CAIRO: “We like non-fiction because we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where fictitious election results give us a fictitious president. We are now fighting a war for fictitious reasons. Michael Moore’s 2003 Oscar winning speech has a strong echoing effect.
As a director of documentary movies, Moore’s disdain for fictitious times is unsurprising. At moments, one indeed thinks that the domain of fakeness has in modern life, more and more, trespassed on the domain of authenticity.
In the age of information technology, facts are abundant and easy to access.
This should have brought people closer to truth, but this is apparently not the case. One reason for this development is explained by the concept of “paradox of plenty, which maintains that plenty of information results in scarcity of attention.
With the massive volume of available information, selecting what to focus on becomes imperative. This selection is impeded, however, by the choices of power holders.
The mass media are often biased and driven by personal interest. Governments, too, resort to deception to bolster their rule, and advance controversial policies. Eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency revealed that even democratic regimes sometimes base their policies on massive constructions of lies, or “weapons of mass deception in the words of Hans Blix, head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.
Also, new techniques of misleading and deluding people went in tandem with great leaps in information technology, In “How to Lie with Maps, Mark Monmonier explains how maps could be used to distort reality for advertising or propaganda purposes.
Manipulating numbers is also very common. It is a practice to which the Egyptian regime has grown accustomed. Economists use an interesting analogy to shed light on the way numbers are abused by the Egyptian government in order to overstate the success of economic plans.
The analogy is of a company that plans to invest LE 10,000 and make a profit of LE 500 by the end of the year. By that date, no profit was made and LE 500 were wasted as well, so the cash balance stood at only LE 9,500. To conceal such a loss, the reports issued by the Egyptian government would divide the final cash balance with the initial one (9500/10500) to conclude that 90 percent of the plan’s initial objectives were achieved, a stunning success to the unsuspecting reader.
Truth is further blurred in Egypt because its society is principally a “shame society. Because group opinion in such a setting is inescapable, appearance and reputation count for almost everything in life. People will go to great lengths to uphold their honor in the eyes of society, and avoid humiliation. Appearance thus is perceived as synonymous with substance.
On Egypt’s public stage, both actors and audience succumb to that rationale, the former to advance their own parochial interests, the latter out of naivety and myopia. Names and descriptions therefore do not reflect substance. In political life, for example, the “president is in fact nearly a deity, and the despotic, authoritarian ruling party is named “national and “democratic. Opposition political parties are, in effect, mere “accessories designed to make the democratic scene look real. Wherever you turn your eyes to, it appears as though reality is deformed or twisted.
People also confuse appearance with substance. This explains why, among the general public, Gamal Mubarak’s bid for the presidency is often endorsed for his public image as a well-educated, presentable young man.
But how much do these superficial characteristics weigh to a politician?
Electing Gamal Mubarak for these reasons is as unwise as marrying a man/woman for their dazzling looks. It is political suicide disguised in the form of opinion. As life becomes more sophisticated, people, sadly, are becoming less sophisticated.
In Egypt, deception permeated polity and society at large. Men in unblemished black suits appear every day on TV and confidently speak the language of democracy and liberalism while they enact, and consolidate, tyranny and oppression. Religious symbols have been on the rise, in parallel with the rise in crime, corruption and immorality. And the mass media find in semi-talented artists the real “heroes of this nation.
Michael Moore was right. We live in fictitious times.
Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo. He could be reached at: email@example.com