The Truth is in the Lies

Sometimes truth is, well, too truthful.

Stuff happens in real life that you wouldn’t dare make up. On the other hand, there are a number of stories that ring hopelessly false.

It is the job of a writer to be able to navigate events, turn them into stories and convince you that the false is indeed true, the truth is actually quite false and that, in the end, it really doesn’t matter because every yarn we spin (not to mention everything we ever tell you in real life, but that’s another story) will contain elements of both.

click clack lie lie

And really, what difference does it make as long as you were entertained, i.e., laughed, escaped, brought to tears, learned something or just distracted from the inevitability of those looming Swords of Damocles hanging over your head that you do your best to never have to think about.

We Americans have showered the world with our ability to produce mass entertainment to worldwide audiences for decades.   We’ve had a knack for creating unreal reality in a way so specific, personal and sometimes quite silly or tragic that most of the planet couldn’t resist and even aspire to create the kind of yarns that we were selling.

One could argue that we’re still doing it now with the much too true as to be false, bizarre shit show of what is passing for our government. But let’s #Resist sidetracking down that rabbit hole of crazy just this once.

America 2018

Except to say this –

When people stop trying to decipher fact from fiction they have become patsies to adept storytellers. Like a well-trained hypnotist, we can seduce you into believing ANYTHING, and if we’re good enough and experienced enough, you could easily wake up fleeced of your valuables.

Quicker than a game of 3 card Monte on the streets of Manhattan. #LetTheTouristBeware.

If you don’t believe this is true – that a plurality of the U.S. are perhaps getting fleeced of their money, their values and more than likely their democracy by a flim-flam demagogue – then you are discounting the power of stories and even the moderately talented storytellers.

This passes for logic

Meaning – this is not about kids in cages, the right to choice or life, more cash or factory jobs per family. It is also not about the gaying, browning or Sodom and Gommorah-izing of our culture felt by a plurality of left-behinds or gimme mores.

In fact, it is about the plurality of those people, and perhaps more, falling for the outrageous and often non-specific solutions to those issues by a charlatan/storyteller. (Note: We storytellers are ALL charlatans of a sort).   Ask any decent writer or weaver of tall tales when they’ve had an extra glass of wine, or at 3am post coitus, and they will freely admit that all they do is take some combination of truths – that is to say people they’ve met or incidents they’ve witnessed or heard about – add a few of their own secret spices – and voila – you are in the palm of their hands. Or worse.

Live in your truth.. and lies

It is not their muse, their magic or their superhuman ability to problem solve for a generation of audiences.

It is, instead, a SKILL that is practiced. A TALENT that is honed through experience and failure. All in the package of a person/storyteller that is so dogged and determined to be THE PERSON to manipulate you into their world – to CONVINCE you of something you NEVER thought of – and often for their own benefit – that you will actually PAY them for the pleasure of being lied to.

Yes, lied to. Meaning manipulated into a world with a specific point of view of THEIR world as it applies to you.

can’t really argue with that math

There is, of course, nothing wrong with indulging in this kind of sorcery either by yourself or, if the stories are commercially mainstream enough, with your entire extended family.

But it is absolutely LETHAL to voluntarily line up in real life and swallow the entire magic show. No lady gets sawed in half and really lives.

No glitter-costumed young woman doesn’t bleed to death when she’s pinned against a dartboard and someone hurls knives at her head.

And if you think you can eat fire or be shot out of a cannon using just any blade or your enemy’s artillery fire of choice, know you will not live long enough to ever see Paul Rudd age OR know the results of the Mueller investigation. (Note: Whichever comes first – your pick – but I know which one my money is on).

These pictures span over 20 years.. so I mean, I think you know the answer #paulruddisimmortal

If you still doubt any of the above, take this dare. This week go to Netflix and watch:

Nanette – A 70 minute show by monologist/storyteller Hannah Gadsby that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and yet, oddly familiar.

Or to Amazon and view:

A Very English Scandal A 3-hour miniseries starring Hugh Grant and directed by Stephen Frears, about sex, attempted murder and backroom politics.

must stream TV

Both of them are superior works of art done by master storytellers who will recount for you a series of absolutely true events, some of which might seem strange but all of which will likely feel both real AND familiar.

Then it will be up to you – when they’re over and your mind is clear – to put your hand on a bible or swear to a judge on the record in a court of law what exactly IS true, IS false or exists in some seductive faux nether region in between.

Nervous yet? Don’t be. It’s just a voluntary mind game offered by your friendly (Note: Sometimes) neighborhood blogger.

What should instead be more scary is when this kind of challenge is posed to us by news stations and/or elected government officials who masterfully and daily lure and tempt us with manipulated truisms masquerading as stone cold facts.

Oh there’s a lot of interest

The type of stories they offer are not mere entertainment but an especially complicated mix of false, true and in-between hybrids specifically designed to persuade us all to make REAL LIFE choices that will change not only our lives but tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of others all around the world. And not necessarily for the better.

And they are nowhere near as amusing or thoughtful as either Nanette or A Very English Scandal.  Not even close.

Of course none of that matters if enough of us buy what they’re selling. An especially troubling thought when one considers the most popular form of American entertainment has always been escapist.

Annie Lennox – “I Put a Spell on You”

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Re-make Believe

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 2.12.18 PM

A significant part of pop culture has always come from remake and reinvention. Ask Madonna about Marilyn and Lady Gaga about Madonna. Or question The remaining Beatles about Little Richard. How about Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola on Akira Kurosawa?   Perhaps Brian DePalma vis-a-vis Alfred Hitchcock or Quentin Tarantino re Sergio Leone.

We all have our influences (and not all of them are good). One can’t help but be affected, consciously or not, by what has come before. In fact, even when you’re not appropriating, copying or paying homage it is likely the purely original idea you came up with has been done in some related form by someone else you don’t know about who is not you. As I’ve learned in therapy and in life, we human beings are individually unalike and yet collectively more similar than any of us suspect – or even want to admit. No wonder someone long ago – and probably long ago before that – said there is nothing new under the sun.

... and sometimes that's OK!

… and sometimes that’s OK!

And yet…

…It has come to my attention this week that we are drowning in… how can I say it… an unreality of make believe. This is not about remakes of endless superhero movies; the faux presidential daily vomits of The Republican Apprentice; or even the film version of one of the world’s most profitable gaming apps of all time – The Angry Birds Movie – debuting at THE #1 position at the box office this weekend. Nor is it about it achieving a B plus Cinemascore – which puts it far above the average college or high school graduate these days.

Instead, it is about a chipping away of the real. It concerns us not being able to separate the world of make believe and pretend with what really was or is – even when the truth is right before our eyes.

NBC’s The Voice – one of my favorite TV shows and one of America’s top 10 faves (Note: Clearly, I’m not the only one who fantasizes being a diva) – had a special event planned for its Tuesday finale show. And this would be a long planned duet between one of its star judges, Christina Aguilera and…WHITNEY HOUSTON. No really. They were going to duet – as in together sing – a melody of two of Ms. Houston’s most famous songs. At least that’s EXACTLY the way it was being billed.

American Idol featured Celine Dion with Elvis in 2007... so even THIS isn't an original idea!

American Idol featured Celine Dion with Elvis in 2007… so even THIS isn’t an original idea!

Yes, Ms. Houston did die more than four years and no, NBC has not made a deal with some 12 year-old prodigy who has figured out how to raise a living version of our most lauded dead. Well, not exactly. What did happen is that a 35 year old Greek billionaire and his ironically titled company, Hologram USA created a an image of Whitney Houston singing her signature I Have Nothing song and it was to alternate with Christina Aguilera singing I’m Every Woman. Unfortunately – or perhaps luckily – the duet was given the kibosh at the last moment by the Houston estate, which noted that with artists of the caliber of Ms. Houston it must be perfect and apparently it – was not. Of course, what it really IS – that’s anyone’s guess.

You'll have to save all your love for something else.

You’ll have to save all your love for something else.

Since writers are sticklers for a certain precision of words and/or language, may we be precise here? The planned performance was not an event television live duet between a living songstress and a deceased one. That is impossible. Instead it was an engineered medley between a flesh and blood person and an image/recording of a dead one.

A living thing cannot be real simply because we wish it to be so.

In the same way a lie cannot be true merely because we have chosen to think otherwise.

Gospel of Constanza

Gospel of Constanza

This is particularly important to remember in the 2016 election year – or for that matter any other year.

Engineering the past is a tried and true position every writer takes whenever they sit down to the page and come up with any story that is even vaguely personal. As artists, we tell a story and often that involves rewriting what is to a version of what you would want it to be or fantasize it was or could be. But it is sold as such – a fiction – an invention – it is not oddly positioned as some sort of 21st century – reality.

HBO debuted a very fine movie this weekend about the uneasy alliance between Pres. Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King’s fraught collaboration to pass civil rights legislation in the 1960s entitled All The Way. While it is a bit odd for us baby boomers to watch Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston pretending to be the drawling Texas president we remember as children it was also just as strange to view The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie saying made-up words in the cadence of a civil rights leader whose dulcet tones we can still recall in our mind’s eye all those years ago.

A different type of resurrection

A different type of resurrection

However, this has always been what film and television is about – an acted rendering of a version of reality. It’s not as if we’re watching current Pres. Barack Obama having a conversation with Dr. King and HBO advertising to the public that it is actually happening. Or that ABC has a Diane Sawyer special booked where she will indeed interview the late Pres. Johnson on what it was like fighting the powers-that-be in the first year of his presidential administration.

It is this next, not so subtle step in blurring the lines with a hologram that is not only a bit creepy but more than a bit dangerous. It’s one thing to attend the Mr. Lincoln exhibit in Disneyland but it is a whole other version of the stars and stripes when the world begins to think that it just spent 15 minutes with the most lauded and perhaps famous member of the centuries old Republican party. At that rate, one day we might not be able to recognize the grand old party or even its next president – or proposed president. Because by that time everything will be its own custom-made Disneyland – and carry as much truth as any image from Hologram USA.