Fake News Is Not New News

Everyone is now decrying “fake news.” As if it’s a new phenomenon. I’m a historian; I can testify that fake news is nothing new.

Three decades ago, while working on my doctorate, I was immersed in fake news—from the 1790s. Newspapers of the era were sponsored by either Federalists or the Democrat-Republicans. The “news” in some of those papers was sometimes pure speculation, often made up just to undermine the political opposition. My subject of study was Noah Webster, who was editor of a New York City newspaper at the time. He stood out as one of the few who refused to succumb to the fake news temptation.

Read all the commentary on Abraham Lincoln during his presidency, then tell me that fake news has only popped up in the last campaign. I recall scurrilous stories about Ronald Reagan when he took office. He supposedly hated minorities; he sought to throw old people out in the streets; Nancy was taking taxpayer money to buy china for the White House (that’s “china” as in plates, not the country).

I hate to be the one to break this “news”—human beings lie, cheat, and slander other human beings all the time. It’s something called sin.

The latest example, apparently, is the report of a dossier about Russia that purports to show Donald Trump is pretty much owned by the Russians. Beyond that, there were hints of sexual improprieties. Those were only hints until a liberal organization called Buzzfeed decided to open the sewer.

Is everything in this dossier untrue? We don’t know. Is anything true? We don’t know. Why? Nothing has been substantiated. It was unethical in the extreme for Buzzfeed to feed the controversy without proof of the allegations.

Unfortunately for Trump, he has not done himself any favors by seeming to be almost buddy-buddy with Putin. He has made a number of statements that show admiration for the Russian dictator. He is the one who has created that impression, so if it’s not really how he feels, he needs to correct that impression as soon as possible:

Maybe Putin can do his part to help:

There also has been pushback against Trump in the arts. Some performance artists have decided to use the liberty this country provides to decline to perform at Trump’s inauguration (it’s a good thing they aren’t Christian bakers or photographers, for whom that liberty doesn’t exist). Well, who needs them? I’m sure Trump’s people can find substitutes:

Meryl Streep, at the Golden Globes, where Hollywood pats itself on the back each year, gave a short speech that, while not mentioning Trump by name, made it clear that she had contempt for him. Hollywood wants to think it is somehow the conscience of the nation.

Streep didn’t say anything unusual; these award ceremonies are always politically liberal. It’s just expected. Yet because Trump is going to be the president with the thinnest skin since Andrew Jackson, he couldn’t help himself—he had to immediately tweet that Streep is an “overrated” actress.

Now, while I disagree with everything Streep said, there is no way she is an overrated actress. When I know Streep is in a film, I know at least one thing about that film: the character she portrays will be handled wonderfully. She is an excellent actress.

Trump continues to hit back at anyone who insults him. Streep is only the latest in a long line of individuals and/or organizations to be called overrated, losers, etc. What if even the pope were to give him advice he doesn’t like, advice he considered insulting?

Let’s pray it doesn’t come to that.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 4)

In my 2014 survey, conducted with the help of the Wade Center at Wheaton College, I asked respondents to comment on the Shadowlands films, one produced by the BBC, and the other, more prominent one, by Hollywood.  Here’s the question I asked, along with the responses.

Have You Viewed Any of the Shadowlands Productions? If So, What Is Your Opinion of Them?

In asking this question, I knew most people would be familiar with the big-budget Hollywood version starring Anthony Hopkins (Lewis) and Debra Winger (Joy) that came out in 1993. Not as many, I was sure, would be cognizant of the earlier BBC production from 1985 that aired on both CBS and PBS, with Joss Ackland as Lewis and Claire Bloom as Joy.

Yet that BBC offering won more than a dozen prestigious awards, including the International Emmy for Best Drama and two British Academy Awards. My hope was to get comments that might compare the two, and I did get some, although the majority of respondents were, as I expected, more aware of the 1993 version.

ShadowlandsSome respondents were very pleased with the Hollywood production. As one enthused, “Beautiful story. I saw the Winger/Hopkins movie. . . . I laughed, I cried, I wept when they couldn’t. From the leads to the housekeeper, beautiful casting and wonderful execution.” Another explained, “I have only seen part of the Anthony Hopkins film version, but I enjoyed it. I appreciated being able to visualize Lewis as a person rather than a picture.”

Others, though, thought the Hopkins-Winger version was deficient, particularly in its portrayal of Lewis’s faith and the kind of man he was. As one noted, “It is a good movie, but it is absolutely false in its pale and timid portrayal of Lewis’s robust personality.” Another cast aspersions on the director’s decision on how to portray Lewis: “Richard Attenborough’s film. Serious falsification of Lewis. Simplification and belittling, as if he was a pompous idiot until Joy showed up.”

More than one thought Winger did an exceptional job depicting Joy, but their enthusiasm was tempered by the Lewis persona as shown in the film: “While a good movie on its own (I thought Debra Winger nailed what I think Joy was like), there was much left out, especially in relation to Lewis’s faith. This was a disappointment.”

Others did their best to try to appreciate the good while recognizing the shortcomings. Here are two examples: “It missed much of what makes Lewis so impacting but was entertaining and enlightening into his everyday life”; “It was OK. He didn’t seem like C.S. Lewis . . . not jovial enough.”

Shadowlands BBCThose who saw both adaptations seemed clearly to come out in favor of the 1985 BBC TV movie. One respondent definitely preferred Ackland’s Lewis to Hopkins’s version, while simultaneously praising the production values of the latter: “Joss Ackland has made the best Lewis so far. The Anthony Hopkins Shadowlands was the best film overall, best cinematography.”

Another who preferred Ackland to Hopkins still had kind words for Winger’s portrayal: “I think the actor portraying Lewis in the BBC version was great. I think the actress in the Hollywood version who portrayed Joy was great. I did not care for Anthony Hopkins, felt like he didn’t even try to portray Lewis—just a stereotype of an English professor.”

This comment from another respondent was similar: “The first, BBC, version is infinitely superior in almost every regard. Closer to the facts, and more true to the spiritual journey. The only superiority of the later theatrical film is Debra Winger’s performance as Joy.”

One summarized what seems to be the main complaint for those who were less than thrilled with Hollywood’s offering: “The one with Anthony Hopkins had good acting, good production values, but the script was horrible. The one with Joss Ackland was much better.”

In order to represent fairly the consensus of the survey respondents to the two films, one would have to say that, in general, for those who saw both, they acknowledged the excellent production values of Hollywood’s 1993 version, but were far more enamored with the depiction of Lewis in the BBC version, which they felt was closer to the reality of who the man was.

So much for those films, but what about the Narnia movies that have been produced thus far? How did my respondents react to them? That will be the topic next Saturday.

Oscars & the Celebrity Culture

Last night was the Oscar extravaganza. I see a lot of comments about it on Facebook this morning. That, and other news reports, is how I’ll get my info on what happened. I stopped watching this Hollywood self-congratulation “look-at-us-we’re-stars” self-esteem movement years ago. No, I’m not a film curmudgeon, but there’s enough smugness in the world without spending an entire evening viewing the preening and self-admiration of a largely narcissistic community.

Actually, I love movies. My first degree was not history, but radio, television, and film production. My first job was in television, followed closely by radio. I remain fascinated by the potential for film to convey God’s truths, whether in a direct way, as in the new Son of God, or in indirect ways. A well-made movie earns my respect, as can be shown by the number of movie reviews I’ve written on this blog over the years.

But that doesn’t negate the problems associated with many who immerse themselves in the Hollywood culture. Whether producers, directors, or actors, there is a great temptation to puff up oneself beyond recognition and begin to take oneself too seriously. And when politicians take actors too seriously, they even have them testify before congressional committees on some subject in their latest film. Excuse me, but acting in a film doesn’t necessarily make one an expert on the subject of the film.

Sadly, all too often, celebrities are more well-known for their expertise in other areas:

Hollywood Celebs

And when one dies of a drug overdose, as Philip Seymour Hoffman did recently, we are treated to days of praise for their talents, with very few comments on their character. Or if character is addressed at all, the entertainment-news talking heads will downplay the role of their poor choices that led to their demise:

Glowing Obits

No, most Hollywood types are not exactly role models. Maybe there’s one redeeming feature that can be appreciated from these various awards ceremonies—we haven’t yet created one for politicians:

Fooled You