Monday, January 21, 2019

'Unpresidented': Real fake news
with a grip on the truth

PARODIES HAVE a way of getting to the truth to come, by accident. The structure of good parody — the over-the-topness that distills a vortex of events into something you can get your head around, and laugh from — has always been at the heart of our democracy, our politics, and our culture.

But this is a special time we’re in, the time of the Trump White House, a time of huge challenge for parodists everywhere. The challenge? Finding exactly where “over the top” is anymore, in the face of an administration whose defiance of political, social and legal reality has created a whole new metric for brash excess and vast, naked greed.

It’s a bitch to parody that which can’t be parodied. Leave it to The Yes Men to give it a fresh try. The self-described “trickster activist collective” announced it had published a visually pitch-perfect fake newspaper pretending to be The Washington Post, its tongue-in-cheek look at the ending life of the Trump administration.

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The print papers — dated (perhaps optimistically) May 1, 2019, and strikingly similar to actual copies of The Post — circulated in the Washington, D.C. area, on Jan. 16. The Yes Men smartly followed through on the newspaper subterfuge, with a companion web site whose look and content mirrored the print edition. They contained stories about Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others in the Trump orbit as The Don absents himself from the U.S. presidency via a resignation message left in red ink on a napkin in the Oval Office.

The parody Post lead story says the 45th president* decamped for Yalta, the location of a pivotal meeting of FDR, Churchill and Stalin in February 1945. It also reported that Trump’s quick exit from the federal city was prompted by “massive women-led protests” around the country — this more than a hint of one of the parody’s real(er) intentions, promoting the Women’s Marches, which saw hundreds of thousands throng the streets of Foggy Bottom, and everywhere else in America, on Jan. 19.

The Yes Men Unpresidented parody as a PDF

Apparently, we can look forward to celebrations around the world, to go from the parody paper of May 1 — not coincidentally, a date globally recognized as International Workers' Day.  “Entire globe breathes sigh of relief at end of dark period,” reads one story subhead. Go ’head, party like it’s 1999, +20!

And in other news of May 1: Freshmen Congressional Democrats will seek to advance a package of 64 bills, pursuing a panoramic legislative agenda that includes a new energy-efficient national infrastructure, corporate accountability, and Medicare for All.

Also: “Reince Preibus joins Dancing With the Stars tonight on ABC ... Kanye West will announce he is retiring his MAGA hat. 'Being a rich white asshole wasn’t as fun as I expected,’ he has admitted in recent days. ... The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lead a 10K race over the river and through the woods.”

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THE Washington Post verité is not amused. “We will not tolerate others misrepresenting themselves as The Washington Post, and we are deeply concerned about the confusion it causes among readers,” Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti said in a statement. “We are seeking to halt further improper use of our trademarks.” Since satire and parody are constitutionally protected as free speech, it's not clear how much they can do.

But frankly, when you look at this parody in the context of other such projects, it's not exactly a game-changer. We’ve been here before.

Avid students of media will remember the Boston Globe’s March 2016 front-page parody of itself under a Trump administration. It was seen as a lighthearted jab at something that no one then thought was possible: Trump in the White House. And then, of course, eight months later, it happened.

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Some of what the Globe parody facetiously proposed has come eerily come close to reality. If not reality itself. Look at this parody's lead story: “DEPORTATIONS TO BEGIN.” “President calls for tripling of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] force.” Other “stories” in the Globe parody are more, well, over the top: “Education Secretary Omarosa Manigault summoned PBS officials to Capitol Hill to discuss remaking ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ using hand puppets.” “Riots continue.”

Wiz9999, a commenter writing in Mediaite, may have hit on what connects the Post and Globe parodies, and all parodies to the truth they revealingly exaggerate. “Maybe it is a rip in the space-time continuum and the future has leaked into the present.”

If that seems far-fetched, cut the writer some slack: It’s no more far-fetched than anything emerging from the reality distortion field of the Trump White House.

Image credits: Washington Post parody, Yes Men logo: ©2019 The Yes Men. Boston Globe parody page: © 2016 The Boston Globe.

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