|Paul Klee, Die Zwitscher-Maschine (1922)|
Continued from where we left off.
Trump isn't the first reality TV star to be elected president. That (dubious?) honor goes to Jack Kennedy. Every presidential election since 1960 has been, to a progressively wider degree, a TV pageant where the last contestant standing after the final elimination round gets to live in the White House. All of our presidents, and certainly most of our high-profile legislators, are characters on television.
It is question for the child development specialists: at what point does the young boy or girl learn and understand that the events shown on Clarissa Explains It All and Salute Your Shorts (come on, I'm not going to pretend to know what the kids are watching these days) aren't really happening? How does he or she learn and come to apply knowledge of the difference between "real" and "just pretend" content in the mass media?
It may be a matter of aesthetic: perhaps the child extrapolates from the stylistic variations the difference between the fabricated drama of Veep or West Wing reruns and the real drama of a presidential press conference or State of the Union address. The better the teleplay and direction, the more likely it is to be pretend. Reality means low production values, discounting the dramatic cable news CG transitions. Maybe those transitions are themselves the telltale indicators.
In all likelihood the distinction must be explained to them by someone who already knows better. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan cites one John Wilson of the African Institute of London University who describes the responses of non-literate villagers to an educational film, and determines that viewing and making sense of a Western motion picture actually requires some training. (Regrettably, McLuhan doesn't see fit to specify where on the African continent Mr. Wilson was, and the original paper is unavailable.) The artificiality of a live-action TV drama won't be obvious to someone who doesn't know any better and has nobody to teach them otherwise, and it's not unlikely that they would continue believing its veracity until presented with compelling evidence to the contrary.
Perhaps the partition we draw between "real" media and "pretend" media is prone to porousness. After all, there are hundreds, thousands of people, grown adults, proving every day on social media, message boards, and break room conversations that the contrived personalities and enacted narratives of mass media fictions are as urgent and real to them as anything in the news. (Case in point: how many American adults are talking about Rogue One? And how many are talking about Aleppo?)