The manipulation of the truth

James Boswell, The Cinema, 1939


Comments from the book by Patrick Charaudeau

Em The manipulation of the truth, Patrick Charaudeau states that “post-truth produces counter-truth”. In the United States, in the 2016 elections, when asked about the inflated numbers of the “crowd” at the inauguration of the elected candidate, the Trump advisor’s amoral justification was that she preferred “alternative facts”. Photographic and audiovisual techniques erase “factual truths” and juxtapose misinformation. For the professor at Paris XIII University, untruth feeds shamelessness. Cyberspace enhances controversies that have less to do with lies and, much more, with “everything is sayable”. Talking shit is no longer a problem.


This is a time of “manna words, whose impactful, multiform and fleeting meaning gives the illusion that with a certain word one can respond to anything”, we read in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Currently, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the magic motto is post-truth. Post-truth falls within the range of post-modernity, post-Marxism, post-liberalism, post-nationalism, post-colonialism, post-democracy, post-revolution. The inflation of post-concepts does not imply greater care or precision in the use of language. It rather implies chaos.

The particle “post” alludes to the next moment, postpartum. In post-industrial, a qualitative break with the loss of relevance of factory workers in history. In postmodern, an alleged end of ideologies and the beginning of digital technologies in social relations. In post-truth, appeals to beliefs and emotions gain prominence. Facts become “interpretation” (Nietzsche) or “narrative” (Lyotard) and, in the homophobic lexicon, “mimimi” (the Thing). For the new old right, the law that matters is that of an old Machiavellian axiom – “to govern is to make people believe”. Words become elastic bands pulled this way and that for absolute convenience, until they break.

Hannah Arendt, in The origins of totalitarianism, highlights the cognitive dissonances with reality from the perspective of the conception of “ideology” as “false consciousness”. Ideological thinking would be independent and detached from reality; I would consider the factual an artifact; would not distinguish between truth and falsehood. You can pull it at will, according to the customer. With luck, donkeys become power alternatives on Sundays, on TV. Media outlets invented and monetized “democracy of opinion”, now reproduced on social media as the game where “everything is possible” and “everything is divine and wonderful”. If it's not true, it's good news.

The signalman

The pasteurization of minds by conventional media was the greatest threat to democracy in the 20th century: it made individuals incapable of thinking autonomously in the face of the vertical language of the media. Without informed citizenship, the democratic rule of law does not control the exercise of governance. Without republican transparency, there is no effective monitoring of government officials. Uncertainty is then confused with an impotence to change or denounce tyrants. With the collective imagination monitored by Big Tech, It's worse in the 21st century.

The mystification agenda disorients society and forces opponents to spend enormous energy on denials. Networks encourage enmity, intensify competition, and exploit fear in human beings. Hatred spreads faster than solidarity, it cultivates bullying, insults, organizes violence for massacres in schools. “Doing justice” (sic) has become a great product to boost sales among billions of users of cell phone screens thirsting for blood, cancellation. There are plenty of avengers in the websphere.

Barbarism behind a computer screen is more attractive than civilization. Therefore, Lula da Silva's victory had an epic character in defeating neo-fascism, the spirit of the time and the state machine. The resilience of workers who receive wages inversely proportional to their memory was on the right side: the future. As in Charles Dickens' tale, The signalman, the petty bourgeoisie needs to learn from the poor: “Hey, you down there!”

Good deal

Hate is good business. It's no surprise that Hollywood cinematography replaces romances with Tarantine dramas, which end in torture and death. It fits with neoliberalism, where the weak have no place and the strong have no empathy; circumstance that leads both to consume self-help formulas available in retail. With black and white lighting, the truculence requires no scripts and the audience enjoys catharsis during the sessions. Cafajestes are actors with English subtitles; jewel thieves have cracks in Portuguese. To understand, it is necessary to place the films in their surroundings, as indicated for the open-air sculptures.

The “culture of the enemy” is in the soul of the ruling classes, which inspires the eternal confrontation between the free market and democracy. The metaphor of the world divided into 1% of citizens versus 99% sub-citizens, stamp the neoliberal dystopia and rescue the objective truth lost in the labyrinths of the internet. By the way, the commodity image of Donald Trump in the prison photo is superb; Pablo Escobar smiles. How will the Thing be portrayed upon arrest? In the background, lie Cancelier, Marielle, Bruno, Paulo Gustavo and 700 thousand other victims. Tectonic plates are moving. With difficulty, democracy knew how to defend itself; Will you know how to conquer?

Patrick Charaudeau does not have the optimism of illusionists. It can be seen in the dedication of the book: “To my grandchildren, present and future, for navigating between contrary winds”. Without fearing the capital cyclonic, the octogenarian grandfather teaches the new generations to handle the sails of the boat with the weapon of criticism, to assume the condition of subjects of history. The truth produces the counter-lie; the struggle produces consciousness. The steering wheel navigates rough seas.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.


Patrick Charaudeau. The manipulation of truth: From the triumph of denial to the shadows of post-truth. São Paulo, Editora Contexto, 2022, 192 pages. []

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