Broadcast news is increasingly paid for, less and less objective. More people are turning to the social media landscape, a new Wild West where memes compete for attention, to get a reliable sense of the times. Truth and lies are equally abundant, obviating their former distinction. A common motif in this territory is unexpected drastic reversals of known identity in celebrities and political figures—Donald Rumsfeld is really a lizard; all the Laurel Canyon rock stars from the 60s had “secret government” connections; the Beatles were clones; Paul McCartney is dead; Stephen King shot John Lennon, not Mark David Chapman; are Gary Busey and Nick Nolte one and the same? You’ve seen ‘em. In this New Wild West, celebrity status equates to sacrificing control of one’s public reputation. When they die, stars like Michael Jackson, Robin Williams and Joan Rivers are accused of having been murdered or faking their deaths. Nobody knows what to think about Bill Cosby, really. We don’t want to believe good is evil in disguise. Not me anyway. But worst case scenarios sell when the truth is a guess—if it bleeds, it leads.
Sometimes you know it’s a joke or mean spirited attack. Sometimes you really can’t tell. After it happens a number of times to a number of respected truisms, you break through into a wider field of possibility. Anything might be true. Anything might be false. When this anarchic landscape of unsubstantiated assertions is understood as an externalization of the formerly invisible field of collective consciousness, they all seem equally likely. It’s all about public relations. The number of witnesses, circumstantial evidence.
I came across a meme announcing that radio talk show host and agitator Alex Jones was actually late comic Bill Hicks in disguise. The two had some things in common—both were outspokenly anti-establishment, their faces were similar, they had many friends in common, had never been photographed together, and so on. At first, I took it as a joke, saw Bill Hicks as a sort of fallen hero, and Jones as a bellyacher. But supposedly the CIA was involved, and government secrecy being a common target of both men, the facial similarity took on greater resonance. A clip popped up in my newsfeed where Jones himself asserted that indeed, he WAS Bill Hicks, which persuaded me maybe they were the same person. But . . . damn. Why would Bill do that? I did a search and found more posts: One claimed to “put the nail in the coffin of Bill Hicks” by asserting it HAD to be true, since Jones couldn’t legally make that assertion without risking lawsuits. This sounded logical.