How to Escape Reality in 10 Simple Steps

Since last year’s presidential campaign in the US and Donald Trump’s election victory, the debate around (social) media and fake news or false information has kept the Internet busy. But although it’s complicated and exhausting to research what we can trust, its more important than ever to be able to recognize, understand, and deconstruct strategies used to manipulate public opinion. Only recently the independent right-wing opinion platform Breitbart announced the plans to open a German desk this year when the federal elections are taking place.

Artist and researcher Marloes de Valk investigated on those methods starting with events in the Eighties, drawing parallels to today’s media landscape. In her essay written for Web Residencies No.1 (2017) by Solitude & ZKM on the topic »Blowing the Whistle, Questioning Evidence«, she shows: propaganda has become more direct, yet the patterns remain the same. In an interview she talks about the tricky world of propaganda, fake news, and leaked documents and also how a dark-humored art game designed for the emblematic 1985 NES video game console may help us to navigate through it.

Concept for the web residencies

As part of the larger project What remains, a game for the 1986 Nintendo Entertainment System, Esc is an essay that maps existing research on strategies used to manipulate public opinion, focusing on events taking place in the eighties. Inspired by Manufacturing Consent (Herman & Chomsky, 1988), Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes & Conway, 2010) and The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society (J.S. Dryzek, R. B. Norgaard, D. Schlosberg, Eds, 2011) – as well as other sources – I will write about the methods used to spread false information and doubt in this pivotal decade, and also draw parallels to today’s technologically enhanced media landscape that does not cause, but greatly facilitates the spread of false information.

A bad marriage of a modernist outlook on science and journalism as objective and a postmodern experience of (hyper)reality is reaching its boiling point. While capitalism’s myth of eternal growth has lost credibility and global warming generates both war inducing droughts as well as anxiety among the populations emitting the largest amounts of CO2, an escape seems extremely appealing. When reality is perceived as oppressive and chaotic, cynicism can be a liberation – an excuse to believe in a simple and comforting reality. Hannah Arendt described how in Nazi-Germany this dynamic contributed to the population accepting an unacceptable and unethical ideology as a solution to the problems of their time. This essay looks at how public opinion is manipulated but also at why we want to believe.