The benefits of Chinese Rolexes, moving pyramids and expandable breasts
Posted by James McPherson on August 12, 2008
Politicians lie, and as long as the falsehoods come from the ones we like, we accept them gladly. If it’s our own candidate spinning the yarn, we adhere to the Fleetwood Mac strategy: “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.”
Iran recently used Photoshop to lie about a missile launch. China now admits faking its Olympics fireworks display, which seems a bit odd considering that fireworks would seem to be the last thing China would have to fake. What’s next–we find out the Giant Pandas are really Disney-style animatrons, or that the 360-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir is bulking up its performances with extra taped voices?
Still, even the fireworks deception is not a huge surprise. For one thing, China has long been known as a great place for fakes: Rolexes, designer clothing, DVDs, etc. For another thing, especially when it comes to the media, real just isn’t real enough.
While we overlook political falsehoods, we are more upset (and should be) because we all know the media lie (the problem is, we typically don’t know when). They may be lying now, in a sense, to make the presidential race appear closer than it is. Magazines airbrush every model, deleting acne and often enlarging breasts. National Geographic moved a pyramid, and CBS digitally dovered up an NBC logo with its own. (See a great range of such lies, with photo examples, here and here.) Smut peddlers use the same techniques to create fake pornographic images of movie stars and–more troubling from both ethical and legal perspectives–children.
But with the exception of the last example, one might ask, “so what?” After all, we are a nation of liars. We can’t seem to help ourselves. The biggest problem isn’t that people lie to us, in my view. A more serious problem is that we cannot recognize lying when we encounter it.
An excellent Columbia Journalism Review book review of Farhad Manjoo’s latest book, True Enough: How to Live in a Post-Fact Society, summarizes how Manjoo discovers and points out that thanks to “selective perception” we are largely incapable of distingishing truth from fiction. We all have our own “facts,” and we’re sticking to them.
That inability to discern truth from falsehood is perhaps the best reason for a liberal arts education, or at least a few classes in logic and media literacy. Since most Americans will get none of those, however, perhaps we should be thankful for the obvious prevalence of lying. As we increasingly encounter falsehood, recognizing that it comes from all angles, perhaps health skepticism will increase.
Trusting nothing is a start, better than trusting everything or better than trusting a select few media sources. Learning what to trust, and why, is a goal worth striving toward. No lie.
This entry was posted on August 12, 2008 at 6:45 pm and is filed under Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video, Women. Tagged: animatron, bloggers, CBS, China, Columbia Journalism Review, digital manipulation, Disney, fakes, Farhad Manjoo, fireworks, Fleetwood Mac, Giant Panda, Iran, Journalism, liberal arts education, logic, lying, Media, media balance, Media literacy, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, National Geographic, NBC, Olympics, photo manipulation, photography, Photoshop, Politics, pornography, presidential race, Sweet Little Lies, technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.