Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wag The Dog

"The bullshit piles up so fast on the Internet you need wings to stay above it."

I have been 'between assignments' (aka unemployed) for the past month or so. Consequently, I have been spending way too much time on the internet. And it's driving me crazy. Why? Because it's completely overrun with bullshit. It seems that at least once a day I see something posted on Facebook that is totally untrue, but has been accepted as gospel by otherwise intelligent, well-meaning individuals.

They believe it because it was posted by someone else whom they know and/or trust. They believe it because it reinforces their ideology. They believe it because it makes fun of someone they dislike. They believe it because it has a funny picture/cartoon and a clever slogan. The believe it because they want to.

But it's bullshit.

Here's an example: There's a internet meme going around called Reverse Stereotype, it's basically a photo of Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart with the caption, "Think about which one of these two has done time." Another version, titled Stereotypes Are Awesome, has the same photo with a different caption: "But only one of them is a convicted felon."

Funny, right? 'Cause Martha, the whitebread media mogul did time in the Federal Pen for lying about a stock deal, while Snoop, the dreadlocked gangsta rapper is an upstanding family man and certified high-school football coach. So much for your bourgeois preconceptions. I'll give you a second while you recover from having your mind totally blown.

One problem though. Turns out Snoop also happens to be a convicted felon, who has 'done time' on various occasions and has a criminal record as long as your gang-tatted arm. I'm not saying Snoop is better or worse than Martha. I'm just saying that this stupid 'meme' that keeps getting posted and reposted and 'shared' and 'liked' is a big crock of bullshit.

But that doesn't seem to matter. The truth doesn't matter. Facts don't matter. The only thing that matters is that it seems like it should be true, as long as we don't have to think too much about it. That's the chief characteristic of bullshit: it seems true and it fits in with what we want to be true. So we swallow it.

A few years ago, when George W. Bush was president, I thought we had reached the pinnacle of bullshit. Bush was a master practitioner of the art of bullshit. It was his defining talent. He could sling it like nobody's business. Talk about memes, picture Bush standing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, beneath the red, white & blue banner proclaiming: "Mission Accomplished!" It don't get more bullshitty than that.

Or does it?

When I've had my fill of brainless internet memes, I turn on the TV to see what's happening in the rest of the world. Bad idea. Turns out we are in the midst of presidential primary season, and there is no greater arena for the slinging of bullshit than presidential politics. And there is no greater slinger of presidential political bullshit than the amazing Newton Leroy Gingrich. Did I say Bush was good? He was an amateur. Gingrich is the DaVinci of bullshit. So inventive, so creative, so prolific that he puts all others to shame.

Consider this recent achievement: At the South Carolina debate, when John King of CNN asked Gingrich about wanting an open marriage with ex-wife number two, Gingrich turned the tables on him by accusing the media of being "destructive, vicious and negative," and said he  was "appalled" that King would even ask such a question. The hyper-sympathetic crowd roared its approval, and Newt scored huge points. Two days later, he won the South Carolina primary.

Keep in mind, this is the same guy who, as Speaker of the House, called for the impeachment of Bill Clinton for having an affair in the White House, while at the same time Newt was having an extramarital affair with his current wife. Oh, and he was having an affair with ex-wife number two while married to ex-wife number one -- the one he divorced when she got cancer. The same guy who has helped place 'family values' and defense of the 'sanctity of marriage' at the center of our political dialog. That guy. He's "appalled."

Of course, none of that matters, because Gingrich knows that we don't care about the facts. We only care about what sounds good at the moment. And his attack on King and the "media" in general sounded good. It sounded so good that it got played and replayed on every major and minor news outlet in the country, not to mention posted and reposted all over the internet.

And that's the real genius of it. Gingrich took a potentially sticky situation and spun it into a nationwide media blitz and went from dark horse to primary landslide in two days. And he did it all by himself, on the spur of the moment, and for free.

Using nothing but bullshit.

In the great Barry Levinson movie, Wag The Dog, political spin doctor Robert DeNiro invents an election-eve war with Albania to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal. He hires Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman to 'produce' the war and together they pull off a public relations coup by convincing the country that a war is actually taking place. When confronted with the fact that there really is no war, DeNiro replies, "Of course there's a war -- I saw it on TV."

But Gingrich has gone DeNiro's spin doctor one better. Don't tell him there's no war: "Of course there's a war -- I said it on TV."

The tail is now wagging the dog.

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