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Topics: Editorial & Opinion | 2 CommentsBy admin | September 27, 2010

But most media and political thought lately is, due to its blindness to its own self-referential absurdity.

Thanks, Google.

I went down a slightly disturbing rabbit hole today. I’ve been confused a bit lately anyway, what with the profusion of meta-references and the death of irony and satire (bonus point for self-link!) that have been making it impossible to separate reality from the many parodies of itself that we’re presented with daily. Today it started with a Guardian piece called This is a news website article about a scientific paper. Which is basically just a text version of Charlie Brooker’s How to Report the News from earlier this year, or Cracked.com’s Trailer For Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever (both videos below). This is an old gag; the community blog Metafilter did a “this is a comment thread full of all the comments that would be made if these were actual comments” thread back in 2001. Which all got me pondering things self-referential, and led to the really twisted part of the rabbit hole, and gave me a disturbing sort of brain freeze that I’m worried won’t go away. If – like me – you’re not especially intelligent, but live in an elitist smarty-pants college town, so have to give the impression that you are – you may have a copy of Douglas R. Hofstadter’s book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid on your bookshelf. But what you may not know is that Hofstadter wrote a column for Scientific American for a few years, and that much of it was included in a compilation called Metamagical Themas: Questing For The Essence Of Mind And Pattern. The very first chapter is called “Snags & Snarls”, and starts off with a section called “On Self-Referential Sentences” which you can read on Google Books here. As a launch point he uses The Epimenides paradox. Epimenides is where Spock from Star Trek stole his “everything I tell you is a lie” schtick. He’s the Cretan who said “All Cretans are liars”. Which you can then run with and say something like “This sentence claims to be an Epimenides paradox, but it is lying”. Which Hofstadter proceeds to do for several pages. At the end of the chapter, he rounds things up with correspondences like the one below.

Letter to Scientific American:

I hope that you do not receive any correspondence concerning Douglas R. Hofstadter’s article on self-reference. I should like to inform your readers that many years of study on this problem have convinced me no conclusion whatsoever can be drawn from it that would stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. There is no excuse for Scientific American to publish letters from those cranks who consider such matters to be worthy of even the slightest notice.

A. J. Dale
Department of Philosophy
University of Delaware

Hofstadter replies as follows:

Many years of reading such letters have convinced me that no reply whatsoever can be given to them that would stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. There is no excuse for publishing responses to those cranks who send them.

Which, since my brain was in such a recursive mode, made me think once again of the recursive and confused nature of the media and politics lately, something highlighted by a peculiarly framed post by Michelle Malkin called A grieving American’s invitation for Stephen Colbert, in which Malkin says “Longtime readers of this blog know the tragic story of Los Angeles teenager Jamiel Shaw, who was gunned down by an illegal alien gang member in 2008 amidst brown-on-black violence in California’s open-borders sanctuary“, and then shares a letter from the aunt of the victim, and a video talking about how illegal immigrants are coming to our country and murdering us. I use Malkin’s piece as an example not to express my stance on the issue, but to highlight the fundamental absurdity of the information loop involved, which goes something like: Immigration becomes political issue > Hyperbole-driven media and opportunistic political figures make issue a hot topic > Absurd political satirist gets invited by self-important and shortsighted politician to real-life congressional hearing addressing the topic> Invitation backfires because comedian does exactly what he is known for doing > Hyperbole-driven media and restless political atmosphere make issue a hot topic.

I think I need to unplug before my head explodes.

Charlie Brooker’s How to Report the News

Trailer For Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever

And of course no discussion of recursion is complete without…


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