Oxford Dictionaries defines its official Word of the Year, post-truth, as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This month, we will briefly highlight each day a major moment from 2016 that most exemplifies the concept of post-truth. Many of these moments will, inevitably, pertain to our president-elect.
Ted Cruz’s role in the 2016 presidential election played out like a horror movie. The forces of darkness prevailed upon him, he bravely refused to recognize the power of those forces, but then he ultimately succumbed to them, adrift in a moral morass without a shred of integrity left with which to guide himself. Another reason why Cruz’s campaign resembled a horror movie, though, is it was dogged by internet rumors of a secret identity as a famous serial murderer.
The first tweet suggesting that Ted Cruz may in fact be the Zodiac Killer appeared in March of 2013. Nobody knows exactly how its author arrived at this conclusion. Over the next couple years, there would be a smattering of others and eventually a Facebook group. But then, in early 2016, an explosion. “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” jokes suddenly became an unstoppable Twitter meme. TCITZK was Harambe before Harambe became Harambe, only without the racism. An enterprising young person created a line of t-shirts featuring Cruz’s face tattooed with the Zodiac gun sights insignia and the caption “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.” Even the eventual articles explaining the meme seemed to delight in perpetrating it to some degree, with cheeky headlines like Ted Cruz Is Doing Very Little to Disprove He’s the Zodiac Killer. The idea probably reached its apex in May when Larry Wilmore feasted on it at the White House Correspondents Dinner, paving the way for Weird Twitter to curtail its efforts.
Let’s make one thing clear. Ted Cruz is obviously not the Zodiac Killer. Zodiac claimed to have killed 37 people through a series of anonymous, encrypted letters sent to the San Francisco Chronicle in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Ted Cruz was born in 1970. In order to have been responsible for these murders, he would have to be a chronomancer and frankly Cruz doesn’t seem cut out for that sort of thing.
Although there’s a chance the continual stream of TCITZK jokes seeped into the collective unconscious and left some people wondering if it were true, the jokes were never about convincing anybody. Half of the joke was that the Texas Senator just seems like someone capable of doing truly horrible things, with perhaps some literal skeletons in his closet. The other half of the joke, though, was about fake news itself. It was a testament to how an idea can appear true through repetition and breadth of infestation. The timing was perfect, too. In the 2016 election, a casual offhand statement that one of the candidates is secretly a famous serial killer didn’t seem at all out of place–especially when another candidate accused that first candidate’s father of conspiring to assassinate JFK, and a third candidate lied about stabbing a guy.
The TCITZK joke was a post-truth moment, but it was mostly made in a spirit of (mean) jest. Nobody spent days in Monster Energy Drink-flooded basements connecting yarn strings to pictures on cork board, trying to get to the bottom of this puzzle. In other words, it was nothing like the insipid #PizzaGate rumor–which came to a head on Sunday, and which shows how dangerous it can be to spread false information about supposed double lives.