It’s been called many things: the Golden Age of Fraud, the Golden Age of Conspiracy Theories, the Age of Fake News. Call this moment what you will, but one thing is clear: studying fabrication has perhaps never been more pressing in US history. Trump’s administration has brought with it an onslaught of lies, from the turnout figures at the 2017 inauguration to the sugar-coating of its family-separation policy; then its lies started killing people en masse with the advent of COVID-19. The blatant months-long governmental repudiation of lockdowns and mask-wearing has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and counting. It’s time not to simply turn away from the false, or to try to combat it with truth, but to study it, regardless of the election results of November 2020.
Back in 2016, when Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States, there was considerable public discussion about whether or not he would be able to govern by trafficking in the same falsehoods and public prejudices that he peddled as a candidate. To much horror and dismay, four years later, he has proven unequivocally that he can. Popular film and television have answered this mass erosion of truth and justice with narratives about powerful deceivers and sophists. Some, such as festival hit Bad Education (Cory Finley, 2019) and Ryan Murphy’s The Politician (2019–), are vehicles for political commentary, while others, such as Evan Peters’s story line in Pose (2018–), directly link to Trump.
Black film scholar, critic, and curator, Albert Johnson is hardly a household name–but he should be. In 1965, at the height of the civil rights era, Johnson offered this dissection of the representation of African-Americans in Hollywood cinema of the time.
Let there be no ambiguity: the world has turned into a horror show, a modern-day political Grand Guignol of global proportions with an emerging Axis of Evil (Trump, Putin, al-Assad, and now, Bolsonaro in Brazil, to name only a few). Their bases are the virtual spaces of social media, their proscenium the many screens blanketing the planet with news alerts of the latest mass murder, police shooting, war-related atrocity, or xenophobic government policy. It has become all too common to see people look up from their laptops or phones and, with a hand clasped over their mouth, let out a guttural “Oh, my god.”