David Shields: How We Got Here

Director, producer, and writer David Shields has a forthcoming film, How We Got Here. The film is now streaming on Tubi, Mometu, Cineverse, and Free Movies Plus and a companion volume of the same name will be published by Sublation Books in January 2024.

In both the book and the film How We Got Here, Shields traces the history of postmodernism and ultimately argues that Melville plus Nietzsche divided by the square root of (Allan) Bloom times Žižek (squared) equals Bannon.

Shields found inspiration for the film when attending the NonfictioNOW writers’ conference in Phoenix, Nov 1-3, 2018, just before the midterm elections. He asked fellow writers and professors in attendance questions such as: How do you know what you believe? Do you have any absolute beliefs? Is there such thing as “truth”? What is ‘nonfiction” and is it “true”? What do you think is the difference between “truth” and belief? If you have siblings, have they shown your view of the world to be flawed? Are you superstitious? Do you believe in ghosts? Why are you here and not canvassing for Stacey Abrams?

Shields found that the consensus answers: I have no absolute beliefs, though I do believe in the power of art; there are no absolute truths other than that there is no truth; my sister and I are estranged; there are no ghosts except psychic luggage; I probably should be canvassing for Abrams, but I’ve lost faith in the process.

It is from these interviews that Shields has crafted How We Got Here. The film consists of interviews with more than thirty NonfictioNOW attendees, eighteen brief 2-Truths-and-a-Lie videos, and a slideshow / TED talk (on speed) / montage / soundscape / voiceover / monologue / intellectual history of the last 170 years. The film shares diverse perspectives across the history of postmodernism from its roots in art and philosophy all the way to modern day election denial and media politicization.

The film has received great praise:

“This film should be required viewing for every Intro to Humanities course in the country. It does the seemingly impossible: reinserts some context to our mostly decontextualized lives. And, perhaps even more surprisingly, the film’s pace and structure prevent it from ever feeling even slightly boring, despite the heavy lifting it does to excavate the ideological roots beneath our country’s growing social and political turmoil.” —Michael Wheaton, Autofocus.

“A brilliant, encyclopedic film. The meanings are conveyed by how the film is edited: cutting between the history of ideas of the truth, the arrangement of quotations, the personal versions articulated by different speakers, the black-and-white live action, the colorful animation, and the intersplicing of Two Truths and a Lie.”—Susan Daitch, author of Siege of Comedians: A Novel.

“A fast-paced, exhilarating collage of voices converging on the question of how we got to birtherism and election denial.”—Jennifer Jacquet, author of The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies, and Make a Killing in the Corporate World.

David Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty-five books, including Reality Hunger (which Lit Hub named one of the most important books of the past decade), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN USA Award), Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity (PEN/Revson Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice). Shields has received a Guggenheim fellowship, two NEA fellowships, and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship. Shields, a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions, has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Salon, Slate, Tin House, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Believer, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Best American Essays. His work has been translated into two dozen languages.

Shields has also written, stared, produced, and directed several films including the film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel; Lynch: A History; I’ll Show You Mine; and How We Got Here.

View David Shields’ interview regarding “Keeping Up with the Speed of Light,” in issue 11 of Superstition Review.

To learn more about the film, visit the website here. View the film on Tubi here.