The Truth of a Lie

True or False: Mermaids have been proven to exist.

True, if you consider Discovery Channel’s  Mermaids: The Body Found  and Mermaids: The New Evidence.
False, if you read the post-script at the credits saying that it’s science fiction based on scientific possibilities and theories.


I remember watching Mermaids on TV because my mother loved animal documentaries, and it just so happened to be on, so I watched it. I remember it being a really big thing because all of a sudden, mermaids exist!! They aren’t just fantasy and they’re real! Oh my goodness!


Reading the articles assigned for this week reminded me of the mockumentary, and the fact that it generated Discovery Channel’s highest viewership ratings since it’s creation still astonishes me. The reputation of the Discovery Channel as a documentary channel (at least in my perception of it) caused the world to jump in on the hoax, believing in the existence of mermaids even when it was completely made up. The form of the story, in this case a documentary, had a huge impact on its reception and believability. With the production of Mermaids, Discovery Channel used the idea that documentaries are factual and grounded in reality to successfully draw an audience. The seemingly opposing form of the story and the content of the story caused an uproar in the online communities that have watched the film. The effects of this use (or misuse) of form and media generated discussions surrounding the question of viewer and filmmaker responsibility, a question we kind of touched upon in class. Is it the filmmaker’s responsibility to create content that is true, factual, accurate, and believable? Or is it the viewer’s responsibility to fact-check and make sure the content they are consuming stems and originates from credible sources? Where does the responsibility fall? The tensions between a formally represent “documentary” and the expectations of a documentary can be highlighted in a quotation found in our Winston reading Claiming the Real, where Discovery is essentially “grounding the documentary idea in reception rather than in representation” being “exactly the way to preserve its validity” (253).

The responsibility argument reminds me a lot of the “trigger warnings” that have been a prevalent in social media as of late. The idea of “trigger warnings” suggest that it is the creator’s responsibility signpost their content to protect others from viewing it. Is this the solution though? Is it not a kind of censorship? I ask a lot of questions in these blog posts that I don’t know the answer to. (:

I believe you but you don’t know what you’re saying? — Gorgias by Plato

I am confused by a very simple point in Plato’s Gorgias.

If Gorgias claims that what oratory is is simply being able to persuade a person or crowd without knowledge that he is knowledgable in something he actually isn’t, then what does he use to persuade the crowd? I’m sure the lengthy style of speech Polus gives when trying to answer Socrates gives an idea of how he does it, but then this brings me to a similar conclusion to what Socrates said: he isn’t really answering the question, just making it sound nice and grand. In the end, it’s kind of like a bluff… no?

What kind of persuasion would it be if the basis of it is simply on the words of one person without knowledge? To a person lacking knowledge, it would sound perfectly fine and seem rational, I presume, as long as someone seems to knows what they’re talking about, but it does not provide any solid ground for a claim. This leads me to question how much we actually trust other people’s words, and how much we believe what we hear. People lacking knowledge seem to be blindingly trusting in what they hear from the orator, because he appears to be knowledgable, at least in how Plato portrays the unintelligent population. Does this not mean that whoever speaks persuasively can move those lacking knowledge, even if it may be completely false and inaccurate? I guess so, but I think this also downplays humanity’s intelligence and complexity in someways, as I do not think it is as simple as Socrates rationalizes that “a man who has learned what’s just [is] a just man too” (pg, 19, 460b)

Then again, maybe what Plato portrays is true. Words can move people, as demonstrated by many great historic speeches (Martin Luther King, Hitler, etc). But do people believe in these words simply because it aligns with their motivations and goals, or is it maybe because the speaker has a certain charisma? Successful speakers certainly seem to have both, however, what I’m trying to question is how much can we believe a person based on their words without knowledge or facts backing it up? Or, as Socrates describes, how much can people be swayed by “conviction – persuasion” as opposed to “teaching – persuasion”? Doesn’t providing evidence and teaching with facts and knowledge lead to a more solidified and grounded claim? Am I just veering towards rationalism in regards to knowledge? Maybe? Regardless, given our progress in technology and availability of information, it is hard to imagine an argument or persuasive speech without at least a hint of factual evidence to support an argument. Perhaps this is just my instilled process of thinking and therefore cannot understand a “conviction – persuasion” Socrates and Gorgias is referring to.

Either way, I would like to end this post by claiming this: I don’t really have anything to back up what I’m saying.