Remember a few weeks ago when I told you to look at Sarah Aswell’s website? You probably did it, because we have that trust. But maybe you are one of the millions of casual readers who primarily view Combat! blog as a website they haven’t visited, and you slept on her. If that’s the case I pity you, because the New Yorker just made all such people look like assholes. Yesterday, Daily Shouts published “Jeremy, the Last Man on Earth” by one Sarah Aswell. It is hilarious. The very premise assures you: “Before all of this started, I said that I wouldn’t date Jeremy if he were the last man on Earth. Now that he is, I question the hyperbole.” Those are the first two sentences, and they already deliver a funny joke. Not only that, but they also cleanly establish what’s happening and who the speaker is, along with a substantial portion of her personality. I cannot say enough good things about this piece, which is among the funniest things I’ve seen from Sarah in a dozen years of watching her be funny. Read it! What’s wrong with you? Do you not like to laugh? Are you some kind of empty robot, clanking around and making money and wasting time that a human with interiority would use for laughing? Well, prove it.
When I first read “Pibroch of the Domhnall,” a lyric poem celebrating the presidency of Donald Trump, it was in the context of an Independent story that made it sound like the poem would be read at Trump’s inauguration. It won’t. Although “Pibroch of the Domhnall” is an occasional poem Joseph Charles McKenzie wrote for Trump’s inauguration, it is not his inaugural poem. Snopes makes that clear, and in so doing throws a little shade at the Independent for sharing the story on social media with the tagline “Donald Trump to pay tribute to British heritage at inauguration with poem about Scotland.”
That formulation crosses the line between misleading and untrue. Instead of calling “Pibroch of the Domhnall” a Trump inauguration poem and letting the reader conclude it’s the inauguration poem, this version explicitly says the poem will happen at the inauguration. But it’s not the headline; it’s a social media post. Should the Independent apply to its Facebook posts the same standards of fact it applies to news stories?
The knee-jerk answer is yes. The newspaper relies on its reputation for accuracy, and that reputation attaches to its name on Facebook as readily as it does in print. But do we therefore expect them to fact-check every tweet? Must they respond to every @ with the same ethics that guide the sports page? Or do we kind of expect from social media a modicum of just sayin’ stuff?
We probably agree the social-media portrayal of how this poem relates to Trump’s inauguration is dishonest and therefore bad. But I suspect we also agree that it’s not as bad as if they did it in the newspaper. If this is true, and we expect more scrupulous accuracy in the news, then it follows that we expect the amount of dishonesty on social media to be greater than zero.
Finally, society has developed a system of mass communication less trustworthy than the newspaper. That we would not only welcome this advancement but also hold it to a lower standard of truth than other media—even as we panic over “fake news”—suggests that truth is not our number-one priority when it comes to information.
We want to know the truth, of course. But we want to know the truth already; we want the truth to support our existing views. The “truth” that Trump’s inaugural poem is rhyming doggerel about how Barack Obama was a tyrant confirms our view of the new president as a classless boor. It matters that it’s not his official inauguration poem, but it doesn’t really matter. The theme of that untrue story is true.
My favorite stanza is the one that celebrates the defeat of academia:
Academe now lies dead, the old order rots,
No longer policing our words and our thoughts;
Its ignorant hirelings pretending to teach
Are backward in vision, sophomoric in speech.
I’m so sick of college policing my thoughts. This poem really captures something about the marriage between smug populism and conservative opportunism that gave us President Trump. They really ought to read it at his inauguration. But we ought not to spread that untrue story on social media, even though it’s what we want to do. Perhaps some of that old, thought-policing order is good for us.
Once again, there is very little Combat! blog today, because I must hit deadline after deadline. It was my understanding that writing for a living would mostly involve wearing a big sweater and drinking coffee. That’s true, I guess, but they also make you type like a mother. I have typed away my whole day, or at least my ability to compose within it, and now I must rest. While I slumber, feed, and try to defeat whatever virus I contracted on the plane, how about you read this story about the president-elect claiming, without evidence, that the vote was rigged. I’m trying not to nurse the absurd fantasy that recounts will undo the results of this month’s election. If they did, it might arguably be worse for the country than an actual Trump presidency. But to think that our chief executive will spend the next four years Just Sayin’ Stuff on Twitter—and through goodness-know-what official organs—is to stand at the edge of the abyss. We’ll be back tomorrow with something else—anything else. Oh god.
There is no Combat! blog today, because Jodi and I are flying to Salt Lake City to see Curt in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. I saw that shit at the Kennedy Center, but we’re doing it all again, because I am a Beautiful: The Carole King Musical superfan, at least as long as Curt is in it. While I prepare to critique another lighting design, how about you read this terrifying article from Buzzfeed, which found that fake news outperformed real news on Facebook during the last three months of the election. We always worry about the legal half of democracy being usurped by some tyrannical government, but we rarely talk about the social half—the informed citizenry that makes democracy not just constitutional but wise. It does little good to have everyone vote on the issues of the day when no one agrees what those issues are, or they agree on some pleasing lie they told one another on Facebook. On a completely unrelated note, the president-elect took to Twitter last night to take credit for keeping a Ford plant in Kentucky from moving to Mexico. Minor detail: the plant was never closing. Ford planned to move production of the Lincoln MKC to Mexico and produce more Escapes at the Kentucky plant, for a net change of zero jobs. But Trump declared that he “worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!” Welcome to the post-truth presidency.
I wrote this week’s column for the Missoula Independent on Monday, when all I could think about was the outcome of the election. It ran this morning, which, as you may have heard, is after the election. The conceit is that I hedged my bets for either outcome, in a column about local traffic light replacement that didn’t need to mention the election at all. I can’t tell if it’s funnier this way or not. Probably the part about stamping tin hats for war with Mexico isn’t really going to happen, but you be the judge. I admit that, as I wrote it, I was picturing a Clinton presidency. What makes God laugh? A plan. We will not be back tomorrow with Friday links, because I am on my way to New Orleans for a much-needed dudes weekend. This, too, was planned with a Clinton victory in mind, but I bet we’ll have fun anyway. In the meantime, keep batting ideas around in the comments. We’ve got the whole future ahead of us.