Mad Chatter: Let’s Talk About Fact And Fiction, Truth and Lies

So here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve never been a fan of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, but I’ve become mildly obsessed with a scripted satirical series derived from similar reality shows called UnREAL. The series ended its run recently, which made it a perfect candidate for binge watching. UnREAL isn’t easy to digest, and it features some pretty despicable characters. But it forces us to confront something we’ve all been complicit in: allowing truth and fiction to meld together to create an entertaining narrative.

In this world of scripted “live” shows and creatively edited “reality” shows, do we know anymore what’s real and fake? And more importantly, do we care? It’s a little less sinister in the world of entertainment, I suppose, but it certainly feels like this fluidity between fact and fiction is extending well beyond the realm of television.

When does sharing turn into…performing?

Girl in Roy Lichtenstein Pop Art display in Amsterdam via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Sometimes it’s easy to tell what’s real and what isn’t. But not always.

We all know by now that Instagram is a highlight reel, showcasing only the best parts of our lives. We’re constantly cautioned not to compare ourselves to the stunning images of bikini-clad models in exotic locations. But even just within the Instagram universe, the spectrum of lies is pretty far-reaching. There are travel bloggers who have been caught photoshopping themselves into stunning landscapes and photographers who have been caught doctoring someone else’s photos and claiming them as their own. And what about those accounts featuring completely digital models? Yes, the models are 100% NOT REAL. Becoming Instafamous is a very lucrative proposition, so we can understand why people produce the content. But what’s the motive for the followers? Do we live in a post-truth age where reality no longer matters? Or are we knowingly escaping into fiction like we do when we read a book?

Instagram post from lilmiquela Instagram account featuring Vogue article
Lil Miquela is a 100% digital influencer who was featured in Vogue Magazine. Instagram/lilmiquela

I always enjoy perusing Man Repeller, which started out as a fashion blog but has since evolved far beyond that. Man Repeller consistently produces thoughtful editorials, usually with a strong female point of view. But it also has a robust comments section, where very interesting discourse often takes place. A few months ago, founder Leandra Medine wrote a personal essay examining sharing in light of personal changes, which unleashed a torrential discussion about social media. One reader referenced a Bo Burnham quote, which referred to social media as a prison, where we “perform everything to each other, all the time for no reason….It’s performer and audience melded together.” Does that affect how we’re wired? Are we constantly crafting a story for our perceived audience?

What if your authentic self is…boring?

Street art with caption "where is the love?" via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Bloggers have expressed frustration that audiences claim they want authenticity, then reward the same overproduced content time and time again. It turns out what’s real and what really sells aren’t always the same thing. As bloggers, we create content for our social media channels as well as our blog. Balancing all of it isn’t easy, but the different channels serve as different outlets for us. We can be a little more playful with our weekend roundups on Instagram Stories, and engage in fun chats on Twitter.

I’ll admit that we’ve altered travel itineraries to make room for something we wanted to write about for the blog. And we try to show up when crowds might be thinner so our shots are clearer. But we’ll never be those people swimming with sharks for an Instagram shot. We won’t wait for hours in the bitter cold for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. And we won’t consume an over-the-top dessert which looks much better than it tastes. Our content is pretty true to who we are: we’re mostly curious, a little geeky and always hungry. We know we’re not the first bloggers to write about, say, street art in Washington DC, but we still had fun hunting for it and sharing our finds.

Since the idea behind these Mad Chatter posts is to start a conversation, I’d really love to know: as a consumer of content, how much does truth matter to you? How do you choose what to read/watch/follow? And if you’re also a producer of content, how do you balance being true to yourselves and delivering the “wow”?

– L.

23 thoughts on “Mad Chatter: Let’s Talk About Fact And Fiction, Truth and Lies”

  1. Thanks for your post and your honesty. I didn’t know about the 100% digital influencer. My life is actually pretty boring comparatively. I’m not at every event (Thank you Lord) or every convention. I constantly tell my readers that my budget is tight when it actually is, and I don’t have a Sugar Daddy/Mama like some bloggers (no one I know personally) . I do write about wishlist and planning in lieu of actual voyage at times. So there aren’t pictures from many trips that I’ve taken to Europe without planning at 5 star hotels. I basically work with what my limitations currently are.
    I totally get the allure of wanting to appear cooler though, it reminds of high school and the clique mentality. Every one wants to be in that crowd, 8 guess. So they’ll do what it takes. As for me, I’m hoping that there are reader’s like me wanting and planning until purse strings loosen, looking for inexpensive ways to entertain themselves until the next dream destination.
    You’re the best, Lynn.

    1. I actually think working within those limitations is what makes your blog authentic and true to you, Trudy! We have challenges with time and money too — we’d love to stay in luxury hotels but we can rarely afford to spend a large portion of our trip budget on accommodations. We work during the week, so we’re usually too exhausted to do anything until the weekend. And I’m afraid of heights, so forget those super cool scenic shots!

      I like that you find interesting stuff to feature, but you’re also okay with saying “Hey, it’s been a slow summer.” I think we struggle with that a lot, feeling like we can’t really take a weekend off. And I love how you use Instagram to “blog” in between blog posts.

      The struggle is definitely real, thanks for sharing your thoughts, Trudy!

  2. A relevant topic and I am glad you touched upon it with such lucidity. I often wonder about falling prey to the images we devour on social media. To find that balance is the end-game it seems. For me, my blog is a reflection of Adi and I as a couple. Goofy and utterly silly, seeing the world sometimes through rose-coloured glasses, sometimes not. I too could not be bothered about swimming with the sharks (also, relevant to mention that I have forgotten to swim) or dangling from the top of a cliff to get the It shot. The nearest I have got to it — and Adi did not approve of it at all — was dangling my legs off the edge of Pulpit Rock in Norway. I was enthused by the sight of people leaping in the air upon that very edge. Things can change so quickly. It takes that one moment, isn’t it? The point of no return, if you will.
    (And here I shall abruptly end my mini post before you both chase me with a baton for banging on and on, but your post got me going.)

    1. I could listen to you bang on all day, Dippy 😉

      I agree that things can get out of hand in an instant, but I also love your anecdote because it captures an honest moment of inspiration. Scary, but exhilarating. It’s great that you have that memory (now that you’re safe and sound, of course!).

      Your blog certainly captures your carefree spirit of adventure, and I’m glad you’re putting yourself out there the way that you do. If you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, you make us all want a pair for ourselves 🙂

      Thank you so much for chatting!

  3. “Sometimes it’s easy to tell what’s real and what isn’t. But not always.”
    Before I moved to USA, before I started blogging, before I started editing my photos with Adobe, before … I think I was pretty gullible! I would believe everything.

    But the more I live and the more I get into art, into writing and really creating, vs consuming, the more I see that very few things are “real.”
    Most times it’s a portrayal of who you think you can be somewhere or with someone or on a platform.
    As for me, even when I am true, I am still not 100%. Knowing that my blog is about my journals from America, I am still guarded, to be politically correct, not to accidentally offend someone I may not have considered.
    I know I am true to myself, there is not much edited in or out of my work. But, as you were saying that you’ve tried to go places when it’s quieter, I have tried different things ( marketing perhaps) to put a more appealing coat to what I am portraying.
    I guess what I am saying is I agree with your outlook!

    1. Thank you so much for your honesty, Tara! I know exactly what you mean when you say creating has opened your eyes to a whole new version of reality. It’s like a faucet that you can’t shut off, and I think it’s turned me into a bit of a cynic.

      I can certainly understand why you feel the need to be guarded since your blog deals with such important — and sometimes sensitive — topics. But I appreciate that you’re thoughtful about who you might offend, because it’s a common courtesy that seems to be missing in a lot of the discussions taking place today. I think your efforts make the material more accessible, without compromising its message. You’re doing a great job!

      Thank you so much for stopping by and giving me even more to think about 🙂

  4. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. To be honest, sometimes true is less sparkly, less exciting, less engaging than fiction, but I think our society still recognizes what is genuine. Most of us still get up in the morning looking our worst. We brush our teeth, wash our faces and feel the reality of our own lives. Sometimes it is the imperfections that make us a little more endearing. Your enthusiasm and love for life and each other encourages us to keep exploring, keep looking for hidden treasures, and keep trying something new. You come across as genuine and full of life – something we appreciate.

    As for photos, I have no problem with edited images. It is kinda like combing your hair in the morning and putting on a clean shirt so you look presentable.

    -JAM

    1. I love how you use such simple and effective analogies to get your ideas across, JAM! I agree that imperfections can often endear us more to something or someone. Maybe we just need to appreciate them more in ourselves (easier said than done, right?).

      I don’t think edited photos are inherently bad either, and the intent is not usually to deceive. In fact, a lot of us edit a picture to get it to match more closely to the image we saw with our eyes. But I absolutely love how you’ve turned photo manipulation into its own art form, creating beauty from something that was only made to fix flaws.

      And of course, we truly appreciate your kind words about us and our blog, but your lust for life puts ours to shame! 🙂

  5. Truth matters a lot, and my gut informs me what’s true, to a great extent. After quite a few years on the planet, many in New York, I think I can sniff out a lot of BS. I don’t do Twitter, spend very little time on FB, and am not crazy about IG, but I do post there a little. The blog is what’s important to me in terms of media, and I do consider what people might like, but would never go out shooting with that in mind. It comes into play more when I put a post together. Even then though, my own standards come first. The audience sorts itself out – they’re interested or they’re not. I’m not going to run after them. In the beginning, I spent more time on other people’s blogs to build my followers, becasue I have no interest in doing this in a vacuum. But it’s been a long time since I clicked on anything with gaining a follower in mind. I click because I’m interested in what someone has to say, or to show. That keeps me plenty busy – actually too busy. My struggle is more with how to manage the influx of data and images. Thanks for keeping it real guys!

    1. I think being in New York definitely hones the ability to sniff out BS, Lynn 😉

      I can certainly understand your distaste for social media, and we mostly approach it with a skeptical eye. We still do what we love, but we stopped writing about certain things for the blog when we realized we 1) didn’t have an audience for it or 2) couldn’t do it justice. It also felt in the beginning like we lacked focus, and we wanted there to be a connective thread between all our posts. It’s hard not to notice what people respond to, so I can understand why it’s easy to get caught in a feedback loop. We’ve tried not to let it influence us too heavily.

      As always, I admire your ability to slice through the noise, Lynn. I enjoy the patterns you find in the every day, even when there seems to be nothing but chaos 🙂 Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

  6. Been thinking about this for 3 days. Genuine content is important to me both as a consumer and a creator. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is genuine, sometimes it’s pretty obvious. It says something interesting about our culture that a 100% digital influencer can exist. I hate the term “influencer.” For one thing it’s not a real word, but I find the whole focus on marketing, consumerism and the cult of fame disturbing. Look where it has led us as a country.

    There also is a lot of lip service given to authenticity, it seems to me the more talk about something being authentic the less authentic it actually is. That said, I there are many travel bloggers I interact with on social media who are very natural and genuine and they seem to be the majority, at least in my little digital world.

    I know I take a lot more photos than I used to, though I constantly remind myself to be present in my own experience and not merely record it. I am so new to blogging, and still finding my voice, that this isn’t really an issue for me, though it may become one soon. Recently saw the movie “The Wife” with Glenn Close. A woman writer in the 50s, when she says “a writer has to write,” her character is told, “a writer has to be read.” The compromises she makes in order to be read are huge.

    Personally, I am drawn to good writing, a sense of humor, and storytelling. And great photography. That’s why I like this blog so much. It is smart, thoughtful, and beautiful too.

    1. Hi Cynthia! Thank you so much for taking the time to think about and (virtually) pen this thoughtful response.

      I had a recent conversation with a friend about the influencer concept too, and my feelings are similar to yours. I think when there’s a profit motive lots of things come into question, and some people toe that line more gracefully than others. I think we’ve been fortunate to connect with such a lovely group of people in our blogging adventures, too. It’s great to be able to learn from people who navigate this world so effortlessly. There are honestly times when I wonder if we’re built for it!

      Between the blog and our social media channels, it sometimes feels like we’re documenting EVERYTHING, so that comment about being present definitely resonates with me. I don’t check my phone while I’m out enjoying the day, and especially not in the presence of company (it’s a pet peeve of mine, actually!). A friend of mine was complaining about how many emails she had and her (very young!) daughter just looked at her and said, “You’re not THAT important, Mom.” It’s a simple, yet effective, reminder.

      Thanks again for giving me more to think about on the matter, Cynthia. I always enjoy your sense of humor, but I really appreciate your intelligent responses to more serious subject matter too. You remind us why we do what we do!

      P.S. The Wife has been on my list of things to watch!

  7. This was so refreshing and I’m of the same thinking as you. There’s a lot of fake out there and I’m sorry but I just don’t have time for it. As a reader I like real, I like human and I scan some content because it’s not conversational. Sorry that’s blunt but it’s late! I love your style of writing, your sense of fun and by reading your posts I feel inspired, I laugh and I go “oh man I think we’re related” … a lot! Keeping rocking the real world

    1. Hey, Audrey! Thanks so much, “I think we’re related” is possibly the highest compliment you could give us 😉 We’re so happy we connected, finding lovely people like yourself has been the highlight of our journey!

  8. Very interesting discussion, I love it. My take on all this is that there is a general issue with our analytical skills. I think kids at school should be taught less hard facts (because you can look them up) and instead be taught more about how to analyse information, how to check sources, how to distinguish between opinion and fact. When I’m looking at social media and I see something that’s obviously fake, or a curated feed on Instagram, the sensors in my brain just don’t light up. But when I come across an article like this one, then my interest is piqued. I think all we can do as content creators is create the stuff we want to and hope the right people will find us.

    1. What an interesting idea, Paul. I’d love to have that discussion with some teachers! But I think my concern doesn’t just lie with the inability to recognize the difference between opinion and fact, but also the unwillingness to do so. We like it when life appears less messy. We’re attracted to pretty packages, and we’re allowing the content to become secondary.

      As a consumer, I’ve become a skeptic: Did they really do that? Can I trust what I’m seeing/reading? As a content creator, we’ve accepted we’re never going to be able to satiate that hunger. It can be liberating, but also deflating. Connecting with people has always been our goal, and when we get thoughtful comments like yours, we feel renewed in our endeavor 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

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