July 5, 2008

The Space of Suspension of Disbelief

How is truth possible when everything in the culture is an advertisement? Has it actually come to the point where we have to continually promote, spin, and downright lie simply because we are incapable of the truth?
Everybody knows they have been lied to – by the boss, the advertisements, the nightly news, the politicians, even by our friends. They also know something is deeply fucked with "the system," and that they cannot do all that much to make it better. Sure, when they have to, they usually do a great job at hiding their contempt for it all. But they also actually come to accept an alarming degree of danger and neglect in their lives as, well you know, the inevitable routine of everyday life, or even as professional protocol – provided, of course, they “know” its bullshit, and are themselves somehow immune or sufficiently detached from its pernicious influences. This is the game we play with ourselves; to cling to that space and go about our lives just as everything makes us complacent as well as deeply cynical. And so, "just leave us alone."
Well I'm not going to leave you alone! Because the really interesting thing is that we all seem to continually suspend disbelief about how bad things really are in the world by continually looking for some glimpse into some truth that we want to believe in – either in some revealing casual gesture, some slip of the tongue, some demographic signifier, some subtext. There will always be a subtext because that’s our entitlement, as well as our entertainment, whether it be as viewers, consumers - as citizens even - no matter how many lies we believe we are being told, no matter how much bullshit gets thrown at us, no matter how much hope we have lost. In effect, we need to watch, we need to look, if only because we need to believe in something. We need a little of what Coleridge referred to as “poetic faith” in order to get on with living.
The problem is that this suspension of disbelief also makes us credulous and incredibly vulnerable. We tend to get lost in our beliefs, fantasies, and dreams not only because people are lying to us but because we are lying to ourselves. Fantasy is fun and great; but it also presumes we are actually capable of making the distinction between what is truly fake and what is truly real, and this is how we delude ourselves. Negotiating these boundaries surely enables us to construct for ourselves meaningful narratives as to what is, as well as to entertain ourselves. And fiction and great art pander to us that way...by making us privileged voyeurs with an "insight" to make. After all, our opinion counts, does it not?

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