Though we’re only about seven weeks into 2013, many of this year’s top stories (or, rather, the stories the media has made into “top stories”) share a common thread — often, people are not what they seem.
At the end of January, we had the “controversy” over a singer lip-syncing at President Obama’s second inauguration, which the mainstream media milked for days. Some were apparently upset that Beyonce sung the National Anthem to a pre-recorded track. Besides the media, I know of no sane person who was genuinely offended by the performance. (If anything, she proved to be the best lip-syncer of all time.)
It mostly seemed like the few people upset were simply disillusioned: “Beyonce is so great — why did she need to karaoke it?”
Which brings us to another big 2013 news story — Lance Armstrong, by his own admission, is a giant liar and cheater, messing with his own physiology in order to win and keep winning his bike races, then angrily lashing out at anyone who dared call him a giant liar and cheater. This new-look Armstrong flew directly in the face of his image as a hero, the cancer survivor who raised millions for charity and smashed records at the Tour de France, beating those damn Frenchies at their own game.
The sports hero’s fall from grace isn’t uncommon. The once-beloved football star OJ Simpson is probably the most notable example. Armstrong at least didn’t leave a body count.
One of the hottest stories around the world right now is the case of champion South African sprinter/double leg amputee Oscar Pistorius, nicknamed “Blade Runner” because of the prosthetics he used to become “the fastest man on no legs.”
When Pistorius began competing (well) against “able bodied” athletes, there was some protestation that he had an unfair advantage.
But that isn’t why the world is gradually coming to realize that he is (allegedly) a huge phony. Pistorius wasn’t accused of cheating; like OJ before him, he has been accused of murder. Pastorius was an inspiration to many for overcoming major odds. And he was a friendly, handsome celebrity. That he could possibly shoot his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, four times and kill her was unfathomable just weeks ago.
You can force this “big phony” theme on a lot of news stories. Politicians regularly enter the news cycle after some scandal, as do police officers. The people we want and need to trust most are sometimes the very ones who destroy our trust. (And who knew that some cruises aren’t always as fun as those commercials make them seem!)
The ultimate “phony” story to emerge this young year is the strange case of college football star Manti Te’o and his fake dead girlfriend, who was used to showcase what a tough year it had been for the NFL-bound linebacker. He lost his girlfriend and grandma within hours of a big game and still played! Except he didn’t.
In Te’o’s case, he can’t be entirely blamed for much more than being gullible. Hoax perpetrator Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was the liar in this case, crafting the fake girlfriend. But Te’o didn’t do anything to correct the situation after he found out he’d been had.
Te’o’s case may be the most resonant. He’s not the first person to be duped into “falling in love” with someone purely known through indirect contact. There’s a whole TV show on MTV called Catfish: The TV Show about just a few of these grand feats of deception, which are probably more common that we all think.
Even something as pedestrian as using Facebook and Twitter can be like an obstacle course of false info, usually of a more insignificant variety. We control the information about ourselves that we share, so it’s hard to know what’s being lied about and conveniently not mentioned and what’s real.
I’m a little older than a lot of Facebook users and don’t use it or chat room-type sites to develop serious relationships with people I’ve never met. But younger people are growing up into this technology. It will become instinctive to live life online and freely share information. Will the next generation be savvy enough to spot the phonies? Will they be smart enough to not believe everything they read on the Internet or see on TV?
These “fallen hero” news stories, the Catfish show and the anonymity and self-censoring on the Internet are creating a petri dish of contagious mistrust. Perhaps it’s a good thing and will heighten people’s skepticism. It’s my hope that every generation’s bullshit detectors will evolve appropriately.
But it seems more likely that many people will continue to fall for almost anything, ignoring the cautionary tales and sincerely believing getting catfish-ed or worshiping an icon that turns out not to deserve such attention is something that happens only to “other people.”