Deconstructing an Evil Fakeness: Digital Media and Truth in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler
Since 9/11, cries of self-implicating media failure within journalism have all but ceased in the digital, post-truth age. For some in the industry, the media failed to represent the 2001 terrorist attacks without sensationalizing the events. Then, in 2016 and among many left-leaning media, this discourse of failure persisted to condemn mass media for eschewing difficult questions and submitting to a celebrity obsession with now-President Donald Trump. However, on the political right, Trump himself moves to delegitimize most left-leaning or oppositional media outlet, claiming their reporting to be fake, thus popularizing his maxim “fake news” and linking the media’s failures to abstraction. Ironically, the president reveals the inherent fakeness of our most immediate mode of meaning-making and supplier of epistemological certainty, a revelation that beguiles the media yet proves productive for my paper.
Within this mediasphere, I turn to Dan Gilroy’s film Nightcrawler (2014) as a self-reflexive and self-implicating critique of media fakeness by way of its preoccupation with digital media in our purportedly “post-truth” era. Nightcrawler, with its look toward the grotesque consequences of capitalism and the voyeuristic and amputative uses of the digital, explores contemporary anxieties toward mediation. That is, Gilroy’s film lays bare the material media, such as physical evidence, upon which the digital depends, thus grounding the digital during a moment of abstraction. In this way, Nightcrawler is an example of evil media, a term coined by Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey which reveals the apparently immaterial social relations upon which media, including both cinema and journalism, rely. Such a revelation underscores media’s repressed ontology of the fake, artificial, and abstract, while also calling for a reconsideration meaning-making through media. By looking back to Nightcrawler, I argue meaning-making should maintain a flexibility and openness in its mediation of truth in democracy.