Sunday, July 26, 2020

fake news

                "He'd say it began with a hum.  Just a tiny tenor, a vibration inside the can.
                 Noon, and the cabinets shook and the forks hummed like the rims
                   of drinking glasses. Who knew a tiny thing could be so loud."

                from "Mini-Mermaid Found in Tuna Sandwich"

A couple months back, when writing things were just beginning to come back, the pins and needles threading through my creative desires, I started plotting a series of poems based on Weekly World News headlines, most from the 70-90's when the publication was at it's trashy best and copies still available in every grocery store checkout line in America.  A facebook friend had posted the one about Titanic babies just sort randomly on her feed and I spent several minutes laughing, which for the past few months, is a rare thing, and then set to work collecting the most interesting and ridiculous headlines for plundering. There were tuna sandwich mermaids and Hilary Clinton alien babies.  Dick Cheney as a robot.  A horse that could talk like a man.  All of it spoke to something of the ridiculousness of today's environment and conspiracy theories, fake news, outright lies.  Daily I have a moment where the headlines are so ridiculous I have to check to make sure it's not The Onion or Reductress, or some other satire site.  Sadly, the headlines seem to be real--what politicians say, how people behave in stores when asked to wear masks or not be assholes. What is held to be acceptable in American culture. Even rewarded. I check in with Snopes at least a couple times a week. And the number of people who readily believe some of this stuff-Covid and 5G, Bill Gates and his desire to microchip our brains. What festers on some "news" sites.  I always wanted to think the internet made us smarter than we were before it, more informed,  but I definitely think the opposite these days.

As for the WWN, of course, no one really thought the headlines were real.  Or at least I never assumed anyone did as I stared wide eyed, hip height, barely reading,  in the checkout aisle while my mom paid for groceries. We didn't buy them, of course, my mom's only periodical purchases (and then only on vacation, vasrious True Story magazines (which can be a whole other blog entry).I read plenty of Glamour and Cosmo, passed off from my aunt who was a big subscriber to things. As a teen, I subscribed to Teen, Seventeen, and later Sassy.Tabloids, however, were always sort of a read-in-passing thing.  I learned early that you had your more respectable National Enquirer sort of content--largely about celebrities and things that were slightly strange, but close enough to reality to be believed.  Then you had WWN, which blew the top off sanity and seemed to revel in it's own ridiculousness.  I suppose the big difference now is that people knew better than to get their news in a supermarket check out line. Now, fake news sites and content flourish on the web and social media.

I had a moment in early June, during the BLM tipping point and mass protests, where a distant relative of my mother's was posting fake Craig's List ads that said Antifa busses were headed for Nebraska and offering to pay them to make a ruckus.  All fake.  But the people in the comments field of her post were wild with crazy, so much I had to unfriend her for even posting such nonsense. I later unfriended another family member (white, male, middle aged) for posting racist comments in the fields of other legit stories on racial violence that kept popping up in my field.  These people. fed on a diet of Fox News and QAnon, have grown fat with the certainty that someone is always out to get us, fool us, makes us wear masks in Home Depot and limit our ability to eat at Applebees.  It's exhausting. Tabloids, at least in the 80's, were pretty obviously tabloids, and no one believed the bat boy was real. Or that babies floated inside the Titanic. But if you're willing to believe that Bill Gates wants to put a microchip in your head, you probably are lost anyway. 

A couple of semesters in the Library, we've delved into things like hoaxes and mass hysterias and I always think of how these topics drew smaller crowds than others and were harder to find their fans, even while we swim in this stuff every day--more than horror movies, true crime, and tattoo culture, which were drawing more interest.  Some of my favorite projects deal directly or indirectly with things like urban legends (archer avenue) and violent things that happen because our collective beliefs (necessary violence).  In my research for {licorice, laudanum},  I was so disappointed to learn that much of serial killer's HH Holmes' reputation was fanned by turn of the century tabloids and not at all based in fact (in the end, he seemed more of an opportunistic grifter who occasionally murdered people to hide his crimes, not so much the evil mastermind behind a murder/torture hotel. ) So I suppose it is natural these Weekly Workd News headlines would provide fodder for poem-making. 

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