Thursday, August 03, 2017

Terry Pratchett As Comfort Reading In The Current Political Situation

One of my escape valves* from the Trump Reich has been re-reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.  Several of them offer excellent parables to the American "fake news" phenomenon.

Two examples:

1.  From The Truth, the story of the first newspaper created in Ankh-Morpork (which is a city a bit like New York City except with some trolls, dwarfs, vampires, werewolves and so on added to humans).  The first newspaper, the Times, is established by William de Worde, but over time acquires a rival, the Inquirer, which consists almost completely of fake news.

De Worde lives in a boarding house, and one night's dinner conversation is about the two newspapers:

At the moment the news of the day was being discussed.  Mr. Mackleduff had bought both the Inquirer and the two editions of the Times, in his role as keeper of the fire of communication.

It was generally agreed that the news in the Inquirer was more interesting, although Mrs. Arcanum ruled that the whole subject of snakes was not one for the dinner table and papers ought not to be allowed to disturb people like this.  Rains of insect and so on, though, fully confirmed everyone's view of distant lands.

Olds, thought William, forensically dissecting a sultana.  His Lordship was right.  Not news but olds, telling people that what they already know is true...

The reference to snakes has to do with a fake story about a woman giving birth to a snake in the distant small country of Lancre.  When the Times printed a statement from the king of Lancre categorically denying that any such event had taken place, the others in de Worde's boarding house simply said that of course he would deny it.

2.  From Making Money, the story about the central bank of Ankh-Morpor, this quote, only tangentially related to the plot of the book, but in my mind related to the way today's media has decided that, say,  tweets by ordinary people also constitute news:

The marching golems had forced the bank's troubles onto page five.  The golems were all over the front page, and a lot of the inner pages were full of Vox Pops, which means people in the street who didn't know anything told other people what they knew, and lengthy articles by people who also didn't know anything but could say it very elegantly in 2,500 words.

The great advantage of the Discworld, over this world, is that the former is an imaginary one, alas.

* Others being meditation, doing pushups and learning to cook new and interesting recipes and then never repeating them (because of the need for more new recipes).