As the completion of this project looms—perversely aligned as it is and must be with the administration’s first 100 destructive, confusing, harrowing days with which it entwines—I find less that I might still need to say about #fakenews (what with 88 previous posts and a decline of interest due to the only-to-be-anticipated viral-collapse of this topic), and only more I seem to need to clarify about the previous #89hardtruths, themselves intended to clarify. That is to say, the project becomes ever-more complex as it grows in scale (a cumulative consequence of its internet construction where even its 100 small things quickly become an unaccountably large one), and becomes as cumbersome, complex and multiple as it is clarifying. Now imagine that I am entwined with his 100 days, that also bear a similar logic, format, and tempo yet accompanied by money, weapons, an entire administration, and out-n-out lying …

No wonder I have grown increasingly nihilistic. Haven’t you? The real-world violence I had projected in early days as a necessary consequence of internet representational tom-foolery has manifested most recently in some horrible superhardtruths: this week’s release first of missiles and then, the mother of all bombs. I’m left here, as are we all, in the digital fragments building yet another totem of “truths”—10 more superhardtruths in fact—from the debris:

Superhardtruth #1: the corporate-state-media muscle of the internet hides in plain sight below a sea of participatory good ‘n plenty only to manifest as real power, violence and control on demand

Superhardtruth #2: clown time is over

Superhardtruth #3: short, fast and fun will be the death of us, or at least some

Superhardtruth #4: virality is virility

Superhardtruth #5: our tiny contributions cascade into the mother of all bombs

Superhardtruth #6: #fakenews r us

Superhardtruth#7: internet self-reflexivity leads to corrosive mimicry

Superhardtruth #8: people need time to ponder so they can be truly ethical and thoughtful

Superhardtruth #9: people need people

Superhardtruth #10: people need art and complexity

Superhardconclusion: people make the internet. and bombs. and #fakenews. and poetry and song and community. Only we have the power to know and do better.

 

Emerson College professor Paul Mihailidis says: “We’ve seen again and again that just throwing tools at things doesn’t solve problems. How many tools and guides and kits to fake news have there been now that don’t get into where the origination of the problem really lies? There’s this ‘solutionism’ happening that doesn’t identify the core problems … Our Engagement Lab is a group of scholars interested in doing applied research and creating knowledge out of intervention, still staying true to academic method and theoretical grounding but being able to look at research with communities and in partnership with communities” News and media literacy the way it’s always been taught may not be the right response to fake news woes, Shan Wang

“Resistance School is a free four session practical training program to sharpen the tools we need to fight for our values at the federal, state, and local levels. Our goal is to keep the embers of resistance alive through concrete learning, community engagement, and forward-looking action. A syllabus you’ll actually read, the opening session of Resistance School dives into the steps necessary for engaging in effective communication for change by building on history, exploring the tools of value-based communication, and ultimately reviewing the most meaningful ways to enact this change in the world around us.”

“Corporate Universities and Corporate Museums have never been places of Free Speech. They have always curtailed opinion—because they are the private sector, indebted to corporate agreement … If we allow our confusions about Corporate and Public Opinion and Fake News to destroy our demand for open expression, the Palestine Solidarity Movement will be our next casualty. The people who ultimately suffer from the repression of painful Opinion are not the elite but, in fact, the powerless.” Open Casket, Sarah Schulman

#fakenews was never really the problem, just as quick fixes, tools-at-hand, or even a pillar of wisdom (or confusion) can never really be the solution. The internet is our condition: one of skepticism, bounty, expression, art, corporate control and structuring falsities. The internet is our condition of violence, our condition of power, and a place of resistance. It and we aren’t going anywhere … yet.

At #88, immersed in the rousing, thoughtful projects, labs, analyses, schools, art works, and voices that I’ve collected thus far on my path to #100hardtruths to better understand #fakenews, I begin to see a framework for questions rather than a set of ready answers:

  • Where are our cherished sites for learning about, making, and sharing values-based communication?
  • How deep must we go?
  • What are the qualities of duration necessary to sustain our work?
  • What or who are we trying to fix or resist?
  • Who are our people?
  • Where lies our power?
  • How can technology sustain us?

It is my sense that such questions need to be answered in communities of care and practice.

 

Tonight, I share this project at the Columbia Seminar: Sites of Cinema. Preparing this talk for this group of people in this place and at this time has allowed me to see #100hardtruths-#fakenews as a site of-for-and-against cinema (and as a failed site, see below) in that: it holds cinema; it holds arguments about what cinema can and can’t do in relation to fake news; it holds arguments about the world made through cinema and its related art forms: song, poetry, photography, language; and it holds implicit and explicit arguments against cinema because it is itself an internet construction that suggests that this here is the site most suitable for engaging with this, our world and its fake news. This form to hold cinema—a website—moves away from cinema’s linear, temporal, durational, unitary structure for holding complexity and spatializes it onto a grid, networks it to other films and works of art and analysis, and argues through a data-base montage logic of proximity, connection, flow, and false user agency and rather phony gestures of randomization.

Writing my talk, I found that there are 22 #100hardtruths that engage with or against cinema and its deep connections to the problem of #fakenews in a variety of ways. These #100hrdtruths:

  1. let cinema (video) speak the argument: #8 FAKE! and #29: interrupt the narrative
  2. let the argument speak through video: #45: oil at any cost
  3. let the argument made through poetry speak through cinema: #82: explain your irrational destruction before the eyes of humanity
  4. let the argument made through song speak thr0ugh cinema: #81: call the man of the year a liar
  5. let filmmakers speak the truth against #fakenews: #16: practice strategic contemplation and #65: #fakenews #realtalk #realtruth about black girls’ liberation
  6. argue that screening series are places of disruption that galvanize people: #23: Galvanize people at the crossroads of cinema and community and #49: support cinematic solidarity against Islamophobia
  7. honor films (especially experimental films) as sites of disruption and subversion: #25: evidence of the opaque and intricate apparatus of our reality needed; and #22: experimental escape routes needed; and #56: subversion through grinning; learn truths from radical black artists who lived through civil rights and #85: make productive fake documentaries
  8. imagine that art exhibitions can hold films and photos and tweets and videos in ways that help to provide clarity: #27: New image holding environments needed
  9. understand seeing as an act of disruption and expansion: #37: size matters; we have to be minimalist and #72: Learn how to see Palestine
  10. support protesting to protect the funding of cinema and art: #38: the NEA matters, fight for the least-seen to speak truth to power
  11. understand cinema or images theoretically through semiotics #42: phatic communication eases interactions but lessens information; affect, #43: emotional+rational resonances needed and historically, #71: cultural myths often lead to dominant ideologies
  12. think about photography and its relation to cinematic ways of seeing as critical given the current state of images: #44: black lives matter
  13. think against viral video: #62: don’t look

Just look at this list (above). Go look at my site. No matter how I try to make this project small, things lengthen and grow as they build toward 100!

I think my site for cinema—a stack. 5-20. A relatively simple form that itself holds great complexity—is most likely a failure: it got away from me. 100 is just too big, even if the component parts are small. I probably should have made a film, but wow, how? In 100 days? Instead, I have used the internet’s ready and cheap affordance of access to production, quotation, and distribution to construct another sort of failed (but not fake) site. I have made what I might think of (looking at it now in it near completion), as a monolith: one that has become both way too high (and too deep) due to this very internet ease of accumulation.

So perhaps, instead, I might want to propose that for better or worse my site for cinema has become a tower of babble. This is for the worst in the sense of being way too much noise to signal; but perhaps, I hope, for the better in honor of its etiology. Mine is a site of cinema that holds cultural differences and multiples ways of seeing and knowing, thereby acknowledging Babel as a model for one cradle for a civilization, or at least one of that civilization’s core problems and projects, that can and will not be simplified, made unified or uniform, and in this very chatter and clutter, what with all its diverse beauty, poetic precision, and self-contradictory proofs and competing claims for cure, lies the real, many, competing, truths of this moment, for which there is no quick fix, no simple to do list or listicle of self-improvements or ready-at-hand literacies, no one project or answer or image, but rather, what art and intellectualism and community always provide, in all of their exquisite, frustrating diversity, the ever-so brief reminder that, as Audre Lorde said, “We know what it is to be lied to, and we know how important it is not to lie to ourselves.”

In February 1982, when she delivered her address “Learning from the 60s” as part of the celebration of the Malcolm X weekend at Harvard University (this quote shared with me by Hugh Ryan as part of #100hardtruth #85), Audre Lorde said: “Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust.” Poetry, film, art, photography, our words and communities and cinemas can and must be the sites that distill this human clarity in all its rioting complexity.

This #100hardtruths was given to me by my friend and fellow-curator, the writer and speaker Hugh Ryan:
“I feel like all the time I see people getting sucked into discussions/disagreements online where they’re already hampered because they’re fighting using language that is stacked against them. Like when people end up using phrases like ‘pro-life.’

I feel like this is what Adrienne Rich was talking about when she said “The oppressor’s language,” or when David Wojnarowicz talked about the “pre-invented world.” Similar to what Audre Lorde was saying too with “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

I think there’s a long queer tradition of resisting how we are framed, and it is one that is useful in a world where things are majorly being reframed for a white-supremacist audience.”

David Wojnarowicz, Rimbaud in New York, 1978

See More:

We lose our history so easily, what is not predigested for us by the New York Times, or the Amsterdam News, or Time magazine.  Maybe because we do not listen to our poets or to our fools, maybe because we do not listen to our mamas in ourselves.  When I hear the deepest truths I speak coming out of my mouth sounding like my mother’s, even remembering how I fought against her, I have to reassess both our relationship as well as the sources of my knowing.  Which is not to say that I have to romanticize my mother in order to appreciate what she gave me – Woman, Black.  We do not have to romanticize our past in order to be aware of how it seeds our present.  We do not have to suffer the waste of an amnesia that robs us of the lessons of the past rather than permit us to read them with pride as well as deep understanding.

We know what it is to be lied to, and we know how important it is not to lie to ourselves.

We are powerful because we have survived, and that is what it is all about – survival and growth.

Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust.

2. To imagine a time of silence
or few words
a time of chemistry and music

the hollows above your buttocks
traced by my hand
or, hair is like flesh, you said

an age of long silence

relief

from this tongue this slab of limestone
or reinforced concrete
fanatics and traders
dumped on this coast wildgreen clayred
that breathed once
in signals of smoke
sweep of the wind

knowledge of the oppressor
this is the oppressor’s language

One specific idea is that the world is a place we’re born into with a preinvented existence, where everything’s been laid out. Perhaps the most radical thing you can do, then, is use your imagination. With all these different indicators seeming to press on you wherever you go—stopping for a traffic light, walking on the sidewalk instead of the middle of the street, the imagination, too, is shaped somehow. But I still think there are keys that can unlock it, you can break through a lot of things … like socialization.

In an article, “The Increasingly Unproductive Fake,” I wrote about The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), I film that I produced and also acted in: “We took up fake documentary form in The Watermelon Woman to make many related claims about history: history is untrue, true history is irretrievable, and fake histories can be real. Dunye (both as director of The Watermelon Woman and as doppelganger character in the film, the African-American lesbian, “Cheryl,” who is making a documentary film) knows that before she came along, African-Americans, women, and lesbians did make films—in and out of Hollywood. She also knows that their presence, unrecorded and unstudied, passed quickly out of history becoming unavailable even as she craves ancestors to authorize and situate her voice. So, Dunye fakes the history of a formidable forerunner, Fae “The Watermelon Woman” Richards, so that she can tell a story that she, Cheryl, needs to know, one that is close to true, and yet also faked, and therefore at once beyond but also linked to reality and all that the real authorizes and disguises.”

“Marlon Fuentes reminds us that the gaps and ellipses of history are ‘just as important as the objects we have in our hands.’ The intangible is not inarticulate: it speaks in an unauthorized, untranslated tongue understood by some. In The Watermelon Woman, Fae speaks to Cheryl in a voice both expressive and inconclusive. And Cheryl can hear her. This is enough to empower Cheryl, at film’s end, to conclude, “I am a black lesbian filmmaker and I have a lot to say.” She learns a truth that she needs from the lie that she made which is Fa(k)e.”

Alexandra Juhasz and Lisa Marie Bronson, photo by Zoe Leonard from the “Fae Richards Archive”

 

“Dunye and Cheryl’s simultaneous avowal and disavowal of the real marks The Watermelon Woman as a productive fake. An (unstable) identity is created, a community (of skeptics) is built, and an (unresolved) political statement about black lesbian history and identity is articulated. The desire to say and hear something true through words and images that are fragmentary and even fake is the multiple project of the productive fake documentary.”

Some of the Fae Richards Archive, Zoe Leonard.

“In much more recent writing, I argue that the language of fake documentary has become the dominant vernacular of YouTube, and therefore, this once queer strategy has become toothless, or unqueer, or straight. Whatever. The ironic wedge, sometimes also known as camp, which long and well served the under-served of the modern and post-modern by allowing for a critique of the norm by using its very discourses of power against it, is now the discourse of power. But, to be productively queer was never simply to copy and mock, even marked with a funny or flouncy flourish or a some serious realness, it was always to do so with an actual change in mind. And all this is to say, in conclusion, something simple, sad, and maybe even hard to hear: that perhaps the self-conscious, self-aware, self-evident copy-with-a-twist is no longer queer at all, no longer productive, and all that is left is to be real.”

See More:

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me: A Fake News Event” featuring Brooklyn College Professors MJ Robinson (Journalism), Katherine Fry (Television & Radio), and Beth Evans (Library) addressing the problems posed by fake news in current media. Part of We Stand Against Hate: a series of lectures, workshops, concerts, programs, and events that will elevate discourse around controversial political issues, and foster inclusiveness and peace at Brooklyn College.

Check out more We Stand Against Hate events:

After seeing pictures on TV—real, fake and hard-to-tell-and-does-it-really-matter (how can I know if the picture I include below is “real”? There are currently very few images of the damage from Trump’s missile strikes available online outside of those produced and shared by Russian journalism. Meanwhile the American military and press are releasing embedded images of the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air. How are our images being produced, controlled, circulated? What are the larger forces that influence virality and visibility? We need time to understand these and all images. We need to think through what to do with what we see. We need time and context and care) …

After he and we saw a picture on TV, Trump, the traditional and social media all moved fast. Too fast. Internet quick. With algorithmic speed. This is the dangerous cycle and logic of virality—one that moves with barely human (what I have called proto-being) momentum from images and tweets to missiles, directives, policing, travel bans all with long-term lived consequences for human beings and nations.

In #100hardtruths #80 I suggested we need strategies to “outlast virality.” “Outlast virility,” I suggest, in relation to a cycle of news, #fakenews, and related actions that have accelerated to a dangerous pitch where rational, legal and ethical care and consideration can no longer be exacted before we act. “Outlast virility” in connection to said speed and the virile weaponized powers of patriarchal aggression it authorizes.

The aftermath of a US air strike on a Syrian military base Instagram/Evegeny Poddubny

In 5 #hardtruths and 2 new pledges @#50 I worried that:

the delightful ambiguities of the fake/real binary are being played by this administration, and the sectors of the media and internet that are built upon and refract them, in ways that are at once confusing, entertaining, distracting and also deadly real for actual people and communities. Understanding and not simply producing contradiction; naming and not evading complexity; breaking through the digital hall of mirrors allow us to breaking through the digital hall of mirrors allow us to focus our attention and action upon the real-world applications of #fakenews, a critical project of this time.

See More: