Webworm presents: an essay by Serj Tankian
"Our breakthroughs in scientific thinking are being grossly nullified by moronic linguistic pandering stunting our progress as a species"
I feel really happy about what I get to share with you today, because my friend Serj Tankian agreed to write an essay for this lil’ newsletter.
I started Webworm during New Zealand’s first lockdown, back in April 17th — writing about the mystery of some missing puzzle pieces.
Since then Webworm has twisted and turned, but it’s always done what it set out to do: explore the weird rabbit holes scattered throughout society, both online and irl.
Serj Tankian is someone who likes to do the same thing. I met him 12 years ago, not too long after he’d decided to move to New Zealand.
I was filming a story with him for Nightline, out at Piha — a beautiful West Coast beach.
Now usually after you film a story as a junior reporter, you go back to the newsroom, edit the story, put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, then watch your story go to air.
But Serj told me to just stay out there, bro. And so I did.
I called my boss and said something along the lines of “er, I am not going to file this story tonight, um, something’s come up, I can’t come back to the office.”
And we hung out, we listened to music, we went on a giant walk, and we talked about stuff.
I guess we became friends.
A lot has happened since then, for both of us.
I did a popular twitter post about a giant hamburger on a plane.
Serj has toured relentlessly, written some operas, put out multiple solo records (and toured them, with orchestras), put on art shows around the world, made a documentary about activism and music called Truth to Power, scored multiple films and video-games, made another documentary about the 2018 Armenian revolution called I Am Not Alone, started an Armenian coffee brand, done giant arena shows with his band System of Down, and collaborated with other artists like Jimmy Urine to make records like Fuktronic.
I have huge admiration for Serj, and have been drawn to his passion for politics and humanity since I was listening to his shit on headphones while getting through journalism school.
Since knowing him, I’ve only realised that passion grows year to year. It’s not going anywhere.
And because I’ve been writing a lot about conspiracy theory insanity here on Webworm, I wanted to get Serj’s take.
Because a lot of what fuels conspiracy culture is this idea that those in power don’t have the people’s best interests at heart. It’s just that the likes of QAnon are barking up the wrong fucking tree.
I think it’s fair to say Serj Tankian is familiar with real corruption and real problems, as both an Armenian and an American. It’s fuelled so much of his writing and activism. He cares about it.
This what I asked Serj to write about in this guest essay for Webworm.
by Serj Tankian
Have you ever thought what you would do if you ever travelled back in time?
Would you save JFK, stop Hitler, Mao, or Pinochet? Would you stop Rupert Murdoch before he created a sham of what we all call news in Australia, the UK, and the U.S.?
But that was only the beginning of the diabolical plan to turn real news into fake news.
This disease of fake news, fear mongering, and dirty politicking is not new, but social media and its invention have boosted its distribution.
For this type of news to work, you would need a swath of an uneducated public. Not simple theorists of the conspiratorial kind, but people who no longer follow verified facts.
I grew up listening to published news, commenting on it, and sometimes finding holes and untruths that made me dig deeper to reveal deeper truths or perversions of it.
When social media first started, it reflected and posted actual news to spread awareness.
Over time, the thirst for sensationalism, celebrity idolatry, reality TV, and nefarious politicking brought “fake news” into the fore.
It started with gossip magazines in supermarkets to celebrity news in the UK, and ended with Donald Trump and his — well — fake presidency in the U.S.
Today, we are inundated by unfound and uncorroborated theories about pretty much everything.
Our breakthroughs in scientific thinking are being grossly nullified by moronic linguistic pandering stunting our progress as a species at a time when our physical extinction is in clear and present danger due to climate change and our inability to shift our lifestyle to confront our own existential threat.
Fake news and scaremongering have turned into the weapon of choice for the rabid right worldwide. In the U.S. it is used to foment mistrust, divisiveness, and hatred.
In Armenia, the previously defeated corrupt oligarchs have been using it to try to undermine the progressive democratic regime created by the 2018 peaceful Velvet Revolution. Around the world the far right seems to be gaining a foothold and with it the spread of this “idiocracy” has increased.
New Zealand is not immune.
Recent online postings seething of conspiratorial dirt specifically about the new short lockdown in Auckland have played conveniently into the hands of the opposition.
Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, would be proud of this new age of disinformation, misinformation and near death in investigative journalism.
The difference in New Zealand is that our public is more educated and aware than many others, thanks to a strong public education system that may have slipped — but is still quite competitive in comparison around the world.
In Armenia, people know that no matter what, the government has good intentions and is working tirelessly to help them.
Even in the U.S. where there is more political obfuscation and divisiveness, I trust the majority and reason will still prevail.
Fuck you, Goebbels.
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This is my favourite worm so far. Despite being a fan of Serj, I never knew he lived here and for so long. We're fortunate to have access to this content, so you better keep this sub alive David. I know you're probably not going to be able to buy a Lambo with the proceeds, but I don't think that's what gets you out of bed in the evening anyway.
Serj's comment about the death of investigative journalism really struck home with me. It's death by a thousand cuts, a tweet here, a selfie there. The public's attention span has been destroyed by being overloaded with information from all directions from the moment we wake until our phone's slip out of hands at the end the day, comatose. Add to the mix advertising revenue evaporating, and you've got the death of investigate journalism.
Now copy writer's, bloggers, and journalists to a lesser extent optimise their articles for skim reading by using shorter paragraphs, bold highlights, and keeping the language targeted to twelve years olds. Chuck in some pretty embeds and quote from the Kanye West and you're good to go.
This, in itself, isn't too terrible. I'm more concerned about the trajectory.
What will people fall for in a decade? Will people have heard of empirical evidence or critical thinking?
Perhaps narrative nonfiction will need to become the new investigative journalism, to capture peoples imagination.
It's really useful when a commentator who really knows what's going on overseas can share some perspective on what's going on here in Aotearoa. I've looked at the prelude to elections in the UK and USA and seen the evidence for foreign interference. Knowing what it looks like, I can see that amongst the conspiracies being disseminated here, there is the dead hand of applied paranoia working its mischief with some people's state of mind. Even some of the candidates seem to be helping (not that I'm suggesting that they're in the pocket of foreign organizations). Thank you, David and Serj, for the perspective and the vigilance!