Post-Truth, Postscript

23/11/2016 12:24

So the Oxford English Dictionary's 2016 Word of the Year has been announced. Where last year the word was actually a pictogram, the 'crying laughing face emoji', this year the word is a two-word phrase: Post-Truth.

Lots of people have commented that Post-Truth seems incredibly apt in an age of political upheaval, surprise and fear; a positive Brexit vote in June, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States this month. People are scared enough to vote ultra conservatively, whether that word has a capital or a lower-case c; others even more scared about the result. So many conversations on the headachey mornings after election nights began with incredulity, head shakes and comments like, 'the world is going mad'. Post-Truth fits perfectly: when the apparent truth of politics has gone, anyone can win.

The role of the arts has always been to 'hold the mirror up to nature', providing some kind of reflection of what's going on. Popular TV may seem another world to Shakespeare's Hamlet, where these lines are said, but the Saturday night pillars of Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor seem to have caught this 2016 virus of unexpected votes. Ed Balls is doing brilliantly on Strictly, despite recreating his Morley and Outwood 2015 election loss every week, finishing bottom of the leader board. Over on X Factor, so-called 'urban rapper' Honey G, allegedly really a privately-educated 35 year old recruitment consultant whose past is said to include ballet, tennis, netball and a drug habit, is coasting through the finals, rumoured to be topping the public vote. If the truth of the most talented and accomplished act winning a TV talent show no longer matters, maybe then the most entertaining, fun act gets the votes. The Glitter-Balls trophy could be won by indefatigable Ed, the X Factor recording contract might go to bizarre Honey G: maybe 2016 will end with such post-truth chaos that the only possible response will be 'crying laughing face' emojis everywhere.

But what does Post-Truth really mean? The OED define it as 'belonging to a time when the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant'. And when you think about it like that, it might be a while since many of us really told the truth. We lose ourselves in routine and in pursuing a life where nobody will bother us. I joke about the AFAQL principle underlying harmony with partner, family, friends or workmates: Anything For A Quiet Life. Jokes are the memory foam between us and the hard planks of reality: the reality of everyday life can be so taxing that the only way to get from day to day is by sidestepping the truth just a little bit. Vote for Ed Balls because he's the worst dancer but he's improved implausibly; he's learning and performing with contagious childlike glee; he's just far enough into funny to be witty, not ridiculous. Enter into the spirit of Christmas shopping, enjoying a seasonal treat in Nero or Costa or Starbucks, instead of recoiling at the crowds, grumbling at the bellowed Christmas soundtrack, worrying about spending far too much, or counting the calories in that tasty ginger muffin. The truth will come soon enough in the New Year's resolutions about austerity and a diet.

And we live less and less with the truth. On our social media profiles, we airbrush and facetune and filter to make ourselves look younger, unblemished, slimmer. We take selfies to reassure ourselves we still exist, then filter and correct them to reassure ourselves that we don't exist like that. We buy the anti-ageing potions and get rid of the grey hairs, persuaded by the reality TV shows and the best-known blogs that everything in our lifestyles has to be a million times more perfect than anything in our actual, real lives. We airbrush our whole lives to make them seem better, even to ourselves; relaxing at home gets rebranded as hygge, a Danish word (also a Word of the Year contender) describing the wellbeing of cosy, convivial contentedness, which seems the nearest thing to human hibernation.

Truth is as beautiful in this as a string of fairylights in the darkness. But to avoid a Post-Truth world, we have to own up to difficulty as well as happiness, acknowledging when the friend or family member makes us feel rejected alongside the idealized hygge of winter companionship. We take stock at the end of the year as the cold and the darkness descend... even when the truth seems less attractive, leering at us like the scary killer clown we'd prefer to tell ourselves we didn't really see.

Perhaps, when the least talented artists might win talent shows, half the country is glued to minor celebrities eating gross things in a jungle, and a former reality television star has been elected 'leader of the free world', hope can best be summed up by the words attributed to Buddha: 'Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.'

Where I live, the recent Supermoon was obscured by thick winter cloud. In this scary winter of killer clowns, icy blasts and grasping at any comforts, I'm hoping that accepting the truth will bring as much illumination as a supersized, super-brightened moon coming closer to the earth to bring some illumination in the darkness.

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