Christien Di Angello
Mar 31, 2023
How Atlanta calls attention to authority over truth.
Episode Eight of Atlanta’s Fourth Season is a documentary that follows Thomas Washington, a famous black animator who became the CEO of Disney in the mid-90’s and spearheaded 1995’s A Goofy Movie. While the documentary is incredibly produced, keen viewers may catch a few facts the episode fails to mention: Thomas Washington was not in charge of Disney while A Goofy Movie was in production. In fact, by 1995 Thomas Washington had not even been elected CEO. He wasn’t even an animator. The truth is, Thomas Washington couldn’t do anything of the sort — he never existed in the first place.
Atlanta uses documentary to tell a revisionist history of A Goofy Movie. Through its use of tools common to informative mediums, Atlanta highlights the blurring lines between information and entertainment. When consuming fiction, audiences engage in a suspension of disbelief by allowing themselves to believe in the world being presented to them. However, when informative mediums (documentary, news programs) began to imitate techniques from narrative fiction a problem took shape. The mediums enforced a dangerous relationship between factual information and the suspension of disbelief. This issue worsens as susceptible audiences consume larger amounts of misinformation disguised as informative entertainment.
Mainstream news programs were traditionally viewed as a source of essential information regarding current events. However, our established understanding of informative media was challenged as strategic trends formed in the medium. Mainstream news, although presenting as an informative service, found substantial success in pivoting their product to a form of outrage entertainment. As news programs manipulated their “stories'' to fit a particular viewpoint, their narrative themes began asking audiences to suspend their own disbelief and consume modern issues through a specifically polarised viewpoint. These viewpoints would hold their own values and form dedicated audiences willing to follow the political narratives that their favourite news programs aligned with.
Typically, a first time viewer will watch most of “The Goof Who Sat by the Door" before beginning to question the reality of the information they are consuming. Through the perceived credibility of its premise, Atlanta demonstrates just how far the sensationalization of informative media has come.
With the power of the camera and the position of “informative media”, the capability to convince individuals of sensationalist lies is a reality close at hand. This issue worsens as innovations in technology persist, and tools developed for the creation of misinformation become increasingly accessible. While there can be creative merit to misinforming audiences, as Atlanta proves with “The Goof Who Sat By The Door”, it’s essential to distinguish whether that point is valuable or harmful to society.
As storytellers it is important to recognize the authority that comes with our medium. Audiences are growing more susceptible to lies and it is essential that the filmmaker does not aimlessly abuse their authority. In the end, every choice that a filmmaker makes within their medium can change how people think. Authority over truth is — now more than ever — an essential part of deciding how we tell our stories.