Reality versus fantasy

Thinking more about the issues that arise from the questionable promotion of the film “Anonymous”, I am struck by the complexity of the social, cultural, ethical and psychological relationship between reality and fantasy. Every society evolves a highly elaborate code dictating when and where everything should lie along this dialectic.

When we read a novel or watch a film, we happily and collectively indulge in a game of “what-if”. In a make-believe world many rules of propriety are suspended. We understand that well-wrought fiction will give us an enormous emotional payoff — a payoff we will pay good money to experience. In such experiences there is generally no confusion about what is reality and what is fantasy. For example, when we watch “Star Wars”, we understand that we are not actually watching an entire planet full of people getting blown up.

In fact, our rules dictating that fantasy experiences do not mix with reality experiences are very strict. For example, for many people in the U.S. it is perfectly ok to go into a restaurant and eat a serving of rabbit or cow. Yet if a real rabbit or cow were deliberately slaughtered to create a scene in a fiction movie, many of the same people would likely boycott the film for ethical reasons. On the other hand, it was generally considered OK for Michael Moore to portray the actual slaughter of rabbits in his film “Roger and Me” — because that was a documentary.

That’s just one example of many. I suspect we can follow the convoluted dance between our perceptions of “reality” and “fantasy” to illuminate all sorts of things just under the cultural surface.

One Response to “Reality versus fantasy”

  1. Phil H says:

    I would agree that there are many circumstances where we portray reality as reality and fiction as fiction. However, the evident need for a narrative to give us meaning results in a number of narratives being constructed with no particular distinction between fact and fiction; witness historical dramas, romantic comedies in particular, even the current hatred of bankers – without a narrative even of the real, we flounder.

    Michael Moore’s films attempt, via documentary style and polemic, to contrast our stated values with actual practices. But even they employ a narrative to form a film, rather than stating a series of facts. Thus even this is a narrow spotlight on fact, and the illusion is that it is a broad view.

    In some ways, narrative to us is like water to a fish; we and all our life are immersed in it. One person may narrate that they are a scientist doing important work for the benefit of humanity, while their spouse views it as a futile search for significance which undermines the quality of their parenting. And yet, as long as we accept the premise of an objective reality, events themselves are actually distinguishable and either happen or do not.

    I think my point is that although we think there is fact and fiction, that we know when we are hearing the truth and when we are listening to a story, all fact is itself coloured by the fiction of its context, and all fiction is set within a factual setting.

    I don’t think we can really tease them apart. The premise of postmodernism is that there is no overarching narrative, that we must construct our own from the splinters of the fallen narratives we find.

    There is provable fact, but through what do we perceive it?

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