Watch the above; be warned; language might be a bit offensive.
Beyond a doubt, the central criticism of this film has been done in myriad ways in a variety of different shows from Saturday Night Live to In Living Color, and other comedy skit shows. But I still love how The Onion does it with such precision and execution.
The overarching issue is the sense of conformity and construction of news. News is a troubling word. Its name indicates different; a rift in what was going on before and now. But the form of delivery in all news media is standard and formulaic. Newspaper articles are supposed to cover the 5W in the first paragraph or so, and news television has a certain amount of conventions as well. The problem herein that this piece speaks to is the arbitrary manner in which the news seems to be constructed. Who among the “common folk” do they choose to interview? Which “professional” shall they go to and how will they qualify that person? By job, education, association, publication or some other piece of authority that indicates that this person is “the knowledgeable one in which we can trust?”
Our predisposition to fall into patterns makes use readily to accept the format, but The Onion and others before it, remind us how dangerous it is to be idle in our consumption of messages. And in particular, authoritative messages, of which the news inevitably is. But more importantly, the news is simply one genre of storytelling. We believe it to be more “truthful” (and truth of course, is quite arbritrary), but it is filled with its own decision-making process to rule out certain information (truths) and decide what is the important pieces that compose a “news story.” We like to believe it chooses the right pieces of information to present, but in the large scale of world events or history for that matter, that’s a pretty bold belief for just system of storytelling that relies on people seeking out specific “stories.”
Is History Just Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere?History is much the same way. The historical record, or rather how we explain the historical record of facts and how they influence one another is also subject to an equal amount of formulation or construction. What the Onion video strikes home to is that news (and by extension in my own mind, history) are facets of truth. Just as memoirs (Think James Frey), documentaries (Think Michael Moore), and bio-pic films (Take your pick), attempt to tell truths, they are consciously constructed to prove certain points; they are also constructed for consumption. Therefore, to tell a genuine “history of the world” (a phrase which returns approximately 245,719 hits on Amazon.com as of this posting), implies a great and lofty goal with an abysmal follow through. Sure, we try hard to do so and we are decent with course correction when introduced to new information, science, arguments, etc, but in the end, to tell a “story” in history or in the news entails delivering a beginning, middle, and end; of which in both cases, there rarely is; or rather choosing the beginning, middle, and end is quite dubious. We don’t have the means of accessing such a full picture; but it doesn’t keep us from trying.
My train of thought on this subject is deeply influenced by David Shields’ book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. The book itself is a compilation of quotes that Shields has consciously constructed to imbue certain questions about “truth,” how we construct it, how we desire it so much (think the overwhelming diluge of “reality tv shows”), and our inability at trying to get it. What is that quest all about? “Truth”—what is it?
So why do we keep trying? I’m not asking why do we keep a record of history nor have news; they both have a place in our society. But why do we give it such privilege of knowledge? Why do accept or act blind towards the constructive elements that make everything it produces suspect and dubious? What purpose does it serve? Who does it benefit?
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