Post-Truth, Satire and Postmodern Critique

Curator's Note

In our effort replace lies and propaganda with evidence-based arguments as the center of our democratic process, how do we preserve a productive critique of "Truth" and other authoritative modes of knowledge? As a junior Feminist Media Studies scholar, I encourage my students to question "common sense," to understand the biases in media that go beyond partisan politics, and to understand that even the most legitimate sources of information are never fully objective. As I see memes circulating throughout social media that mock those who question science or expertise, I wonder how we can keep nuance within such a discussion without ceding ground to those who would twist critical postmodern questions of reality to fit their own propagandist agenda.  In this clip, Stephen Colbert’s claims credit for the term “post-truth,” tracing its lineage back to his coining of the term “truthiness” back in 2006. As Geoffrey Baym (2010) has argued, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and newer entrants into late-night’s satiric news game like Samantha Bee and John Oliver use the tools of televisual postmodern aesthetics –irony, montage, parody, and deconstruction—to expose the ways in which politicians and news media often construct false or misleading realities. He notes that while postmodern in aesthetic, this exposure in fact indicates an underlying modernist ideology and belief in rational discourse, logic, and objective reality. While televisual news satire has been championed as a site where audiences are taught to question authoritative sources of information, I would argue that these shows tend to become their own version of authoritative truth, too often dismissing political dissent that fails to fit within a paradigm of calm rational discourse. Rather than come to the conclusion that fake news is the result of postmodern information relativism, we should find ways to have a nuanced discussion about truth, lived experience, and knowledge. Too often an over reliance on facts and rational discourse discounts political anger, emotion, and affect as legitimate sources of political action. As Lyotard (1979) argued, knowledge shouldn’t be an end in itself, but rather should be a means through which to create a more just society.

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