Discerning what’s real and what’s not in our increasingly byte-sized reality is becoming a savagely challenging task. Add a home address in Hollywood, CA. and it can become downright surrealistic.
Last week, in the span of a few hours, tweets flew unmitigated concerning two code-red emergencies in our immediate neighborhood. A KTLA news helicopter crashed at Highland and Franklin, an exceedingly busy intersection serving as the main vein into the 101 freeway. Then, three blocks away on Hollywood and Wilcox, an area heavy with tourist foot traffic, an LAPD S.W.A.T. team stormed an apartment, uncovering a cache of automatic-weapons and dynamite.
Wait, dynamite? I thought the bad guys had upgraded to dirty bombs and whatnot. What kind of cartoon villain bothers lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite anymore? Either way, people were freaking out on the net, updating and hash tagging and ichatting. It was a social media apocalypse.
One thing about human nature will never change. We all loves us a train wreck. Two simultaneously is double the pleasure. Until the truth comes out…
As it happens, the helicopter landed safely in an empty lot with no serious injuries. And the S.W.A.T. team raid wasn’t really a S.W.A.T. team raid, but a stunt coordinated Hollywood film shoot, with union actors, undoubtedly.
It goes without saying that Tweets are unreliable. But what does need to be articulated is how the blitzkrieg of tv, film and the web have created a psychological hunger for extra-ordinary stories.
Never before has life imitated art on such a grand and yet intimate scale. There was a time when people would have fled from both potential disasters for fear of a stray bullet or helicopter blade being lodged in their heads. But our desire to weave a narrative to share with our synthetic friends has become too tempting, too valuable in a cultural sense. Be first to break the news, and your reaction to it. Even if you haven’t been there. Did you hear? Have you heard?! You mean you haven’t? OMG!
But notice how our references, how our sources, are becoming more and more detached from their origins. Today more than ever before, the details of the event, and their veracity, end up playing second fiddle to the storyteller’s point of view. And what could be more post-modern than that?
Didn’t you hear yet? California tumbled into the sea! I had just crossed the boarder into Nevada on my way to Vegas and couldn’t believe how lucky I was…
We are selfish even in our solipsism. What’s most shocking is how old a phenomenon it is.
Scholarship on theater in Ancient Greece often recants how audiences confused fiction with reality. Plays about gruesome domestic murders would inspire copy cat crimes. And vice versa, where fictional characters from Sophocles and Aeschylus would be cited by lawyers in their speeches to the court. And the Golden Age juries would accepted it. Everyone relates to a well told story.
Certainly, there are varying degrees of accuracy in all self-woven narratives. Watching the political theater unfold at the Republican National Convention was highly entertaining… in a B Horror movie kind of way. The blogosphere was aflame after Mary Fallin’s redonkulous speech on the history of Oklahoma. Turns our a majority of her facts were fabricated. An essay in Esquire put it best: “Handed in as a seventh-grade history essay, this (speech) would get no better than a D. Delivered to the convention of one of our only two political parties, it was perhaps the most singularly dishonest speech I have ever seen a politician give…”
Paul Krugman’s upbraiding in the New York Times was also memorable: “Paul Ryan’s speech Wednesday night may have accomplished one good thing: It finally may have dispelled the myth that he is a Serious, Honest Conservative. Indeed, Mr. Ryan’s brazen dishonesty left even his critics breathless.”
Politicians have always spun long tales. We’re naive to expect truth from any of them. But the troubling trend is spreading into the personal, social realm now, as a result of social media. When our value is measured by how many “followers” or “friends” or “likes” we have, we’ll all begin campaigning for more.
What the future of this trend will be know one can say, but you don’t have to be Nostradamus to guess. I have a suggestion for the political realm in general and that’s to just go all the way already. Forget about the truth completely and let’s agree to elect the candidate who’s woven the best story. It’s what we’re craving after all isn’t it?
I’ll I was secretly disappointed when I learned the raid was a movie shoot, and that the crash wasn’t a fiery explosion. The ordinary is nothing to tweet about. We have to have more!
Isn’t that why we still go to the theater, which is thousands of years old, and the movies, which will be alive and well in every single country on the planet for decades to come? If reality as we know it is going extinct, let get as good as we possibly can at creating our own illusions with a well-structured, cliche free, climactic and emotional-in-the-right-places story.