The many hoaxes on colleges campuses, mostly involving untrue reports of rapes and racial attacks, often turn out to be teaching instruments of a sort, conscious lies intended to reveal broad truths about the constant victimization of women and minorities. After the Tawana Brawley case, an article in the Nation magazine said the faked kidnapping and rape she reported were useful because they called attention to the suffering of blacks, so “in cultural perspective, if not in fact, it doesn’t matter whether the crime occurred or not.”
Many of the campus hoaxes owe something to the postmodern notion that there is no literal truth, only voices and narratives. If so, who can object if you make up a narrative that expresses the truth you feel? This attitude seeps into therapy, often through therapists who guide patients to the feeling that parents must have abused them. After one California patient sued her parents, her therapist said, “I don’t care if it’s true…What actually happened is irrelevant to me.”
Certainly our culture is awash in lies-politicians, professors, reporters, columnists, scientists, etc., so much so that numbness has set in. ” Emotional truth” seems to take advantage of this numbness over a culture saturated in lies. If you can’t believe the literal truth any more, why not trust your own emotional response to stories?
Press coverage of hurricane Katrina was loaded with stories and claims that turned out to be wildly untrue. But the emotions stirred by TV’s often fanciful coverage were powerful and the most emotional of the media stars-Brian Williams and Anderson Cooper-strongly advanced their careers. If emotional impact keeps advancing at the price of truth, we will all be in trouble.