In writing about fakeness itself as a foundational element of YouTube in 2009, I bemoaned the chilling effects of Barack Obama being heralded as the “YouTube President.”

Obama’s YouTube jam goes like this: the serious usually marks the funny, but in his version, get this: the serious is… the serious. Really. YouTube is all irony, all the time, and our YouTube President wittily plays it against itself. Sincerely folks, on YouTube, who came first, Tina Fey or Sarah Palin? I think you know the answer. On YouTube, what gets watched more: Obama’s fire-side chats, Obama GirlObama on Ellen, or Obama via Yes, we can. Irony-free? “No, you can’t.”

President Obama, speaking recently about Facebook’s fake news problem, continued along this perhaps too-open vein: “If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect.”

In 2009, as if in direct conversation with today’s tired President, and the dilemma that I had regretfully anticipated, I suggested:

that there are real perils for a visual culture (and the real it is or will be) where irony becomes so dominant as to be invisible. Irony, and the fake documentary that often packages it, has served long and well as a modernist distancing device, sometimes productively enabling a structure for radical critique. As YouTube makes this style omnipresent, however, its function changes, its edges soften, the firm ground of the resolute double deconstructs beneath our feet. We are in ironic free-fall. We plunge into a viewing posture of disbelief, uncertainty, and cynicism about everything on YouTube, about watching it, about believing.

Only seven years later, it appears that the ironic free-fall I claimed might result from over-enjoying our first YouTube/Google+ President has indeed contributed to the making of our even newer internet president, who recently broadcast his own executive remarks on YouTube. According to The New York Times:The video underscored the extent to which Mr. Trump intends to try to navigate around the traditional newspaper and television media outlets as he seeks to communicate his message to the public.”

For More of my Fakery:


By this oxymoron I mean:

  • that contemporary (and past) media manipulations and deceptions exist on the internet in increasing numbers and with expanding reach
  • these have fomented crises during the recent election and current administration, as well as in the past
  • there are and have been lived, material consequences (of serious concern) produced in the confusing wake of this structuring contradiction, including the election of our current President (see #100truths-#fakenews #3 and reading list, below).

For more complexity see:

  • “Triumph of the Will”: Document or Artifice?, by David B. Hinton
    “What struck me about the way that Trump supporters view Trump is how similar it is to the ways in which Hitler was also viewed. Leni Riefenstahl was instrumental in creating the spectacle and artifice around Hitler and the Nazi party, and the ways that Trump has uses fake news mirrors some of that (even beyond the similarities of some of his proposed policies).”  Recommended by Jennifer Jee Cho, MA Candidate, Cinema & Media Studies, USC
  • Framing the Internet in the Arab Revolutions: Myth Meets Modernity, by Miriyam Aouragh
    “The attached article supports the idea of needing a more critical citizen engagement with the internet. Something else that this article does in a very understated way is point out that the relationship between the internet and produced fakeness/realness changes based on where/when we are in the world. Your op-ed points out that, in a Western/American context, the internet is our source for producing, consuming, and sharing fake content. But it’s just as important to note that the internet can become a place of very real Western (re)configurations of non-Western narratives, cultures, and social and political structures, effectively acting as a tool for the production of neocolonialism and its real effects.” Recommended by Mary Michael
  • My book, F is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth’s Undoing, edited with Jesse Lerner, University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
  • #100hardtruths-#fakenews: a primer on digital media literacy


FakeTube: Join the Search!

December 3, 2008

I am MP:me. I use my laptop’s tiny camera, imovie, and YouTube to make and network small, “bad” videos as part of my femi-digi-praxis. In this attempt, I’m out seeking productive fake docs on YouTube. Care to help me?

In my book, F is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth’s Undoing (which I edited with Jesse Lerner) I define the fake documentary as “fiction films that make use of (copy, mock, mimic, gimmick) documentary style and therefore acquire its associated content (the moral and social) and associated feelings (belief, trust, authenticity) to create a documentary experience defined by their antithesis, self-conscious distance.”  Perhaps you’ve noticed, but such things litter, no really define, video on YouTube. Once the fake to a certainly dicey but notable real, on YouTube fake docs are the real to a decidedly disappeared belief, trust and authenticity. YouTube is dominated by mimicky gimmicks, glib repetitions, fake takes on the already untrue. So many media morsels gleefully winking at their near mirror image; so many video bloggers tipping their hats to their multiple fabricated selves. That’s the funny and fake vernacular of YouTube: this sincere attempt at academic discourse and communication withstanding. Hey: you try to be earnest, genuine, yourself, in this sea of irony. Believe me, no one will trust its really you…

Now, the productive fake doc is another story. In the book we included 15 chapters on the sub-genre. But look as I may, I can’t find ‘em on YouTube. I defined productive fake docs “as those that self-consciously and directly engage with history, identity and truth in a political and formal project that links and unlinks power to the act of recording the visible world and to the documentary record produced.” This is where you come in.

I’ve been invited to give some talks in early 2009 about shifting media boundaries—fake/real, documentary/art—and I know that this must be happening on YouTube. Everything does. But why go it alone–solo pundit braving it in the video wilds–when what I study is famously based upon the new structures of collective intelligence, the wisdom of crowds, and the out-sourcing of labor in the name of fun.

Will you send me your favorite productive fake doc and participate in the play (here, on YouTube or Facebook)? Share with me a link and make sure to add a comment if you want to convince me. And I’ll need it by early January to make the cut. If I like what I see and also what you say, I’ll include you in my glamorous upcoming talks in Iowa or at CAA. I promise.

Oh. Also: Could you pass this on? Network it? Can I trust you? Use you? I don’t know where this project will end. But you can certainly follow me on-line as I attempt my productive fake quest through our contemporary video mess.