Shattered Glass

14.12.2004Filmi

People are convinced that the media reflects the reality. That the newspapers are their window of the world, through which they can observe and see things happening far away from them. The journalists are believed to provide that image, to bring to us things from far away places and to serve them, neatly packed, on a daily basis. The system works, cause we trust them. We believe that they are doing the things we think they should be doing.

The movie “Shattered Glass” tells a story about a journalist who does not deserve to be called that. If the first paragraph of this text is correct, then Steven Glass was anything BUT a journalist. And yet, his articles were published in “The new republic“, “Rolling stones” and others prominent magazines and newspapers. So what exactly was he?

The problem of lying, strictly speaking, does not concern ethics. It does not concern morale or any other philosophical category. The biggest problem is selling a lie. “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it” said Hitler. But he was wrong. The best way to sell a lie is to make it seem real. To disguise as the truth and ship it out into the world. Steven Glass knew that.

The first question that everybody asks when they discover a lie is “Why did you do it?” and at the same time avoid the really important question “How did we ever buy this?“. The reason for lying seems important to people cause they think that it will help them understand the whole situation. While in fact it only makes it more puzzling and more confused. Instead of looking into themselves, they point fingers. They judge the liar while in reality they should be judging themselves. Because they are the ones who bought it. They are the ones who fell for it.

Another thing about believing into certain things and stories is that everything seems OK until the lie is discovered. Until someone cries “Wolf!”. And then, it all goes downhill. This seems funny to me cause nothing really changed, the lie was there all along, the discrepancies in the story visible to those who wanted to see. But they chose not to see. They chose to believe.

The definition of a lie and truth are also sketchy. What exactly is a lie? Well, usually a lie is defined by saying something like “a statement that is not in coherence with the facts, the truth“. But what exactly is the truth then? A lie is defined by a negative definition. Not what it is, but what it isn`t. How can you define truth? As something that is not a lie? Another definition of lie implies that lying hurts people. What if it does not? Is that a lesser lie? A bigger one?

Stephen Glass wrote articles that did not have an ounce of “truth” in them. Things that were fabricated completely. And people bought them. People took them as the truth. Why? Well, they did not have any reason to believe that they are a lie. Right? You have to believe in something. It does not matter if the thing you believe in is a lie. Your belief makes it real. Hell, how do you think religion works? Marriages? Relationships? A lie is a truth until proven otherwise. Until someone cries “Wolf!“. For Stephen Glass, that someone was Adam L. Penenberg. He was a journalist for the Forbes newspaper and he found things in Glass`s stories weird and…well …untrue. The story that was the Glass`s downfall was called “Hack Haven“. In those days (1996) computer world was a fairly unknown place to the public which thrived on the story of cyberspace, hackers and science fiction. Glass had an easy job since this was considered the “underground scene” that nobody knew anything about. But as always, there is somebody who thinks the opposite of you. Who doubts you. Asking why someone doubts you is in the same category as asking someone why does he lie. The answer does not tell you anything of any importance. Things happen. Nothing personal, hehe.

How does one response to a past lie? Do you try to make it better? Do you sweep it under the rug? Do you ignore it and pay no attention to it? Or do you stir up a storm and do everything to distance yourself from that person who said it? And then again…does it really matter what you do? Things did happen. You bought it. You cannot take it back and ask for a money-back. And how does telling everybody you bought a lie show you? As incompetent? Stupid? Naive? Good? Brave? How many lies that haven`t been declared as such did the public buy by now? Is anybody keeping count? Does it matter?

There is no uniform action against lying. People do not react unanimously when they discover a lie. Some are offended, some are angered, some don`t care…I guess it all depends on how much lies did they themselves word out. Or how smart do they think they are. It all comes down to individuals. And there is no way of knowing it in advance. Each and every relationships is unique.

We all live in our own worlds. Stereotypes. Places, people. Our world are our lives. Our lives are what we make of it. The way we show ourselves to others. The way we interpret and send the message out. Into the world. Making sure the message does not get garbled too much, that it gets through and that we know about it. And later on, that message gets branded as the truth or as a lie.

Problem is, the criteria is very wide and flexible. And I think it should be dropped entirely. The line between a truth and a lie runs on such shaky grounds that it`s useless. It does not fulfull it`s duty. It does not tell us anything. It only seeds confusion and misunderstanding. I guess I speak in favour of a lie here. If someone believed in a lie, we are playing an entirely different game here. The second one believes in something, then that thing is the truth. In comes religion.

Lies are nothing but an opinion of the minority against the truth which is the opinion of the majority. It does not say anything about the content of the opinions, it just tells us who has which. That`s all.

Stephen Glass is teaching us an important lesson about ourselves. One that we fail at completely and utterly. We learn nothing out of it. We only exert the rule of the majority, brand him as sick and unworthy of sharing the same space with us and we fire him. Make him pay for his sins. But what we should really do is learn from him. From his knowledge and we should thank him for pointing out our ignorance. Instead we react like a wounded animal, reflex and instinct, running away and killing the enemy. We learn nothing, we see nothing…we are keeping status quo. Alone in the dark again.

Reference links:

The original “Hack Heaven” article
Apology of “The new republic”
Article about the whole incident on Wired.com
The view of Adam Penenberg
A similar story of another “hacker” and the aftermath