn’t help feeling that – to use Chad’s favorite expression – “it is important to” listen to what your partner in dialogue is saying rather than just pontificate about theoretical causes and idealized solutions.
“That’s all well and good,” I objected. “But is such an enlightened solution possible in a society whose media and even educational institutions repeat the same messages over and over again while silencing other sources on the margins who present possibly contradictory truths? Silencing means eliminating the opportunity to explore perspective, a necessary ingredient of any kind of truth, which can never be reduced to a single dimension.
A perfect example is the media’s indifference to identifying the authors of the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in September, 2022. Seymour Hersh made a major contribution that is at least worth debating. But for months the media remained silent, refusing even to consider that there was a story worth investigating. And then, once Hersh’s credible story became known, The New York Times and The Washington Post decided to consult the ever reliable intelligence community to publish their carefully crafted “alternative facts,” which actually contained no facts.
In such circumstances, is it realistic to think that supporting independent media outlets, as you recommend, could be the solution? People don’t even know what an independent media outlet is, let alone whether the ones they know about are really independent.”
Chad once again agrees but disagrees
“You make a valid point that in some societies, the media and educational institutions may repeat certain messages and silence alternative views, making it difficult for individuals to explore possible truths. When there is a lack of diversity in the media landscape, it can be challenging for people to access alternative viewpoints and engage in meaningful dialogue and debate.
In such circumstances, supporting independent media outlets can be part of the solution. Independent media outlets prioritize accuracy and depth of reporting over sensationalism and entertainment value, and they are not beholden to corporate interests or political agendas. However, it is also true that many people may not be aware of what independent media outlets are and may not have access to them. In such cases, promoting media literacy and critical thinking skills can help individuals to navigate the media landscape and evaluate the information they consume.
Additionally, it is important to recognize the power of social media in shaping public opinion and the information ecosystem. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can provide a space for diverse voices and perspectives to be heard, but they can also contribute to the spread of misinformation and disinformation. It is essential to promote responsible use of social media and to support efforts to combat the spread of false information online.
In conclusion, the issue of hyperreality and the role of media in shaping public opinion is complex and multifaceted. Promoting media literacy, critical thinking skills, and supporting independent media outlets can be part of the solution, but addressing this issue will require a concerted effort from individuals, media organizations, and society as a whole.
“You say this happens in “some societies.” I suspect you mean not in evolved democracies. But what I’m talking about is specifically the US. What did you mean by “some societies”?”
“I apologize for any confusion. By saying “some societies,” I meant to acknowledge that the phenomenon of media hyperreality and the manipulation of information can occur in a variety of contexts and is not limited to any specific country or type of political system. While it is true that some societies may be more prone to this phenomenon than others, the issue of media manipulation and the creation of hyperreality is a global one that can affect any society.
That should reassure Americans. Hyperreality is fine because all of humanity benefits from it. The fact that the US version of hyperreality, like everything else in the culture, may be “exceptional” can only comfort Americans even further.
*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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