The Other Columbus: Welcome to the Desert of the Unreal

We live in a time when we’ve decided to ‘both sides’ any and everything into a bottomless pit of indefensible blathering

Scott Woods
A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest against mandates related to COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Feb. 5, 2022. Protesters again poured into Toronto and Ottawa to join a convoy of truckers whose occupation of Ottawa to denounce COVID vaccine mandates is now in its second week.

Consuming news has essentially become the intellectual equivalent of an internet challenge every day. Pouring a bucket of ice on your head. Swallowing a spoonful of cinnamon. Planking on a shopping cart. Whatever it takes to engage audiences and get them participating in the news cycle. Depending on the topic, the charge of fake news is both patently ridiculous and yet completely on brand. So, I try to consume as little of it as I can unless it’s just a list of verifiable facts. Anything more is just asking for an aneurism. 

A number of people I actually like make a living in the media, so I should probably qualify that I am mostly driven to violence by the people who use media platforms to make wild and false claims and less so the people who have to turn those wild claims into something that sounds newsworthy. When a “legal analyst” says that Canada’s invocation of emergency powers against the “Freedom Convoy” is akin to “[cracking] down on the Civil Rights movement” and manages to finish that sentence without bursting into laughter or being tap danced offstage by the Apollo’s Sandman, I want to form my own blockade on a therapist’s couch for an entire week. 

It's bad enough that we live in a time when we’ve decided to “both sides” any and everything into a bottomless pit of indefensible blathering; we’ve also let people who have no interest in civil rights use the very language of it to defend actions that are anti-civil and anti-rights. If you ask me, we may have too much freedom if conservatives can without consequence use John Lewis’ “good trouble” line while gutting legislation for which Lewis spent his entire life fighting.

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Of course, by “we”, I don’t mean all of us. Why is it that so many of the people who use the word “freedom” in their protests right now are generally people who have no problem exercising freedom? When a Black person says they’re losing their freedoms, everybody gets it. Black folks aren’t 100 percent able to move about when and wherever we want without some breach of the social contract rearing its head from either the state, a random person exercising their (understanding of) freedom, or both. We have our voting rights chipped away so frequently it elicits eye-rolling just mentioning it. People hate when we bring race up in conversations, not because it generates more racism, but because our oppression is so banal and common. What is it about the freedom of white truck drivers that’s so endangered. (You’re looking at the previous sentence and wondering why it doesn’t end in a question mark. That’s because the question is so blatantly rhetorical it doesn’t deserve proper punctuation.) 

You can say anything in the news now. In fact, why stop there? You can actually raise money running for political office on a platform of complete falsehoods. The politically astute among us will “cough” while pointing out that this has always been true of political campaigns, but even they would have to admit that what we’re experiencing now has achieved unprecedented levels.

We have full-blown jesters gunning for thrones right now, people for whom the truth is literally a foreign concept. You can say anything right now and still end up on some news show somewhere being interviewed by someone committed to presenting a straight face for the duration of your time on air. Perhaps that will be my next pandemic hobby: creating a platform of fantastic notions and conspiracies on which to run. Who knows, with enough Twitter traction, I might be able to flip it into actual money. Or cryptocurrency, whatever that is. My God, even money isn’t real anymore. Sign me up.