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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This Art is My Art

Screen shot 2014-02-02 at 12.30.30 PM

Here’s a thought:

Art is a lie that reveals the truth  

–  Pablo Picasso

I googled the above quote when I came across it last week, un-credited and at the center of someone’s Twitter page, because those words sounded too profound for any person on social media in 2014 to have come up with on their own.  #sorrynotsorry.

Well, it turns out I was right and that tweet did not come from that twit.  Not only that but said twit did not gain me as a follower for failing to give Picasso credit.   That might sound harsh but I was even harder on myself for not knowing Picasso said this very famous phrase that I pretty much had never heard of until I came across it in my quest for more information on a political story.  I mean, how old am I and where do I get my news???

Like everyone else these days – I get my news from everywhere.  Except it isn’t always news.  Sometimes it’s a lie, sometimes it’s a version of the truth and very, very, very seldom, it is actually the truth.

OK.. maybe mostly lies

OK.. maybe mostly lies

Of course, the truth is sort of overrated.  Long ago I realized not to press the person who was dumping me for the absolute unbridled facts of what went wrong (Note:  You don’t necessarily want lies, just a slightly softer version of their reality).  I also gave up on getting unvarnished feedback from everyone and their mother on everything that I write.  As any veteran writer will tell you, the latter will only lead to disaster.  Much better to seek the opinions of a few trusted friends who will give you a Picasso-esque version of a critique – which in the end is no less valid than the brutal beating you could receive from a studio executive, editor or nameless critic in your own field.   Plus, it’s usually worth a lot more.

It is not that any of us should advocate for lies or deception or existence in a dream world.  But sometimes what is true, beneath all the buzz and talk and data, is not what you are plain staring at.  Sometimes the absolute truth is an interpretation from someone with a better take than yourself – someone who has waded through all the options and the facts and the sides of something, and has come up with an alternative look at it that feels much more right than a thousand page document or photo album that simply presents the facts.

This is why we need artists (and art) and why I believe, as many before me have believed, that we all have an obligation to produce it in our own individual ways.

It is not a waste of time – nor a road to economic destruction any more than stubbornly sticking to your version of only what you see before you without input from anyone else.  Part of being a human – an advantage, actually – is the ability to process and reason information for yourself and those around you and to consistently put it out into the world as you live your everyday life.

Sometimes this system can go awry.

Sometimes this system can go awry.

We all do this with every decision we make, the work we do, the people we love, the friendships we make, and the conversations we have.  But we sometimes get hamstrung by what we perceive as the facts rather than to stand back and use simpler logic or artistic interpretation in order to shed light on the truth of an event or problem or simple everyday occurrence.

In my googling, I came across an article in Psychology Today that discussed Pablo Picasso’s dilemma more than a century ago in 1906 when he wanted to push the boundaries of what made a great portrait.  One of his early subjects was the renowned writer Gertrude Stein and after reworking his painting of her one too many times he was not happy (NOTE:  Uh, that’s right, Picasso was no different than the rest of us in that regard).

Anyway, eventually he came back to what he was painting and decided rather than to get as close as possible to the absolute objective truth of what we see when looking at Ms. Stein, he would give us his more extreme interpretation. This mask-like, more flattened portrait became very famous and an early signature of Picasso’s Cubist period.  It was also a favorite of Ms. Stein’s (the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me, she said) even as it was rejected in many other circles at the time as an indulgence that didn’t look enough like her.

When challenged about his Stein portrait, Picasso famously answered his critics this way:

Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will.

Picasso's lady

Picasso’s lady

I suppose it’s up to us to decide whether Picasso’s tart retort refers to what Ms. Stein will indeed look like one day when she gets to be, say, my age – or whether the will he refers to is his own determination to so commit to the truth of what he sees when he paints that one day his image will overtake what the rest of us see when we look at, or even think of, Ms. Stein.  Or perhaps, it’s simply a little of both.

The great thing about art – whether you’re the maker or the audience – is that when it’s operating at its highest level it captures a version of the truth that can resonate the essence of what is real, what you see before you, better than what is actually right before your eyes.  It needn’t cover everything but must cover an essence of the artist’s chosen everything.

In a society of rational thought and laws and everyday reality, this is too often seen as a kind of flighty indulgence that doesn’t have any real meaning unless you’re talking about a Picasso (Note:  And even then…) But certainly that is no longer accurate by any stretch of even the most unimaginative when we rationally examine our present day lives.

Does anybody truly believe Reality TV is real?  Or that Fox News is fair and balanced?  (Note:  I’ll bet if you got Bill O’Reilly soused he’d even accede to my way of thinking).  And to be fair — I love reading the New York Times but its iconic motto of All The News That’s Fit To Print certainly begs the question of why some stories are fit and others are not and who decides which is which.  There are times when a particularly witty tweet from Andy Borowitz or a very astute Facebook post from one of the many friends I have who are smarter than myself, has given me a truer assessment of a contemporary issue than anything I read on the subject in the paper of record or any conclusion a so-called expert committee comes to after examining the so-called hard data.

You just can't argue with gems like these...

You just can’t argue with gems like these…

Pete Seeger, the famed folksinger-songwriter, died this week at the age of 94 in the home he built himself in upstate New York.  I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Seeger play at a small anti-Vietnam War demonstration at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens when I was in high school, and I thought he was old then. (Note: This was after his censored appearance on CBS’s The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour singing Waist Deep in the Big Muddy – a metaphorical song he wrote about Pres. Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War). I also wondered why someone so well known would take the time to be at this somewhat tiny demonstration when people like Jane Fonda were making international headlines with their own Vietnam War protests.  My logical thinking, forged by the American educational rewards system of bigger is better, at least audience wise, was that if he were really famous and important he wouldn’t be spending his time singing to me and a bunch of others in, of all places, Flushing – the uninspiring town where I lived.

We'll miss ya, Petey.

We’ll miss ya, Petey.

Faulty as this reasoning was, no doubt some people (many?) still think this way.  Consider we are still paying the most attention to:  who sells the most records, tapes CDs downloads (whatever!), who makes the most news; and who is voted the best of anything in our worlds.

Yet the very essence of Mr. Seeger was his ability to travel to all kinds of places much more obscure than Flushing and use his words to express the plight of the people.  And, quite simply, he never stopped doing it.  You might not have heard of him but you have certainly heard of several iconic songs he wrote and/or made famous, such as If I Had A Hammer, and We Shall Overcome.  The truth of those songs came from decades of seeking out the truth in hundreds of small towns and talking to thousands of working class individuals through which or whom he could employ his art to tell their truths.  Or at least THE truth in the way that he saw it.

One could argue lines like “If I Had A Hammer’s…It’s the hammer of justice, It’s the bell of freedom, It’s the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters, All over this land…” have spoken an equal or perhaps much more effective political truth than a library full of factual reports on the economic analysis of inequality.   Or that they rank far superior to the many multi-million dollar opinions from some of the most respected think tanks in the world on why, during many of the decades in which Mr. Seeger lived, we needed or didn’t need to go to war.

By the way, this is not pie-in-the-sky hippie talk.  Consider what usually stops and starts wars (Vietnam – Iraq – WWII).  It is general public outcry or too many deaths among the masses of survivors willing to risk everything that finally wins the day (Note: usually it’s a lot of both) after too many years or decades or even centuries of fighting.

Artistic expression is an indispensible fuel to this change.  Just as it can also be used selfishly to whine, piss people off and/or generally just entertain.  Like this little ditty starring Nathan Lane and the cast of Jersey Boys directed towards Fox News’ Sean Hannity after he floated the idea of leaving his home state of New York in order to relocate to more right-leaning states like Texas or Florida.

Click the picture for the full (brilliant!) video

Click the picture for the full (brilliant!) video

Okay so maybe this video – or your essay, painting or photograph or play or movie – is a little whiney.  And you’re absolutely positive it will never bring peace on the battlefield, end global warming or even make you a dime. (Note:  I’ll bet Mr. Lane would have done that for free if union rules had allowed him).  You still must try to do whatever you can to contribute to your own version of truth telling.  And that is because even the very best of any of the above in their fields don’t do this alone.  They are merely one element contributing to an overall collective truth at any given moment in time – one in which, like it or not – we are all some kind of part of.