Fake News

“Nothing is True, everything is permitted.” – Hassan-i-Sabbah via William S. Burroughs

Having submitted a song for this year's Fedivision, I've been interested to note some of the responses to the song in question, entitled Fake News. A few of the responses have been along the lines of “yeah, there's a lot of fake stuff out there”, certainly a legitimate reaction to the song, but one that somewhat misses the point of the song. Generally speaking, I believe in never giving detailed analysis of my song lyrics, but since this song has been extracted from the context of the album as a whole, and the fact that I've submitted it for Fedivision, I'm going to break my “never explain my song” rule.

If you want to skip to to the actual talk about the song itself, and a detailed look at the lyrics, you'll find that below at “III. Fake News”.

Rather than claiming that “there's a lot of fake content out there”, the song is in fact a critique of the concept of “fakeness” in general. The critique essentially has two aspects. The first is that the very concept of truth in the context of the media is, if not entirely impossible, then a fluid & flexible one that cannot, and should not, be aligned with that of “scientific truth”. The second is that the very concept of fake news has been “weaponized” by neoliberal / right wing interests as a tool of propaganda, information control and imperialism.

I. Nothing is True

Speaking as someone whose academic background is the heyday (or perhaps last hurrah) of cultural & critical theory, semiotics and literary criticism in the mid-90s (Eco, Chomsky, Zizek, Deleuze & Guattari, Baudrillard, etc) – the idea that all information, particularly that represented in the media, is either true or untrue is very obviously an incredibly problematic concept. I'm certainly not suggesting that the concept of truth doesn't exist. Scientific truths do exist – gravity is keeping me in my chair while I write this. Furthermore, political / social “actually existing truths” exist – Saddam didn't actually have weapons of mass destruction. I would suggest, rather, that outside mathematics, in the social & cultural world in which humans exist, binaries are an unhelpful and often detrimental concept when it comes to truth.

Bearing the above in mind, every news article, every bit of media is created by humans who, by virtue of being an individual, have a perspective from which they view the world. The boards that run the media organisations are composed of people, each with a human's perspective on the world. Each of those multiplicitous perspectives mingles to create the resulting, for example in the current context, news report.

EVERY news report is biased – by virtue of not only what is being said in the report, but also the choice of what to report, when to report, how to report, to report at all etc etc. Bias is a necessary part of the human condition. If a media organisation claims that it is definitively unbiased, you can be damn sure they're pushing a specific political / financial agenda. It's very much the same as “I'm not racist, but...”.

II. Everything is Permitted

Similar to the concept of “woke” and it's precursor “political correctness”, I would like to suggest that the concept of “fake news” occupies a similar position in the cultural landscape, particularly in that of the global north.

If we are to examine “woke” and “political correctness” in their mainstream pejorative senses – we can see that they're are an attempt (often by the neoliberal right) to undermine concepts that would, under normal circumstances, be very difficult to spin as being bad – equality, anti-racism, worker rights etc. If you can't easily criticise those concepts directly, the next best thing is to criticise the reasons people hold those concepts, or failing that, the people that hold those concepts themselves.

The concept that women should have exactly the same rights as men, for example, isn't one that you'd get very far disagreeing with nowadays, so the way to perpetrate inequality is to attack the people who advocate equality, rather than the idea of equality itself.

Which brings me finally to Fake News. I believe that the very concept of Fake News is what we might call a Trumpism – one of Trump's prime techniques to dismiss anything he didn't like was to hysterically tweet “FAKE NEWS!!!” at it, until it went away.

The number of news articles that are completely and utterly made up are vanishingly small – the Martian invasion of New Jersey in 1948, perhaps? April fools day, and so on. What we do find is that every article / item published is pushing an agenda. I write an article about deforestation in Australia – my agenda is to highlight, and thus try to stop impending climate catastrophe. A scientist publishes the results of a 10 years study about the nature of dark matter – their agenda is to contribute to the overall knowledge of humanity (amongst no doubt other things). An article in a Murdoch-owned newspaper critical of social welfare... well we all know the agenda there...

The idea that Fake News has somehow arisen in only last 10 years is patently untrue. When we say fake news, perhaps we should mentally replace it with the term propaganda. Propaganda is as old as empire. Modern propaganda, one might argue, has been existent for almost 100 years, recognisable since Goebbels' “Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”, who pretty much wrote the modern textbook on the subject, having been used extensively throughout the West – and by the US in particular. Claiming that Fake News is a new thing is a classic act of Goebbelsian “reality manipulation”.

III. Fake News

Finally, to the song itself!

fake politics / fake philosophy / fake art / fake news

Am I suggesting that politics, philosophy or art are fake? Nope. By juxtoposing the former three with the idea of fake news, I'm trying to question our idea of true or false news in the same way that we might question whether Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans or Malevich's Black Square is actually art. One answer to the question is that it's really all about questioning – about the conversation.

fake movies / fake music / Fake tv / fake news

Are movies, music or tv fake? Well, they can't be if they actually exist, and we're actually looking / listening to them. If the entertainment is made partly or wholly by AI then you might feasibly claim that it is fake – particularly if you consider the definition of art to be a human reacting to their place in the world or some aspect thereof.

fake war / fake peace / fake identity / fake news

Fake war is, amongst many other things, every single military operation that the United States has engaged in since the second world war. Or rather, the justifications for the “forever war” that the US has been engaged in purely in the name of empire building. It's not about “weapons of mass destruction” or “insulting my daddy” but it's about oil pipelines.

fake medicine / fake science / fake masks / fake news

This one takes aim at the conspiracy loony contingent who think vaccines are government mind-control covert ops, as are “chemtrails”, and those that get angry when they see people in masks. I could expound upon this at length, but that's a whole other essay.

fake gender / fake celebrity / fake social media / fake news

On the surface, three different subjects, but they're all very much entwined. Most importantly here, I'm taking aim at those that are anti-LGBTIQA+. Claiming that one gender is somehow “right” and another is somehow “wrong” is purely an instrument of control, propaganda and imperialism in the same way that the concept of fake news is.

fake operating system / fake phones / fake apps / fake news

OSes, phones and applications obviously exist – but it is their purpose that may or may not be fake. Much non-free software advertises itself as one thing, but in fact (or addition) does something else.

fake musk / fake trump / fake murdoch / fake news fake amazon / fake google / fake microsoft / fake news

These two lines, rather than suggesting that the people / companies themselves are fake, I'm suggesting that they're the kinds of people / organisations that utilise the above-mentioned techniques as instruments of control.

fake love / fake death / fake planet / fake news fake truths / fake lies / fake culture / fake news

Coming towards the end, I'm now referring to the effects of the above mentioned control / propaganda etc.

fake you / fake me / fake reality / fake news fake you / fake me / fake off / fake news

In closing, I wrap things with a little bit of punning wordplay to signal that, contrary to how it all might seem, the overall song might night be intended 100% seriously.

So there you have it, a short explanation spiralled out into an extended meandertale of an exegesis.

But is it true or false?