Jordan Peele's 'Fake Obama'


Comedian and Academy Award winner Jordan Peele in April released a video that seemed to portray Barack Obama calling President Donald Trump "a total and complete dipshit." It was created by new software that allows for the generation of a novel variant of realistic fake news. Motherboard and others promptly hyperventilated over the possibility that such forgeries could have "society-changing impacts" and erode "our ability to discern truth."

The control and manipulation of images and events has been with us forever, though. Not only that, but the fact that more of us now have the ability to detach words and images from the specific time and place of their instantiation is actually incredibly liberating. Reappropriating, misappropriating, decontextualizing, recontextualizingas all that has become simpler to pull off, the result has been a wellspring of media that let the relatively powerless speak, from Shepard Fairey and Robbie Conal on the left to Sabo on the right, and that's just the street art scene. Technology that allows us to create and distribute fake videos is just the latest way for all sorts of people to express themselves.

No doubt in an age of "deep fakes," fake news, polarization, and paranoia, individuals will have to get better at critically consuming media. Two-thirds of us already believe the mainstream press publishes a lot of horseshit, which is a good start. Peele's Obama vid drives home the need to step up our skepticism game.

We will never be able to rein in fake news, or even all agree on its precise definition. The way forward is through empowering people to be better filters for themselves, not delegating authority to a powerful gatekeeping institution like the state.