[Update: When I said that the news was both real and fake I did not mean to absolve the purveyors of “fake news” in the sense that it was contrived and mendacious. The point was that reality is a personal matter and that one person’s reality may be another’s fake. Meanwhile, demagogues argue that their positions are real, while their opponents’ are fake.]
Ever since the President-elect gave his news conference on January 11, 2017, the question of “fake news” has flooded the airways. At the same time, a handful of media conservatives have identified a Congressional art contest winner as an intolerable provocation, adding to the outrageous claims of black power types that “cops” are “pigs.” (Caption on painting image from Huffington Post)
I want to link these two events, for they are aspects of the same problem: viewers and readers have few tools to understand these controversies, whose connections could be illuminated were we even partly educated in deciphering competing ideologies.
The question of real versus fake has haunted our species forever. Plato gave that job to the “Guardians” of his Republic who would be expert in defining what sense perceptions are to be taken seriously, versus the shadows in the Cave. We are besieged by “journalists” and all intellectuals all eager to shape our inquisitiveness. Even Walter Lippmann advocated the training of a special class to separate truth from lies in his interwar books, thus earning the enmity of libertarians such as Noam Chomsky: https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.
Anyone who has ever dipped into the study of rhetoric understands that competitors for eyeballs detect sharp differences between propaganda and the “real deal”: my opponents do not only think differently, they are mistaken in their evaluations of what is and what is not a “fact.” So we may wallow in self-righteousness, convinced that our opinions are indeed facts in the “real world.”
The Cops as Pigs painting. Which brings me to the contentious arguments over what is and what is not “art.” Here I will depart from many conservative judgments that high art is eternal and not susceptible to historicizing.
I have been critical of all “collectivist discourses” throughout my postings. By “collectivist” I mean the substitution of groups for individuals. Thus in prior blogs I have criticized the notion of national character (like all “cultural criticism” as covering over unique responses to authority). Thus it is, in my view, typical adolescent rebelliousness to all authority (not solely black power) that is the relevant context for understanding the high-school originator of the disputed painting.
We should be asking who (or what social forces) put government in charge of determining the winners in “art contests”? And why can’t we draw a line between legitimate dissent and special pleading?
To the extent that Lacy Clay’s judgment should be upheld by ratifying his opinion about what is and what is not “art,” is, like all “fake news,” real and fake at the same time. To this particular Missouri Representative to Congress, the painting is indeed art and accurately reflects his own world-view, and probably those of a majority of his constituents, more’s the pity.
As long as collectivist monikers remain, we will be stuck like other bureaucrats, at best, confused and bleeding.