Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reality Handling: Under Siege

Remember your T S Eliot:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Our brains filter reality through narrative and story. That's the point of myths; they are stories that help us understand. The difference is that myths are to inspire and cohere, they are a standard we are to strive towards and use as cautionary examples.

They are not meant to substitute reality; they are meant to illuminate it.

Our brain evolved for thousands of years with some immutable touchstones regarding our senses. If you saw it, if you heard it, it was there.

And that is no longer true.

Once, there were portals separating the myths from your life; you'd go to the big stone amphitheatre, the big tent in the muddy field, the big vaudeville or movie house. You'd leave here and go there. Then you'd come back from the there into the here, hopefully with lessons learned.

The portals have broken down. The television in your living room brought movies and television shows and news and video games into our lives without seams, without doorways, without a pause to recognize what we are leaving and where we are going. There aren't any simple obvious markers to what your brain believes. Now, it needs help.

And it's not getting it.

Television is delibrately blurring the line. It used to be the the "shows" had some markers; you watched a comedy, you watched the news, and there was some definition between them. Not anymore. The television is a constant flood of "mockumentaries" and "reality shows" and "photo ops." The shows are like the soaps and that's the news.

I think our current media is deliberately cultivating this gap, this "reality gap" in their audience. It's not just that they are heartless shills that go where the money is. They want a confused audience that believes what they are told. The more they cultivate the suckers, the more impact their commercials will have.

People already think a pill can make them lose weight, that an infomercial gadget will get them to cook, and that terrorists attacks are more to be feared than their lack of health insurance.

They would rather believe that, than actually change their eating habits, change their cooking habits, or realize the depth of the chasm that might loom before them.

And it works because so many people have become helpless to distinguish between cunning artifice and actual reality.

We laugh, now, looking back at Orson Welles's production of War of the Worlds on the radio. All those people streaming out of their homes, fearing the alien invasion.

But we shouldn't laugh. It was a warning.

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