To be honest, I think that fake news is hardly limited to politics.
While pop culture news has often been thought of as “fake” in and of itself through the propagation of tabloid gossip, the same line of skepticism should be brought to the controversies it brings into question. Within the first three months of 2017, two major scandals about popular films have flooded social media—Amblin Entertainment’s “A Dog’s Purpose” and Disney-Pixar’s “Coco”—only to be debunked in a matter of weeks or even days. In both cases, the causes to boycott have been well-intentioned, as protestors felt that the crew of “A Dog’s Purpose” was abusive towards its animal cast and that the upcoming “Coco” is plagiarizing from Jorge Gutierrez’s “The Book of Life.” The issues being tackled, those of animal abuse and cultural appropriation, respectively, are problems that need to be addressed in modern society—hence why these controversies have become so pervasive.
For instance, third-party investigators have confirmed that the infamous video footage from “A Dog’s Purpose” was heavily edited to give the impression of an abuse that never occurred. Yet, when I spoke to people about this controversy, many were not aware that this investigation had ever occurred and commented on the lack of news coverage the rebuttal received in comparison to the original issue. In order to prevent people from being duped by these kinds of scandals, and by fake news in general, a few guidelines should be established.
- Fact-check, fact-check, fact-check.
Too often we limit our research to just looking at articles from different sources about the same thing, and social media really doesn’t help much with that. Take “Coco,” for instance. The major arguments against it are as follows: it appropriates from a Mexican director (Gutierrez) and it is incredibly whitewashed, with no Mexican presence in sight. Yet, not only does the film boast an impressive Latino cast and crew, but Gutierrez himself has taken to Twitter multiple times, stating that the similar concepts were coincidental, noting that many of his friends are working on “Coco” and even outright telling “The Book of Life” fans to put aside their differences and stop arguing about the subject. Much of this misconception comes from the fact than fans believed he was rejected by Disney when DreamWorks was the real culprit—a confusion of studios that would get you shot down in most animation forums. All this can be gleaned from a few looks at IMdB pages or other places fans would commonly frequent, like a beloved director’s Twitter feed.
- Think about when the news is being released.
These cases of fake news both hit the media following important milestones in the films’ production. The video for “A Dog’s Purpose” came just a week before its worldwide release, and the discourse surrounding “Coco” after its first trailer. This is a common way to stir up attention and make it look as though information has been “withheld” until the last minute.
- Think about what agendas it serves.
TMZ and PETA are both organizations that many view with a skeptical eye, yet neither came into question during the “A Dog’s Purpose” video due to the emotional reactions it brought. PETA is known for, among other things, condemning the use of animals as pets. What could it gain from editing footage from a movie that glorifies pets themselves? That is to say, we should think about the possibility of a constructed controversy and what deeper purposes this construction could serve.
- Realize that people make mistakes and can be forgiven.
This isn’t to say that all controversies about new releases are completely unwarranted—for instance, many compelling arguments were made about how M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” contributes to the demonization of mental illness. What’s important to note, however, is that the creators should not be exempt from the conversation. Too often, we see them as parties within a corrupt system; yet, the producer of “A Dog’s Purpose” frequently donates to anti-animal abuse organizations, and after mistakenly trying to trademark “Dia de Los Muertos,” Pixar decided to hire many of the Mexican-American creators who spoke out against it.
These might seem like half-hearted apologies in a corporatized world that relies on them, but we should learn that complete skepticism is not the answer. Jewell-style critical thought, and acknowledging mistakes within media, is.