All the President’s Tweets

How do we know the truth in today’s social era?

by Samuel Farfsing

What do you think of when you think of the most iconic Italian food?

Google says pizza and spaghetti.

It got me thinking about the food origins of the standard Olive Garden dinner — to my limited Google culinary knowledge, the ingredients should include: spaghetti noodles, tomato sauce, spices (up to you if you want to add garlic, basil, pepper and salt to taste).

Google also helped me discover:

“While we do think of pasta as a culturally Italian food, it is likely the descendent of ancient Asian noodles. A common belief about pasta is that it was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo during the 13th century.

Okay…whatever we all knew, spaghetti — AKA noodles — are not (likely) from Italy.

Google also had this to say about tomatoes, one of the other quintessential pillar ingredients of Italian cuisine:

Tomatoes didn’t arrive in Europe until the 16th century, although it is not known how. It has been said that they were brought back from Central America by Spanish Conquistadors. Another legend suggests that two Jesuit priests brought them to Italy from Mexico. Others say Columbus brought the first tomato to Europe.”

A (totally) 300-year gap of dry noodles without tomato sauce? Yuckkk! I am not a food expert, but I am drawn to stories like this in our era of information over-saturation. And it got me to thinking, in the social echo chambers in which we live, how do we even know what’s really true?

Take the controversial origins of last week’s presidentially-retweeted wrestling video, which caused a shitstorm around its origins, journalistic integrity, a heartfelt apology, claims of blackmail, a debate over anonymity, and more.

Not to mention, #WTF.

Clearly, somebody made this content (CNN refused to name names, which is the ethical thing to do) but it doesn’t matter who the message maker is, it matters who shares it and re-appropriates it — otherwise no one would be talking about it. In this case, POTUS.

That is the double edge sword in today’s Modern Media Culture: content has so much power, but it is also powerless unless it gets seen.

The explosion of gifs, memes, videos, and photos have replaced the origin question in some ways; origin for many is about the cultural presentation of origin and the acceptance of that as conventional wisdom (it exists, therefore it is true). It takes too much work to confirm everything, so sometimes we have to trust (or reject) the source. We all want to accept the presentation that looks like the authentic origin and move on, it’s a human flaw and simply easier.

Just as we accept spaghetti and tomato sauce as Italian.

But really, if we dig deeper before taking sides, and not forget that we all have an origin story we cannot escape in a landscape littered with Facebook photos and long-ago tweets east, west, north or south — we all come from a place that is real, right? This is not about appropriation or cultural barbarianism, it is about getting to the truth, or maybe how society needs to learn to cope with the idea an ‘origin-less’ social sphere. Because today, we are tasked with figuring out the origin of everything, and it’s a huge ask. What’s fake, and what’s real?

I don’t know and often we will never know. Today’s viral culture by its nature can be origin-less, and too many people don’t seem to care. Journalists can claim they found a so-called Reddit user and the makers of these messages, but how do you really know? At that point the origin becomes pointless, because the content is already a very viral virus and accepted as part of culture.

In other words, the assumption of the origin and the truth is left up to who represents it, whether that’s a video or a tomato. If in 2017 that’s Donny, our culture — and the truth behind it — is living on a slippery slope.

Samuel Farfsing is a Design Director at Mistress.