The greatest propaganda machine in history
November 22, 2019 5:32 AM   Subscribe

"All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies". Sacha Baron Cohen breaks character to give the keynote address at the ADL Never is Now summit, slamming tech giants and calling for tighter regulations on social media.
posted by adept256 (70 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 
I posted this to Facebook. I'm waiting to see if it magically disappears.
posted by tommasz at 6:28 AM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


This is astonishing in that he's completing all the analysis of his comedy that we have always done from the sidelines, and making it hyper-relevant to his point. I'm only halfway through but I'm thoroughly impressed.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 6:37 AM on November 22, 2019 [20 favorites]


It’s actually quite shocking how easy it is to turn conspiracy thinking into violence. In my last show Who is America?, I found an educated, normal guy who had held down a good job, but who, on social media, repeated many of the conspiracy theories that President Trump, using Twitter, has spread more than 1,700 times to his 67 million followers. The President even tweeted that he was considering designating Antifa—anti-fascists who march against the far right—as a terror organization.

So, disguised as an Israel anti-terrorism expert, Colonel Erran Morad, I told my interviewee that, at the Women’s March in San Francisco, Antifa were plotting to put hormones into babies’ diapers in order to “make them transgender.” And he believed it.

I instructed him to plant small devices on three innocent people at the march and explained that when he pushed a button, he’d trigger an explosion that would kill them all. They weren’t real explosives, of course, but he thought they were. I wanted to see—would he actually do it? The answer was yes.


Thanks for posting this, OP. This is put together so well. The information isn't new and doesn't need to be. His presentation is packed with great intelligence and pokes holes in some of the Facebook bullshit. "Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach." I plan to share this far and wide.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:51 AM on November 22, 2019 [44 favorites]


Minor typo in the tags ("atnisemitism").
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:52 AM on November 22, 2019


Thanks for posting this. Well worth the read and I just donated to the ADL.
posted by Grither at 6:55 AM on November 22, 2019


"Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach." I plan to share this far and wide.

Oooo, yeah, that's a perfectly catchy, succinct, but complete summary.
posted by eviemath at 6:57 AM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


Read this over breakfast this morning, and was thinking it should be on the blue if it wasn't already.

Good speech, great points.
posted by nubs at 7:11 AM on November 22, 2019


I never thought I'd be so moved by a "Voltaire was right" take, but he had the experimental evidence to prove it. I don't believe him when he says he's not a scholar.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 7:36 AM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


He is astonishingly smart, which isn’t surprising as he was raised in an astonishingly smart family.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:42 AM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


It’s as if the Age of Reason—the era of evidential argument—is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed.

The internet/web of the late 90s promised to democratize access to information, but corporate interests got their claws into it. Now the Zuckerbergs, Pages, Brins, and Murdochs of the scene collude with populist and totalitarian governments to sell conspiracies and ads.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:43 AM on November 22, 2019 [15 favorites]


It takes a lot of brains (and strong ethics) to distill a complicated issue down to a crystal clear case like this. Is nice!
posted by sallybrown at 7:53 AM on November 22, 2019 [14 favorites]


That is a damned fine speech.
posted by Chitownfats at 7:58 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


He was fantastic in The Spy by the way.
posted by jquinby at 8:07 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm not shomer Shabbat, but I've been thinking about starting a practice of going completely offline for it. After reading this, I think I'll start tonight.
posted by Ruki at 8:20 AM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


Adam Elkus responds - abstract from Twitter:
This is a post about many things, but principally it is about a style of entertainer that has failed to understand the ground is shifting beneath his feet. His failures of understanding motivate him to demand that others step in to rectify the situation, while in doing so remaining oblivious to the way in which it is no longer his demand to make -- if it was ever his demand to make.
(Elkus is, if I remember right, also Jewish, but he's not famous and has no bluecheck. Probably shouldn't be allowed to talk back like this.)
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:20 AM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


A more representative pull quote from that essay might be
Meanwhile, Baron Cohen helped in his own way to destabilize our ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. How? Why? The generation that came of age watching him, Stewart, and their peers developed during a seismic shift in how professionals – and especially media professionals – understood concepts such as objective truth and facts. What happened?
posted by PMdixon at 8:27 AM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


Twitter could deploy an algorithm to remove more white supremacist hate speech, but they reportedly haven’t because it would eject some very prominent politicians from their platform. Maybe that’s not a bad thing!

Whoever could he mean?

I don't doubt that Sacha's bigotted caricatures are taken at face value by people who eat The Onion.

Very interesting to see the mask come off, and in such a way that would refute many criticisms of his comedy. The point is to turn it up to eleven and see who buys in. And it's an act. He's very much opposed to bigotry.

And such an act! Here he's using his skills to make a very erudite and eloquent speech and just killing it.
posted by adept256 at 8:39 AM on November 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


Stewart, and their peers developed during a seismic shift in how professionals – and especially media professionals – understood concepts such as objective truth and facts. What happened?

Um, CNN et al lied about the Iraq War, and Halliburton made billions on the deaths of millions? Context, please, don't blame the entertainers for mocking what the "journalists" were doing at the time.
posted by eustatic at 9:04 AM on November 22, 2019 [36 favorites]


Excellent speech, thanks for showing it.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:11 AM on November 22, 2019


I never thought I'd spend my middle-aged years defending the notion of empirical reality, after having spent my twenties questioning objectivity and the "Enlightenment."

This is a good read.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:30 AM on November 22, 2019 [12 favorites]


So, the fundamental problem that I have with the critical essay is his thesis seems to be that SBC took advantage of the audience’s cynicism in the creation of his characters so he does not have the standing to demand changes. Which, okay I agree with the first part but then who does have the standing and what should be done?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 9:42 AM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


I also appreciated that SBC focused on the people with the power in this situation. Even though it remains an open question how much of this hatred can be convinced away rather than controlled—there is some group of people who can be inoculated against it, some group who are easily infected but don’t seem to originate it, and then the core group that spews it in the first place. The tech companies like to make the debate about how to talk people out of it, whether that’s possible, the “rights” the spewers have to inflect others with their BS, the power of language, etc, when as SBC says we don’t need to solve those problems to demand that platforms impose some amount of standards.
posted by sallybrown at 9:48 AM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


Trying to organize my feelings about this...

1) I agree with everything Cohen says here.

2) There's only one thing in the world that has value and that's trust. Whether you're talking about currency, or ideas, or facts, or anything else. None of it is worth dust if there's no trust. Small examples:

I've read that in Russia, people don't pull over for ambulances because it's as likely as not that some millionaire just needs to get to the airport quickly.

The political spectrum is obsolete in America because to place a "centre-left" party and a party of moral nihilists on a spectrum together is a category error. I believe this has occurred because the Republicans brain trust, during the Bush II presidency, explicitly decided to pursue a policy whereby truth, facts and law are created by action. Whatever action is performed becomes permissible. Whatever "facts" are spoken become truth. It has become a part of the culture.

Flat-eartherism and birtherism (etc.) have currency because actually pinning down the constitution of a "fact" is philosophically impossible. If it's true that at one time we (who is we?) were able to accept a notion as fact, it was because we trusted the source, or the method of discovery. That trust -- to the extent that it existed -- is gone.

3) I could never watch Borat because I can't stand to see people be humiliated or to suffer in public. I always felt that in order to put someone through that, or to enjoy watching it, even if they "deserve it," one has to be somewhat hardened to peoples' suffering.

Borat only works by exploiting peoples' tendency to be trusting. If there's one thing he taught us is that nobody can be trusted not to expose or humiliate you. Everyone has a motive that is hidden to you and unlike yours.

To do anything "for the lulz" is essentially morally nihilistic. Borat's success hinges on the violation of trust. It devalues the social relations that we depend on to keep us safe. Sometimes this exposes the evil in peoples' hearts. More frequently it breaks down mores that guide us. Makes us laugh at the pain of others.

4) Facebook, Google, Twitter and the chans have promoted, monetized an weaponized the demise of trust and the ascendancy of nihilism. Cohen is right about the role they play but his work has been a very large stepping stone on the path from wherever we were to where we are. I don't blame him for that in particular. It wasn't something that anyone could necessarily foresee. But it does leave me with a bitterness, that he might help to put out a fire he helped (however unwittingly) to start.
posted by klanawa at 9:49 AM on November 22, 2019 [61 favorites]


> The internet/web of the late 90s promised to democratize access to information, but corporate interests got their claws into it.

what if the Internet has always been awful

what if the technoutopian ideology of 1990s tech culture masked how the 1990s Internet was a depoliticized/retrograde playground governed by and for by well-off straight cis white men from the first world

what if the ideals expressed in the cyberspace manifesto were not just wrong but also evil

what if the 2010s Internet is not a betrayal of the 1990s Internet but instead its apotheosis
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:21 AM on November 22, 2019 [38 favorites]


Great post! Watched and shared.

Short rant: I have thought a great deal about corporations and their role in the world. Corporations cannot die. They are unworldly. Imagine what types of ethics an immortal creature has. The Corporate Death Penalty should exist. Freemarketeers will say "don't worry, if they act so badly, the market will decide and they will be put under." Well, the things that cannot die really, really don't want to die, ever. So they have found a symbiotic relationship to allow them to do bad things and live on. They have found their Renfield in the form of the government. We live in alarming times.
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:26 AM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


capitalism is a fuck.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:37 AM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


that he might help to put out a fire he helped (however unwittingly) to start

Huh. But what if putting SBC, who I have other issues with beyond this, on the same spectrum as the people who have the power to determine these things at scale is another category error? One man with a modest audience manipulating trust for the purposes of art is, IMO, not the same thing as one man with a global, ubiquitous audience manipulating trust for commercial purposes. The first is only really effective in the context of a faithful perception of reality; the other destroys faithful perceptions of reality.

Somebody needs to be saying this stuff, and saying it as well as he is. I don’t like the guy for #metoo related reasons, but he’s saying it, and I’m hoping people listen.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:45 AM on November 22, 2019 [24 favorites]


The Corporate Death Penalty should exist.

Agreed, but how is that implemented in any sort of effective way? I absolutely think that a company that breaks the law should have its corporate charter revoked. But how do it’s assets get divided? It would be a simple thing for shareholders to create a new corporation that swallows the former. To revert assets back to the state has the potential for abuses like civil asset forfeitures but at a greater scale.

But there need to be consequences. Wall Street types quake when they think of how Arthur Andersen collapsed in the wake of Enron or Lehman Brothers at the start of the 2008 collapse.

They need to be reminded of them more often.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 11:17 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


To revert assets back to the state has the potential for abuses like civil asset forfeitures but at a greater scale.

I'm unsure how you have a state break up a company (ie carry out a "Corporate Death Penalty"), without the public taking control of some or all of what determines that company's valuation to shareholders: stock, revenue, capital assets, etc. That effectively requires the equivalent of civil asset forfeiture, whatever the scale or potential for abuse. If anything, applying this kind of policy to the wealthy might help begin to correct decades of abusive and disproportional application of forfeiture laws to marginalized communities.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:28 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


The corporate death penalty was one of the contemplated results of the Sherman Act (and may have even happened at some point in the “wild” early days of antitrust). It would be fitting if it it’s resurrected as a concept now that antitrust policy is getting more attention than it has in a very long time.
posted by sallybrown at 11:36 AM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


relevant: Neil Young quits Facebook in response to 'false information given to public'

Neil Young has deleted his Facebook artist page in response to the company’s sponsorship of the annual gala dinner of the Federalist Society, the powerful rightwing legal group behind the nomination of the conservative supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Young also cited the “false information regularly supplied to the public on Facebook, with its knowledge” as his reason for removing the account.

posted by philip-random at 11:37 AM on November 22, 2019 [22 favorites]


But what if putting SBC, who I have other issues with beyond this, on the same spectrum as the people who have the power to determine these things at scale is another category error?

Possibly. His audience was very large and his influence substantial, at least in North America, but he's no Facebook. Like I said, just one stepping stone, but I agree with him.
posted by klanawa at 11:44 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


what if the Internet has always been awful

Nah, I'd respectfully disagree with that blanket statement. Useful, non-commercial things have come out of it. Wikipedia, arxiv/biorxiv/variants, OSS code repositories, etc. wouldn't exist and have all proven valuable to people of many cultures and socioeconomic levels. In spite of their benefits, at the same time, I don't know if all of that can be called a fair trade, recognizing the vast damage done to liberal democracies and basic human rights by commercial entities such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. I do think it is useful and valuable to distinguish these two camps.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:02 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


time to create a real facebook boycott ?
posted by growabrain at 12:14 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


wikipedia is fine. arxiv is fine. open-source software is on the whole a net negative for the world — stallmanite viral free software might have done something worthwhile, but stallman missed his chance to do it early enough and also ruined everything by being a bag of dicks.

the Internet has always been bad.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:15 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]



METAFILTER: the Internet has always been
posted by philip-random at 1:58 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


what if apples are made of bees

what if dreaming is actually evil

what if unicorn horns are poison

what if cows

Hey, fun game!
posted by biogeo at 2:17 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


While it's convenient to imagine that the world was on track to become a leftist utopia (or an end-of-history neoliberal utopia) before the internet came along and derailed everything, I don't think that's a historically supportable position.
posted by Pyry at 2:26 PM on November 22, 2019 [12 favorites]


I've been telling folks for years that I'm pretty sure the internet is what utterly destroyed the Krell civilization in Forbidden Planet.

I'm pretty sure it'll eventually be our undoing as well. And, to paraphrase Sideshow Bob, I'm aware of the irony of appearing on the internet in order to decry it.

I'm glad SBC has done this and that he did it the way he did it. Thanks for sharing this!
posted by lord_wolf at 3:37 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm never sure what to do with the fact that what most left-leaning people see as a phenomenon created by the internet is also identical to the lived reality I grew up in long before the internet took off. (Apologies if that sounds snarky, because a) it legitimately does sound snarky and b) it's meant to be 100% sincere and non-judgemental, but c) I can't come up with a better way to word it.)

Like, I'm sure I'm not the only person here (or on other places I frequent online) who grew up outside of a major megalopolis/white-collar suburb/left-leaning bubble. I'm sure I'm not the only person here who grew up raised by hard-right uneducated people, surrounded by hard-right uneducated adults, and influenced by authority figures who were to a person hard-right (some of them had teaching degrees or had been to seminary, so it's not quite fair to call them uneducated).

Networks of child-sacrificing Satanists, soap manufacturers who give all their corporate profits to the Devil, UN armies mobilizing in advance of the Antichrist's call to action, these were all things that were reality where and when I grew up. They weren't stuff that only fringe figures and weirdos believed in, they were 100% mainstream beliefs that were accepted as if they were simple reality. While I'm pretty sure that sort of totalized environment was largely limited to small towns, there are--and I think this is something a lot of left-leaners overlook--a whooooooooooooole lot of small towns in the US.

I think it's pretty clear that the internet has allowed these people to organize, to act effectively on their beliefs, and to begin recruiting in previously bubbled-off territory, but I also think it's a mistake to believe that the underlying rejection-of-our-authorities is a novel development. To be honest, I think that approach can lead to no good and can quite possibly lead to cataclysmically bad results; by focusing misused technology instead of approaching this as a long-term, endemic issue in the US, anything that looks like a solution is unlikely to be useful in treating the underlying problem.
posted by mattwan at 3:49 PM on November 22, 2019 [33 favorites]


While I'm pretty sure that sort of totalized environment was largely limited to small towns, there are--and I think this is something a lot of left-leaners overlook--a whooooooooooooole lot of small towns in the US.

As of 2012, 70+% of the US population lived in Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people.
posted by PMdixon at 5:54 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon "what if the ideals expressed in the cyberspace manifesto were not just wrong but also evil"

As a True Believer 20+ years ago - and as one who saw how this shook out and regrets that some kin have fallen into this bullshit - it saddens and angers me...

A few days ago I thought of joking making an "OK Boomer" Terence McKenna meme - but then, I realized...

John Perry Barlow needs an "OK Boomer" meme, frankly.

So I'm gonna be making one of those, because even if it wasn't meant with malice - screw him for somehow thinking everyone is arguing in good faith.

The fault with free-speechers is that it presumes that those with whom one is "debating" is arguing in good faith.

And screw us for having fallen for it.

Maybe the lesson of free speech isn't "there is value in hearing all view points" (as if there is something to learn from a specific view point) but rather, that not everyone is arguing in good faith.

And likewise, I also have an issue with how liberal cynicism and irony helped enable the current environment.
In some ways maybe we are learning lessons from this big online experiment, some are old ones we should have already known, but maybe it can help us really engender a better understanding of dialog and debate as a species - collectively.

We spent so much time believing Content is King that we never stopped to think about the Medium, the Form itself.
posted by symbioid at 5:54 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


And screw us for having fallen for it.

I think it is important, if one wishes to learn to not fall for it in the future, to understand who is not part of your "us" and why they had different beliefs about the world than you.
posted by PMdixon at 6:19 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


I mean if you were cynical, that's great :) Some of us are slow learners and apparently were too idealistic at one point.
posted by symbioid at 6:22 PM on November 22, 2019


I was never a big fan of Borat, but Cohen was at his best in that character when he did just enough to let someone expose themselves for what they really were. Made them think that they had a friendly audience for their bigotry or know-nothingism or what-have-you. It was at its worst when he clearly manipulated the target into saying or acting stupid.

Anyway, Cohen seems to have moved on and I'm glad for it.

As of 2012, 70+% of the US population lived in Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people.

Hmm. And many estimates put the crazification factor / Keyes Constant at around 27%.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:24 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]



Adam H. Johnson

@adamjohnsonNYC
Sacha Baron Cohen should do the ADL next, an organization with a long history of smearing BLM and Palestinian activists, working with police forces, the FBI, Israeli occupation forces, lobbying to criminalize BDS and, in the 1980s, spying on South African anti-apartheid activists
posted by Ahmad Khani at 6:26 PM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


> what if cows

correct
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:28 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


Um, CNN et al lied about the Iraq War, and Halliburton made billions on the deaths of millions? Context, please, don't blame the entertainers for mocking what the "journalists" were doing at the time.

But it's the internet that's the problem. Got it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:45 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


I mean if you were cynical, that's great :) Some of us are slow learners and apparently were too idealistic at one point.

I was in my early thirties before I even saw somebody " ... on the internet". 1991. I was almost forty before I had an email address. 1998, I think. A good friend, same basic age as me, was much keener about it all, an early adapter, and very much up on what the Barlows were saying -- all that hopeful humanism. But he (my friend) always had an air of skepticism about it, never fully bought in -- his attitude being more along the lines of, "... well, if some good, altruistic, hopeful people don't get involved in all of this, then there will just be more room to move for evil assholes to do whatever they want. I mean, it's worth a try, right?"

And speaking of that 1991 introduction to the internet moment, I actually have it on videotape somewhere. We were shooting a documentary about the fallout of the first Gulf War, the great and evil con that the George Bush Sr. administration had pulled on the world, manufacturing a major war out of a whole lotta nothing in the Kuwaiti desert. The world was already well f***ed before the internet achieved any level of ubiquity.
posted by philip-random at 8:03 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


i retract my old statement my new statement is what if cows
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:56 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Sacha Baron Cohen should do the ADL next

I mean yeah, it's not an organization that I can always get behind. But the current ADL is toeing a pretty interesting line. I guess ditto Cohen, really.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:25 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I want to add to the discussion the suggestion that while in the past it has been a valid and legitimate strategy/tactic amongst comedians, etc, to play along so as to expose prejudice, that in this current state of affairs we really must stop it. I think Sasha Baron Cohen is fully aware of this now.

What I mean is, it used to be acceptable to make a joke like "throw the jew down the well" given that you were not being sincere and you had a reasonable expectation that your audience would understand that it was satire. Those days are gone. The same could be said of the lesser known UK comic Al Murray and his pub landlord persona, who did much the same thing. That guy is also a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, but even I, someone who ostensibly should have realised he was putting on an act, was suspicious and ultimately surprised to learn that that was the case.

I'm not going to judge too harshly with hindsight the likes of Baron Cohen or Murray but I think they have a duty now to drop the act, much as has happened with this speech, and speak up loud and clear. There's not really any room left for ambiguity anymore. It's sad because that's the death of satire, but it's the world we are living in. Even twenty years ago people enthusiastically repeated Borat or Ali G's slurs with not a hint of understanding that they were intended as satire, and they caused harm even then.

Anyway, great speech, and I hope more public figures can follow suit.
posted by Acey at 7:04 AM on November 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


Hm. Maybe it would help if I saw more of Cohen's work, but I have questions.

On the one hand, I'm glad he's imbibed some Zuboff. On the other hand, I'm not sure of what kind of regulation he's hoping for.

The call for industry standards remind me of the American history of government threatening businesses into self-regulation, as with comic books in the 1950s or pop music in the 80s. Is that the kind of thing he wants?

Or is he serious about imposing something like broadcast industry self-censorship (backed up by the federal government (FCC), in the US)? His account of having his own work cut suggests so, but this isn't necessarily a good thing for media as a whole or for users (both consumers and creators), as a casual glance at 20th century media can indicate.

Why doesn't he have time for media and information (also digital) literacy, as developed by media activists, scholars, and librarians over the past decades? i.e., does he think they don't work, or is he unaware of their existence?

What does he make of social media competition? I didn't catch mentions of DuckDuckGo, MeFi favorite Mastodon, WT: Social, blogging, or podcasting. Does he not think we'll move to other sources, or is he unaware of their existence as well?
posted by doctornemo at 8:53 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that hate speech on Facebook is a difference in kind, not degree, from what was going on in comics in the 1950s or music in the 1980s. Not all media are equal, and not all messages are equal. If someone were embedding anti-Semitic messages in comic books and music, then I'm perfectly fine with governmental regulation of those as well. I don't think that makes me Tipper Gore.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:59 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Acey makes a great point about satire getting taken seriously. But this isn't a new phenomenon at all. Content creators on the left have been seriously over estimating Americans' ability to understand irony for decades. For example, take Archie Bunker, as discussed in this Smithsonian article by Sascha Cohen (no relation):
Lear used him as a device to make racism and sexism look foolish and unhip, but liberals protested that as a “loveable bigot,” Archie actually made intolerance acceptable. Lear had intended to create a satirical and exaggerated figure, what one TV critic called “hardhat hyperbole,” but not everyone got the joke.

Archie was relatable to audience members who felt stuck in dead end jobs with little hope of upward mobility, and who were similarly bewildered by the new rules of political correctness. To these white conservative viewers, he represented something of a folk hero. They purchased “Archie for President” memorabilia unironically and sympathized with his longing for the good old days.

This isn't just the view looking back, either. Check out this article from the New York Times from 1972:
The ethnic joke, so long in hiding, has been restored and 50 million Americans listen in. Additionally, despite his bigotry, Archie Bunker manages to enlist sympathy. He has been termed, and with reason, a “lovable bigot.” All this has triggered furious criticism.
(to the surprise of no one here on the blue, the NYT article goes on to argue that the criticisms are overblown, that it will not lead to more racism, and that it must be good because, ratings)
posted by mabelstreet at 10:21 AM on November 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


I alluded to r/atetheonion, which is a reddit full of people taking Onion articles seriously. It's the inevitable risk of satire, predictable enough for Sacha to make a career of it.
posted by adept256 at 10:37 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


zerobyproxy: Short rant: I have thought a great deal about corporations and their role in the world. Corporations cannot die. They are unworldly.

May I recommend Charles Stross's Accelerando (available free from the author) as a series of thought experiments about where we're going with this? It's a lot of fun, too.
posted by sneebler at 12:36 PM on November 23, 2019


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that hate speech on Facebook is a difference in kind, not degree, from what was going on in comics in the 1950s or music in the 1980s. Not all media are equal, and not all messages are equal.

True. I wasn't comparing the media with that point, though, so much as the precedents of how America has regulated content.

If someone were embedding anti-Semitic messages in comic books and music, then I'm perfectly fine with governmental regulation of those as well. I don't think that makes me Tipper Gore.
How does it not? You're both calling for state action against speech. Is it because Gore et al targeted different content (primarily sexual and general violence, if memory serves)?
posted by doctornemo at 4:16 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Can not favorite this hard enough. So much this.

Sacha Baron Cohen should do the ADL next...
Yes, because there's no anti-semitism at all coming out of Palestinian activists, BLM, and the BDS movement. Nope, none. How dare they also care about anti-semitism among the people on our side? Sheesh.
posted by Mchelly at 4:17 PM on November 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that hate speech on Facebook is a difference in kind, not degree, from what was going on in comics in the 1950s or music in the 1980s. Not all media are equal, and not all messages are equal. If someone were embedding anti-Semitic messages in comic books and music, then I'm perfectly fine with governmental regulation of those as well. I don't think that makes me Tipper Gore.

It does, actually. And it's bizarre as hell when Fox News has a bigger reach and you're not calling for regulation of them.

Plus who do people think will be doing the regulating? You all do know that shitty racists are in charge of the government, right? They think BLM is a hate group! You're fine with them being in charge of social media? That's completely fucking crazy to me. No offense but it's just totally fucking nuts and it's based on zero research, zero reality, just the shit you've been spoonfed 24/7 by (shocker) the main business competitors to social media.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:37 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


internet fraud detective squad, station number 9, did Cohen leave radio and cable tv news out?
posted by doctornemo at 7:28 PM on November 23, 2019


Did you read the article? It's clearly focused exclusively on the internet, in contrast to the good typical media.

It’s time to finally call these companies what they really are—the largest publishers in history. And here’s an idea for them: abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines and TV news do every day.

So...yes, he did leave them out. Not just that, he held them up as standards for quality, and asserts incorrectly that they are regulated for content by American law (basically nothing regulates newspapers, magazines, or cable news except the rich people who own them).
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:54 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I did read the article, and didn't see any mention of cable news, but wanted to be suree I hadn't missed anything. I did see him celebrating (?) tv standards content control...
posted by doctornemo at 7:16 AM on November 24, 2019


Before Facebook, there was Fox News. Before Fox News, there was AM talk radio. Before AM talk radio, there was yellow journalism. And every step of the way, some asshole was like, "why are we talking about AM talk radio when yellow journalism exists?"
posted by tobascodagama at 8:40 AM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm never sure what to do with the fact that what most left-leaning people see as a phenomenon created by the internet is also identical to the lived reality I grew up in long before the internet took off. (Apologies if that sounds snarky, because a) it legitimately does sound snarky and b) it's meant to be 100% sincere and non-judgemental, but c) I can't come up with a better way to word it.)

I often remind people that hate radio has been a thing since the 80s, which later spread onto television, and there were all kinds of conspiracy theorist newsletters before either of them. Newsletters just like the ones that had previously proclaimed the virtues of the KKK or labeled FDR the leader of a baby eating Satanist cult.

It's easier to explain than the way extremist churches spread their persecution fantasies, so I usually stick to the hate radio cult part instead.
posted by wierdo at 9:31 AM on November 24, 2019 [6 favorites]




So, the thing I’d argue is that, since Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube algorithmicly recommend content to their users, they have surrendered the immunity provided by Section 230 of the CDA. They are telling users what they think is of value with their recommendations. They are no longer neutral repositories of information posted by the public but are now publishers, deciding what should and should not be amplified on their platform.

The fact that it’s done by algorithms instead of flesh and blood people is just more damning, in my view.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 5:05 PM on November 24, 2019 [7 favorites]


Before Facebook, there was Fox News. Before Fox News, there was AM talk radio. Before AM talk radio, there was yellow journalism. And every step of the way, some asshole was like, "why are we talking about AM talk radio when yellow journalism exists?"

1) Fox News still exists, and unlike the general gut feeling that you / Baron-Cohen have, it's much more influential than the internet (says actual scholarship)

2) The article specifically calls the internet "the greatest propaganda machine of all time" but there is no evidence that that's the case, rather the opposite

3) Rather than being an asshole, I'm a published scholar on this highly specific topic, whereas Baron-Cohen messed up basic factual information about US law, perhaps because he doesn't really know what he's talking about
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:14 PM on November 24, 2019 [7 favorites]


Penn Jillette is such a goddamn asshole. He could say the sky was blue and I'd look outside to make sure.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:01 PM on November 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


internet fraud detective squad, station number 9, did Cohen leave radio and cable tv news out?
posted by doctornemo at 7:28 PM on November 23 [+] [!]


The article left television's abdication of truth out as context to the rise Stewarts and Cohens. I don't. Feel like radio is relevant, becuase the article is discussing a particular time period, without addressing that time period.

Second to that I feel that television production, and allowing television production to go anti Semitic white nationalist, Lou Dobbs, Tucker Carlson, etc is still pretty key to the whole picture.

Television, even msnbc, continues to sell Trumpism hard. Television loves the reality TV president, giving him billions in earned media. There s a reason Trump bribed the president of Ukraine to go on CNN, and not facebook live, to make his campaign announcement.

I mean the article is objecting to the power of Jon Stewart when Jon Stewart s main target has thrived into 2019, so it seems like a nonsense article, missing key information and history.

The article objects to the moralism of satirists, but I had always thought that the satirists only exist to moralize against the cynical. If the article didn t get who the original cynics were, he never got the jokes.

He apparently has also never heard of Michael Moore, nor the thousands of pages dedicated to complaining about how much that satirist moralizes.

As for the criticism of facebook, I only agree. Regulate it out of existence please. Make it into metafilter. I just think it s dumb to not talk about the cynicism of Roger Alies in a discussion of the genesis of Cohen.
posted by eustatic at 4:05 PM on November 30, 2019


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