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Hullabaloo


Friday, September 16, 2016

 

Good Villains and Bad ones

by Tom Sullivan

The way truthiness has replaced truth in our culture has led us to this situation in which a denizen of Bizarro World has a shot at becoming president of the United States. Reality has become inverted, a negative image of the world that is hard on the eyes to read. It is not simply the nature of this political season, but the product of a concerted effort to break down what Al Gore called "inconvenient truths" into constituent bits and to reassemble them into more sellable ideological products. Or as Joni Mitchell sang, to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Thus, people believe voter fraud is rampant, though rampant is nowhere to be found. On lists of potential threats to health and safety, people rank the quantifiably least likely as the most concerning. Hillary Clinton is believed an "inveterate liar," while analysts' data say the opposite.

"When the public sees Trump as more honest than Clinton," writes Nicholas Kristof, "something has gone wrong." He cites Politifact's files on both Clinton and Trump and ponders how we have come to such straits. The media falling for simplistic narratives is one trap. :

President Gerald Ford had been a star football player, yet somehow we in the media developed a narrative of him as a klutz — so that every time he stumbled, a clip was on the evening news. Likewise, we in the media wrongly portrayed President Jimmy Carter as a bumbling lightweight, even as he tackled the toughest challenges, from recognizing China to returning the Panama Canal.

Then in 2000, we painted Al Gore as inauthentic and having a penchant for self-aggrandizing exaggerations, and the most memorable element of the presidential debates that year became not George W. Bush’s misstatements but Gore’s dramatic sighs.
Paul Krugman warned recently that Hillary Clinton this election is getting "Gored." Screenwriter Craig Mazin responded in a tweetstorm it is because "the media sells you a narrative dressed as truth."
Narratively, Clinton makes a Good Villain. Good Villains are smart. They have plans, friends in high places. They are competent. Trump is none of those things. He makes for a Bad Villain. He's harder to write about.

Hollywood admits it is in the narrative business, Mazin writes. The press pretends it is not. Kristof insists that journalists have a duty to call out Bad Villains like Trump, even if people find it easier to roll with a good story than with the truth.

There are crackpots who believe that the earth is flat, and they don’t deserve to be quoted without explaining that this is an, er, outlying view, and the same goes for a crackpot who has argued that climate change is a Chinese-made hoax, who has called for barring Muslims and who has said that he will build a border wall and that Mexico will pay for it.

We owe it to our readers to signal when we’re writing about a crackpot. Even if he’s a presidential candidate. No, especially when he’s a presidential candidate.
But you shouldn't hold your breath. BTW, Bad Villains seem to run in the family: