Popcorn politics

Sarah Steimer

There are newspaper headlines, and then there are movie posters.

Despite the obvious differences, this country will time and time again choose the latter over the former for legitimate proof of political affairs.

How fiercely odd, in this time of economic strife, that we would rather spend about $10 for a movie instead of picking up a newspaper for about a tenth of the cost. How pathetically silly we must be to pay about $50 each month for digital cable when local and world broadcast news is free.

Yet we continue to get our news from the wrong sources because entertainment has risen – less like a phoenix and more like a savage blow-up Godzilla in a used car lot – far above the head of basic, true news.

“Fake” news, political satire and realistic fiction on television and in the movies is a great start, no doubt. There’s no problem with being knowledgeable about national and international affairs and then choosing to watch such satirical shows as “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report” as a source of entertainment related to hard news. But to look at such shows as the be-all, end-all of factual information should raise serious concern.

Maureen Dowd interviewed both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart in 2006, and Colbert said quite frankly to her: “I’m not a fan of facts. Facts can change all the time, but my opinion will never change.”

Dowd quickly followed this by noting New York magazine called Colbert’s self-created word, “truthiness,” the “summarizing concept of our age.”

Truthiness, defined by Urban Dictionary, is “the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.”

Example: I would like to believe that ranch dressing won’t go bad if you leave it on the counter instead of the refrigerator. But it’s not a fact.

What would make us want to bite our tongues in such a way as to be living the concept of truthiness? Whatever happened to truth? A classic is a classic, and it’s hard to beat something as bold and revered as point-blank facts.

These satirical TV programs aren’t the only time we tend to take a semi-truth for fact. Many never find the roots of political issues until a feature film throws the world on its head and everyone yelps, “If I had only known.”

You did know. These movie writers, producers and directors were not given news unbeknownst to the rest of the world. These filmmakers are not investigative journalists. In fact, they are just paying attention to the real investigative journalists working for the Post or the Times, while we pay no attention at all. They take that story and add special effects, and that’s when we finally pay attention.

We had no idea the Iraq war has very deep roots in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan of the early 1980s until we saw “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

We never, ever would have guessed that lobbyists were so steeped in twisted words and ugly, stretched truth until we saw “Thank You for Smoking.”

And there will probably, sadly, be people who had no idea that George Bush became president just because of his family. They will have had no idea that he has a drug- and alcohol-addled past. Not until Oliver Stone releases “W” next Friday will many realize Bush really may be the president we should have elected.

Entertainment keeps us sane, but entertainment shouldn’t do much more. For those who believe in (or at least understand the concept of) the separation of church and state – I propose the separation of entertainment and real news. Satirical newscasts and feature film biopics have their place in the world of news. They are to serve as the exclamation point, the emphasis on factual information and never the root source of fact.

Sarah Steimer is a junior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].