Anti-vaccination and flat earth are just as real as anything else. This is because nothing is real anymore. About hyper-reality and Post-Truth politics

How did We Lose The Gatekeepers

Today we live in a very different political world. The traditional media has lost its powers and their dominance over news coverage. One reason for this is that the time today is “faster” than it used to be. I’m not talking about the physical (if it is physical) time we monitor with clocks, but the social times we live in. Today information moves faster and faster, and old news outlets have problems to keep up with it. People with a camera in their phones can film and upload things to social media, as they happen in their proximity.

The media was the “gatekeepers” of information and news. They went out, and sorted out the truth from false, as they gave us their detailed examination of the events. Thus, on theory, as it wasn’t in all cases, they delivered us a detailed and examined chain of events, a story. Today, in this current ever-increasing speed of social time, they are no longer able to take their time and investigate what happened. Good things need time, and truth also. Now they cannot sort out the true or false anymore; they don’t have this luxury. If their competition will publish things before them, or information is already spreading in social media, they cannot afford to stay behind and not to publish. Thus, the time window they have to examine and sort out things is becoming shorter and shorter

Another thing is that traditional news outlets are not the only players in “reporting” anymore. Social media gives the ability to report what is going on to everyone, as long as they have a camera. Anyone can speak to the masses if his post\tweet becomes viral. This raises a problem for the average person, who to trust? Who is right? Who should I believe?

 

Who to trust? The numbers battle.

In Israel every time there is a demonstration against something the government does, a battle for the numbers is starting. It appears that the number of demonstrators is important to everyone as it represents its social power and support. So, after every demonstration, everybody needs to address THE number of demonstrators. And then the problem begins. More right winged newspapers, either ignore the demonstration or report a small amount of participants. Left winged newspapers report a more significant number of people and push the event to the front page. Other papers, either give a different number or try to be vague about it, using vague terms like “tens of thousands.” People who participated in the demonstration claim that “they were there” so they know, and the “REAL” number was much higher than the newspapers reported, because “they are biased.” Other people who are in the opposite side of the political map, and had a demonstration against the demonstration claim that the numbers were minimal, and that all the left wing people lie because they are biased.

You as a viewer at home, cannot tell who is right or wrong. As if, the real event took place, and it is detached from the social world. “Real events” are there, but we only see interpretations of them as the real incident is forever lost in the haystack. All we can do is believe someone.

 

Hyperreality and Post-truth politics

This phenomenon is called “hyperreality,” and it was first coined by Jean Baudrillard. He argues that hyperreality is a situation when the real and its representations/simulations are in such a state of a blur, that we cannot distinguish between the real and not anymore. Meaning the real no longer exists, as the simulation of the real had become reality.

For example, people who watch the “Big Brother” knows it is a simulation or a situation which is not entirely real. As the viewers grow older, they might start mimicking the people who participate in these “reality” TV shows. Thus, this simulation of reality becomes a reality, as reality becomes a simulation of the simulation of reality, so nobody knows what is real or not anymore.

A good lecture of Rick Roderick about this matter gives another good example. He talks about Jurassic Park. We saw the movie, saw how the dinosaurs run around and act. If we were to see real dinosaurs, we might be disappointed. Maybe they don’t roar at all? Perhaps they don’t try to eat anything most of the time and want to sit in the sun and do nothing all day long? By that time, if we were to meet these dinosaurs, we would get upset. “Hi! These are not real dinosaurs!” but the problem is precisely that. These are the real dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park are not. But in hyperreality, we would confuse the real and the unreal. The real become unreal, as the simulation of it, becomes reality.

 

You choose what you belive in

This leads to a post-truth world. There is no truth, as conflicting information is apparent for almost anything that is going on. In this hyperreality-post truth decade, we are lost. We cannot know what has happened as the representations (both of signs and images) are detached and became interpretations, distorted through various mechanisms. Not only that, when a lot of different representations appear, and they contradict each other, and we cannot verify them for ourselves, all we have left is to choose blindly. The false and the real had become one. We have to decide what we think the truth is. Thus, everybody can pick something that he or she feels comfortable with. If you are from the left side of the political map, you will go with X, and if you are from the opposite camp, you will go with Y. Neither is correct nor wrong, they both chose mistakes, as the real event might have been different in the real world.

This can explain how people believe that the world is flat. How people object to vaccination and deny the evolution theory. All of these are FACTS, as they are repeatedly proven in science. But, today, facts become just another interpretation. Through the boom of information which also might be false information, people can find things on the net that fall in line with their beliefs. These beliefs are beliefs, as almost all of them are not doctors, they are not researches and have no idea what they talk about. But in this hyperreality situation, a post-truth world, they can find enough information (though it might be a lie or false) that makes them believe the un-true is true. They can also be lead to believe in false information, as we saw bots can manipulate debates.

It feels like that the truth, and reality had gone extinct. The internet is like a vast store that people can just go in and shop for different realities that suit their needs. No one cares anymore for the truth, for real information, that was carefully distilled from false information. This is because the real, becomes just another interpretation, another simulation in the vast ocean of information and possibilities. “don’t confuse them with facts,” they like to say. The problem that there are facts for everything, even if they are not true. So people are just lost unable to distinguish the true from the false.

 

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Banal Nationalism in Popular Japanese TV shows.

Though I hate to watch Japanese TV, I mostly have no choice in the matter. My wife watches TV, or keep it open almost the entire time she is at home. I guess she likes the sound. I often just put music on, even though lately I enjoy the quite.  But when I lived alone in Japan for the first time, I did find myself open the Israeli news or Israeli programs while cleaning or cooking, just to hear a voice. I guess people don’t like to be alone, and the sounds of people are talking, even though it is the TV, makes their loneliness a bit more comfortable to deal with.

So I have to watch, passively, a lot of Japanese TV shows. I submissively accept my fate, but also use that for my thesis, as I focus a lot on Japanese advertisements and certain aspects of their TV shows. Sometimes I come across things that I find very interesting. Through those TV programs, I can get a glimpse into the social reality of the Japanese society. Their fears, their beliefs, and prejudices.

One of the most prominent aspects of those shows, the “variety” shows, is banal nationalism. We tend to think that the Japanese are not nationalistic, due to the fact that we often view nationalism as a more right-winged militaristic, pro-war xenophobic kind of thing. But, as Michael Billing shows, nationalism can be very banal – as he calls it “banal nationalism.”. Banal nationalism is the everyday things we do, that manifest or creates the ground for our nationalistic views. But if everybody in your neighborhood will put the national flag in their front lawn, or everybody would see the national team’s game, even though they dislike the sport itself, those things could be signs of nationalism. Billing even gives the example of national symbols on money or popular expressions like “God bless America.”

The case of Japanese nationalism is a more peculiar one. It is less visible and more subtle. It is rare to see houses that hang the Japanese national flag. Usually, the Japanese society views everything militaristic with great caution and fear, as it reminds them of their past – which they try to bury. The absence of many of the “classic” nationalistic practices make Japanese nationalism elusive. But, if one will look closer, he or she will find Japan nationalism everywhere, particularly in many small daily life instances.

For example, they have tons of shows that deal with the view of foreigners in Japan. Meaning, what those “gaijins” think about us. What they mostly look for are compliments. “WOW” “Japan is GREAT.” So they give these foreigners Japanese food, for them to say that it is tasty. They show them around and film their amazed faces. Lately, they even catch people right off the plane, in the airport, and ask them for the purpose of their visit. Obviously, when people see a camera, they answer a bit differently, but most of them say things like “I always wanted to come to Japan,” as the Japanese audience feel an orgasmic sensation from hearing those comments. The ones who have a bit of a special case, they continue to follow them around.

Japan has a long history with the issue of “inferiority complex.” They had one with China. China was the center of the political system of the far east basically until the Europeans came and stripped China to the bone. Japan saw China as a role model and felt inferior to it. They adopted the Chinese writing system “kanji,” some sort of Confucianism; the Buddhism also came from China through Korea and many more. But, after a while, Japan tried to level the playing field, calling the Japanese emperor with the same title as the Chinese one in official correspondences and such.

Japan had the same dynamics with the West, first, when they reopened up to the world after long seclusion, they learned everything they could from the west, in order to survive. They understood that the West’s military power is unrivaled, and they have to attain this strength to survive, and not end like China – which was more or less their role model up until that time. At that time China was the became the role model of “how not to survive in the age of colonialism 101”. So they rapidly modernized and attained great military strength that ended fueling their own colonialism in East Asia. Then they tried to level the playing field with the West, to be seen as equal and modern. But they also viewed Japan as superior in many other aspects, mostly after the economic miracle of the 50s – 70s, which Japan became an economic superpower.

Those conflicting feelings of inferiority and supremacy, still visible to the “trained” scholarly eye. Through those TV shows, Japan uses the “others” gaze to reaffirm their own superiority. As if saying “here, the Gaijins think that we are SO AWESOME,” we must really be that awesome, maybe even more than they “the gaijins” do. Maybe if they like us so much, we ought to love ourselves as well, perhaps we are a fantastic place?

But it also incorporates their own high self-esteem – which could be viewed as nationalism. They wouldn’t give foreigners things to eat if they weren’t sure that they would like it. They wouldn’t go and make people experience stuff if they would hate them, right? So it is a final approval or quality check for their own beliefs about themselves. They think that they are great, but, they also need a bystander to affirm that for them, preferable “white western”.

Another type of these kinds of shows are about Japanese people going abroad. They have the normal type of shows that the celebrity of the day go and experience tourist attractions. But, they have another kind of shows, that are also used to enhance the Japanese views of themselves (nationalism). One show is when they send a Japanese craftsman, artists or specialists to other countries to help someone in a dire need. This is to show how amazing Japanese (mostly traditional) skills are. As the foreigners left speechless while watching the Japanese specialist work hard, and saves the day with skills that are unimaginable to them before that encounter.

The second type of shows that deal with Japanese people who live abroad, deal with Japanese people who live in untraditional places, like in Africa or developing countries in Asia and so on. In many cases, they try to show a success story, how these Japanese became rich, or famous. One time they went to I think it was Kirghistan and showed how a certain Japanese male became a celebrity there. In another case, they went to Italy to show how another Japanese male, succeeded in the “X-factor” show, to become extremely famous. They followed him around Europe when he got invitations to participate in many other reality shows, while telling his “amazing background story,” as he climbed Mount Everest and so on.

All those different shows, create the idea that the Japanese people, society, values, and state are amazing. If the “others” come here and are amazed, and we go there, and we are successful and can use our unique skills and ethics to help “gaijins,” we are surely an amazing people. Putting It all creates a story, about the superiority of the Japanese in many aspects. This is Japanese nationalism.

A good example is this would be the compliments the Japanese people received when “the world” was amazed by the way Japanese fans cleaned the stadium after their team’s matches in the world cup. They consider these kinds of things as signs for their moral superiority and triumph of their values, as other fans do not clean after themselves. But the thinking is deeper than just “other fans”, it goes like this.  fans -> other countries -> other moral and value systems -> we are superior in our values of cleanness and order, and caring for the other.

Obviously, they also show how “others” are superior to the Japanese in some aspects, as they modestly view themselves in some instances. But this is another story.

Another example of nationalism in commercials would be this commercial. You could see how many German people dance and sing “we love agriculture, as the “we love” part is spoken in German as the “agriculture” part is spoken in Japanese. While between these lines they say the name of the company “Kubota.” As they all finally reach a place looks like a “farmers market,” and all the Germans gather around Japanese women, who dressed quite different from the German surrounding her,  as it can be understood that she worked there and prepared the food they now eat. And in the end, it says Kubota even helps agriculture in Germany. As I can see it, it is we the Japanese, are so skilled, even Germany, a first world western country with amazing skills, use our help. For me, maybe some people won’t accept that claim, it is a kind of nationalism. I think that its nationalism because it shows how the “Japanese” make food for the Germans, as they all singing and dancing thanks to us.

Of course, they want to show the global aspect of the company. Only showing agriculture in Japan would downgrade this big corporation. It is understandable that they want to show that even among highly developed countries, our products a popular, and we succeed in our business there. But they could do it in another manner, without the act of gathering around the Japanese person who made the food. They could show German farmers use this company’s products, without a Japanese celebrity there to “make food”, and getting complimented for it.

Do not get me wrong; every nation needs to be proud of their culture and achievements. Evey nation has some degree of nationalism, as people usually like their state and culture. The problem with this Japanese version is that it heavily relies on the constant comparison, as it is mostly in the state of relativity to the others. How do we compare to them, how they, think about us. In Israeli TV those shows do not exist, and I never saw or heard people from other countries say that they have similar TV programs. The fact that they keep comparing themselves show how insecure they are about their own value.

But, the real problem is that it repetitively creates the rigid dichotomy of “us” and “them.” This dichotomy creates a xenophobic view of the others, and reduce the ability to accept cultural differences and understand them. The Japanese people are used to constantly measure different value systems against each other through those TV shows. When a society gets used to looking at “others” behavior or practices as representative of their moral values, and that they regularly have to compare those value systems and decide which is better, it leaves no room for acceptance. The thinking that those two (or more) ways to do something, are acceptable and none are better than the other, just different now existing in these kinds of shows. In my opinion, this makes it harder to accept differences that might arise from foreigners who come to LIVE (not to travel) in Japan.

It might be a bit harsh to say those things, but this is my analysis of these kinds of shows, and how they fit into the definition of “banal nationalism”, WHICH is prevalent in any country, not just Japan.

This is how you actually live in the matrix. How your political ideas and understanding of the world is being manipulated and shaped by others.

In relation to my previous post, I would like to continue to argue that the reality we live in is false through the manipulation of various forces. Thus the attempt to determine what is the real human nature is impossible.

Every time we walk down the street, use the public transportation or visit the mall, advertisements surround us. Though most of us tend to ignore these posters or screens, we are being influenced by them. Williamson, a CDA (Critical discourse analysis) and media discourse researcher, wrote the book “decoding advertisements.” She argues that advertisements form a system of meaning, or structures of meaning, that sell us ourselves. Meaning, ads shape and form meaning, through our interpretation of them. Its functions are to steer our understanding of them, but not control it entirely, thus leaving us a room to form a unique individual understanding. Their function is to connect things to human values and feelings. For example to connect diamonds with eternal love and vice versa. Ads are used to connect the dots, the feelings to the products, in order to shape our understanding of the world. Ads influence the way we view society, as ads usually tell us that “everybody do this or that” and that it is normal. Though it might be a lie at first, it can become truth, as more and more people succumb to this “fact” ads made for us.

Through consumption, we come to understand our role in society in a capitalist society. If we buy expensive things, it means we belong to a higher status in society. If we have a particular hairstyle, and we dress with specific brands, it signifies that we belong to a certain group of people. Through ads, we understand the world around us because they sort out for us the material reality around us. Through advertisements, we know that “coca cola” is for “young spirits” or that “Nike” is for people who live a healthy lifestyle (but not those who actually make these products).

To achieve that, advertisements were changed and modified to attack and manipulate our unconscious minds. Ewen Stuart in his book “Captains of consciousness,” depict how this came to be. In the past (before the 20th century), ads were the same as long articles, which explained in a rational manner to potential customers, why these goods are “good” and worth buying. People didn’t buy out of desire but out of necessity, as thrift was a virtue. As production expanded, the heads of the market came to realize that they have to convince the public to consume out of desire, so that the rate of consumption would meet the ever-increasing rate of production. So, people like Edward Bernays used Freud’s (he was his nephew) theories to convince us through our unconscious desires. To make the irrational to be rational.

This is how we came to think about cars, not as “tools” but as symbols that will enable men to “get the girl.” This is why people eat and consume when they are sad or happy. In Japan, KFC took over Christmas, as people came to understand that Christmas equals eating fried Chicken in KFC. Valentines came to be associated with chocolate. In Israel, a holiday called “Shavuot” came to symbolize dairy products. Dairy products became “the right way” to prepare the holiday’s dinner table. Ads and campaign do this “matching” as they shape our understanding of social events as well.

This is how ads control our environment and shape our understanding of the world. But today in the era of WEB 2.0, this “shaping” of our environment became even worse. Regarding ads, we know that they are there to convince us. We can resist them to some degree (we mostly don’t unless we are incredibly aware and have studied about ads history and way they operate), things became worse. The recent turmoil about Facebook and the U.S elections show to how degree it is dangerous in the current era.

First, we have the notion of “Filter Bubble.” Through Filter bubbles, we become isolated from ideas on the internet and social media as we are exposed to the same ideas over and over again. Facebook algorithm for example, “study” us and our likes and dislikes, and monitor our activities, thus determine where we are on the “political scale.” When the algorithm knows what we like, it tends to show us things that align with our tendencies. For example, if you are Vegan, it might show you more pro-vegan articles, shares, and opinions over articles and opinions regarding other matters. You might come to think that “most people you know are vegan” or that “Vegan beliefs are expanding rapidly”. But, it might be an illusion due to the “filter bubble” that isolates you from other pressing matters.

Another problem of the “filter bubble” is that the algorithm “knows” what we hate, and is programmed to give us small doses of “hatred.” We tend to engage with extreme opinions because they trigger us. The algorithm notice that, and starts to show us more extreme opinions from the other political spectrum. This helps to create the false notion that the “other side” had lost it.

This means that our political environment is being shaped and manipulated. Before that, people read newspapers, and they knew, more or less, what agenda which paper has. But today, when we search in google, different people come across different results. Two people can look for the word “Egypt,” and one will see tourist attractions, while the other will see news about “the Arab spring” or Isis. When we go on FB news are shared and appear on their own. The algorithm decided what we “want” to see. Thus, we falsely think that we expand our horizons as we read the “news“ and search the net, while we actually explore the same ideas over and over again, as they shape our limited understanding of the world outside. So is there really a reality? We might actually start to doubt that.

More so, the social media is being polluted with bots, which spread posts and create false engagement with them. Thus, these opinions become “viral” because those fake profiles – bots, share and like them. It was found that in Israel the right side of the political spectrum, uses many bots to create more engagement with their leader’s posts. Due to this fact, more people are being exposed to those ideas or messages, as FB treat them as “viral”.

When we read a politician’s post or a news article about something they said or done. These are used to create the misrepresentation that these opinions or leaders are more popular than they are. It might convince us that this opinion is popular and that it might be right. But they also use bots that use fake profiles to make this appearance. They also pay people to comment and argue with other people, to enhance the misrepresentation, not only for popularity to “our arguments” but also to deem the other side with labels, such as “traitor” or “detached from reality.”

Thus, many “realities” we come to understand might be fake. We live in an era when the truth is obsolete. I will write about “post-truth politics” in my next post.