A new documentary examines the Trump campaign and the breadth of the influence of «fake news» exclusively through the eyes of Russian media sources.
One of the most bizarre of a slew of media-manufactured stories about America’s top political players is that Hillary Clinton’s contact with the remains of an ancient «mummy princess» from Siberia cost her the last election. Maxim Pozdorovkin’s documentary Our New President, which premiered at Sundance, opens with Russian news footage of the then First Lady touching down at Novosibirsk’s airport in 1997, accompanied by eerie, dramatic sound effects. A Moscow news channel explains that she was cursed by a preserved royal who usually trades in natural disasters but decided, so shamans say, to unleash the Monica Lewinsky scandal, campaign-scuppering fainting spells and coughing fits. It’s a suitably surreal beginning to a film that, being wholly compiled from Russian television coverage and YouTube clips surrounding the election of Donald Trump, barrages us with an onslaught of misinformation. By the end, our understanding of the extent of the «fake news» crisis we are in has been bolstered, as has our understanding of the way in which outrageous truth-tampering is weakening traditional media outlets’ ability to uphold democracy.
Fake news equals fake reality
Among the previous documentaries of Russian director Pozdorovkin is Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, which, in following the court cases of today’s most famous anti-Kremlin activists, drew parallels to the Soviet-era show trials of dissidents. That film started with a line from political playwright Bertolt Brecht: «Art is not a mirror to reflect society, but a hammer with which to shape it.» Turning his attention from resistance artists to state shills with Our New President, Pozdorovkin taps science-fiction author Philip K. Dick for an opening quote to encapsulate the current clout of Russia’s media of disorientation, which may now have the upper hand in moulding citizen perceptions: «Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities.» In the fraught battle to control the public narrative, the means are now much sneakier than naked force.