The Onion's Approach on Truth


Breaking News: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere

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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Comments

  1. When we watch the news, or open up a book in history, we make it so our brain believes everything that is said, or written down is true. I think we choose to believe that everything we hear and read is true and don't look at the evidence behind anything because I don't think we really think that far. I believe that once we are told something it sticks in our minds as "this is completely true." But I sort of think that this is wrong because newscasters could get half the story on something, and it could be half wrong, which provides us with wrong information/knowledge. I am going to use the Wikipedia website as an example of where most teens during highschool/college like to gather information from for school, but as we all know and have heard anyone at any time can log onto it and change information on anything on wikipedia, but yet when these teens read the information, they believe its all true. So their filling their brain with could for all they know be nonscence. So all in all, everything we hear or read or see and we obtain the knowledge, isn't always true, and I think should take deeper looks into things we are told.

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  2. I believe that the media plays a big part in how we interpret events and things that are happening throughout the world. Television plays a huge role in filling our heads with stories that may or may not be true. Today, if you pick up a newspaper, there will probably be at least one event that you read that is not entirely true. We see this everyday with little things such as news writers spelling names wrong that are in their articles. The news writer’s job is to assemble a story in a very short period of time and therefore they cannot get all of the information and evidence they need to back up what they are talking about. They often find that spicing up articles and information keeps readers entertained and wanting to read more. For example, the media portrays images of perfection in order to inspire young women but in actuality could end up depressing their self image. History is another part of the media that can be interpreted in many different ways. When researching a topic, there are always different web pages that may have different stories than the others. This is why people cannot always rely on the media telling the truth because it is their job to get the story out as quickly as possible regardless if they have all the facts or not.

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  3. The Onion's Approach on Truth

    I feel that the media pays a huge role in how people perceive things. They have a way of telling the world things that may or at times may not be true and everyone believes them just because they say that the information came from a reputable source, well who’s to say what’s reputable or not? Another thing I find kind of funny is they way in which news programs hype up stories in order to get viewers to keep watching. For example saying: “When we get back, Did that bear on the video above kill a child!?” and then after the commercial break the news story consists of “No the bear did not kill a child, but it could have” How do people decide what is news worthy and what is not? The media often has a way of dramatizing information in order to keep people entertained, but that doesn’t make everything they say and the way in which they say it true. Basically, like other people who have commented, I feel that some of the information we get from the media be it on the new, in a newspaper, or in a magazine of some kind is not always the one hundred percent truth so we should not perceive it that way.

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  4. I believe media plays a big role in how we retain information. The news, movies, and magazines feed us facts, which we believe, with no questions asked. We believe these fact because celebrities, spokesmen, and leaders are the ones presenting the facts. In today’s society humans tends to think and believe what leaders, celebrities, and their role models believe. We give the media the privilege of our knowledge, because we want to fit in and be like everyone else. Humans are afraid to have their own opinions, because that will make them different from everyone else. No one wants to be different and unable to fit in with their friends. We believe that everything we hear from the media is true, but everything presented to us by the media is not one hundred percent true. The media also exaggerates the truth in order to grasp and keep the attention of their viewers. People also tend to believe stories that are more hyped up and dramatic. We accept the way the media feeds us information, because it has been done this way for so long. In the back of our minds we all know that the media does not tell the truth all the time, but we still accept it. We accept it because we want to be like everyone else and if we do not accept it are considered different or “outsiders.” The media, celebrities, and leaders of society benefit from people believing what they are told. The more people that believe or buy certain products, that is more money consumed and the media and celebrities make a profit off of this.

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  5. I agree with Marisa, I also believe that the media does play a big role in how we get our information and the news in the world. Everything that we hear on the news or read in magazines is what people believe and take it as the truth because it is being publicized. If we look at the real truth behind it, we can see that most of the time, the news and gossip that we hear and read or more than likely false. People are just so wrapped up in what celebrities are saying and what’s being said on the television or radio that no one really looks at the truth behind it. I also believe that Wikipedia is another source that people rely on to give them information but that too is also false information. Wikipedia is open to everyone and anyone who has access to the internet and people are able to edit their own facts about a person or topic. This again relates to the media and news because people think that just because the facts are on the internet that it is true but in reality it is not. The media gobbles up any information that they can regardless if it is true or not and they expect us to believe it. The media is just looking for an easy way to make money so they will write anything that they think people will read even if it is not the truth.

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  6. The news always catches its viewers’ attention, one way or another. The reason that the news programs on TV are always so redundant is because that is exactly what captures people, and makes them stay on the program. If you think about it, it actually does benefit the people who are responsible for putting the news program together because they get even more viewers that way. People want to hear what others, such as a witness of an event, or a congressman who has something to do with the fixing of the situation, have to say about all of it.
    We give it the privilege of knowledge because things that these people have to say generally catch our interest. Many of the stories that we hear have to do with negativity, such as murder or the breaking into of a bank. These stories work really well with this formula of sorts of different people talking about a situation. We, the viewers, get to see firsthand different viewpoints / outlooks of the situation and different ways which we can handle it. For this reason, it is also technically for our own benefit as well. Even if the way that it is gone about does seem a little “dubious”.

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