BWW Review: Josh Fox's THE TRUTH HAS CHANGED Explores The Complexity and Sophistication of Public Influence
Plenty of those who weren't nodding their heads in agreement reacted with incredulousness or perhaps a big guffaw three years ago when Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared on "Meet The Press" to defend White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's statements about the size of the crowd at Donald Trump's inaugural with the phrase "alternative facts."
And yet, as told by author/performer Josh Fox in his politically-charged solo piece, THE TRUTH HAS CHANGED, presented as part of The Public Theater's Under The Radar Festival, he and group of colleagues at an event protesting the proposed fracking at the Delaware River Basin were stumped by the innocent question of a student who, exposed to conflicting sets of facts on just about every major world issue, asked, "How do we know what's true?"
Fox is the filmmaker who won acclaim for his 2010 documentary "Gasland," which details the ecological (and financial) effects of hydraulic fracturing (commonly called fracking), so you might think of that inquiry as a softball lob, but he's also aware of the growing complexity and sophistication of a media industry created to influence thought through varying presentations of what is and isn't true.
After an introductory anecdote about Pete Seeger and the banjo playing of a popular tavern tune that swept America during the early 1800s at the staggering pace of five miles an hour, Fox launches into a multi-media presentation citing lies and fabrications that have veiled the racism and corporate greed that has continually launched this country into wars.
But jingoism and control of the press is kid stuff compared with the harvesting of information everyone contributes with their daily use of computerized devices. We all know about targeted advertising based on computer activity, but by citing the actions of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica (there's a pointed film clip of Mark Zuckerberg avoids direct answers to questions shot at him by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), Fox makes the denial of the disastrous effects of climate change seem rather plausible for people who are continually fed a specific set of facts through their social media outlets. He credits the ability to pinpoint an extreme variety of messages to susceptible targets as a major contribution to Trump's campaign victory.
Certainly, to the general demographics that attend productions at The Public Theater with any regularity, his arguments are convincing, but Fox tends to undercut his ninety-minute presentation by overdoing it a bit with the dramatics.
Yes, it's theatre, but, as co-directed by Fox and Ron Russell, the creepy music, ominous lighting and occasional overacting tends overshadow the strength of his journalism, seeming to mimic the actions of corrupt leaders who pull at public emotions when the dry facts don't fully influence.
Or maybe that's the intention, to gear his presentation to achieve the desired reaction from the expected audience. Because, as he pondered at the beginning, how do we know what's true?