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Fake News and the Complexity of Things

Zurück zum Heft: ZMK Zeitschrift für Medien- und Kulturforschung 9/1/2018: Mediocene
DOI: https://doi.org/10.28937/1000108091
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Recently, the effort to counter Fake News faced a counter attack: academic »postmodernism « and »social constructivism« it was said—because they say that facts are soaked in prior interpretations—are either purveyors of Fake News or set the cultural context in which it flourishes. They do so by undermining confidence in inquiry governed by simple facts. That is erroneous, argues William E. Connolly, because postmodernism never said that facts or objectivity are ghostly, subjective or »fake«. However, that what was objective at one time may become less so at a later date through the combination of a paradigm shift in theory, new powers of perception, new tests with refined instruments, and changes in natural processes such as species evolution. But the emergence of new theories and tests does not reduce objectivity to subjective opinion. Facts are real. Objectivity is important. But as you move up the scale of complexity with respect to facts and objectivity, it becomes clear that what was objective at one time may become subjective at another. Not because of Fake News or postmodernism. But because the complex relationships between theory, evidence and conduct periodically open up new thresholds. Colin Lang in turn rhetorically asks if »fake news« or »alternative facts« are a new carnival and Trump its dog and pony show? The idea of »fake news« and »alternative facts« as a carnival could not only help to see the constructedness of the media spectacle, but also provides a new perspective on Trump as an actor who is playing a particular role in this carnival, and that role is not one that any of us would describe as presidential. Many in the popular press have assumed it is just what it looks like, an infantilized narcissist, a parody of some Regan-era New York real estate tycoon straight out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. The problem is that this description is all too obvious, and misses something fundamental about alternative facts, and the part that Trump is playing. A central assumption is, then, that the creation of alternative facts is one symptom of a more structural, paradigmatic shift in the persona of a president, one which has few correlates in the annals of political history. The closest analogy for his kind of performance is actually hinted at in the title of Trump’s greatest literary achievement: The Art of the Deal. Trump is playing the part of an artist, pilfering from the tactics of the avant-garde and putting them to very different ends.