Is all that we see or seem / But a dream within a dream?
-Edgar Alan Poe
The horrific murders of innocents at Sandy Hook ignited a political firestorm over gun ownership, an issue that is really a red herring. Much less mention occurs about our non-existent mental health system, or the effect of violent gaming in blurring the distinction between fiction and reality and thus desensitizing young people to graphically horrific violence.
Yet, when I think about how reality and fiction are blurred I can’t help but think that games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Medal of Honor are taking up more and more time in the lives of children as young as six or seven years old. Should we be concerned that such exposure might cause people to take fiction into reality at some future date?
Well, when I was growing up my generation was treated to bloodless violence in Westerns, cartoon characters struck by hammers and falling pianos, and Moe slapping and pounding Curly and Larry. Not to mention Superman flying. Now, I’m not saying that someone somewhere didn’t attempt to emulate this behavior with deadly consequences–some may in fact have done so. But neither I nor anyone I knew personally ever thought for one minute that you could hit someone with a hammer and not have it hurt.
So, if in fact young people are influenced towards violence today because of the entertainment afforded them; and if, in fact, we were not thus influenced (which I maintain we were not); what might be the difference?
Was is that we ourselves were more grounded in reality? Or was it that the world we lived in was? Did our parents and significant influences know the difference, and provide us with a security in our reality that is, somehow, missing today?
Are we, as a society, blurring the distinction between reality and fiction? If so, are consequences like Sandy Hook and the AMC shootings in Colorado simply symptomatic of this disconnect?
For the past several weeks, thousands have been glued to TruTV, mesmerized by testimony from a young woman in Arizona who murdered her lover by shooting him in the head, stabbing him 29 times, and slitting his throat. Her serial testimony about the various and sundry sex acts she committed with the deceased has drawn an ardent audience (probably mostly males!) and has been a ratings bonanza. This trial is the consequence of a gritty and horrific event that really happened: a bullet violated a man’s skull, a knife pierced flesh and vital organs, and an ear-to-ear slice across his throat segmented jugular veins. His body decomposed for days in a damp shower stall. Stinking to high heaven.
Now, we turn to TruTV for entertainment: the blood and stink has receded into a fog of unreality. Once the trial is over, it will probably be a year or less before Lifetime turns it into a movie. The reciprocity between reality and fiction will thus come full circle.
This is what happened with the heart-wrenching case of Casey Anthony and her beautiful but unbelievably murdered child Caylee. The performance value of her trial was evident not only in ratings for HLN and TruTV, but in the physical confrontations that sometimes occurred outside the courthouse as people literally fought for a place in line (some having come from many miles away to see the “show”).
And, of course, there was a Lifetime Movie.
There is another thing that connects the Jodi Arias case with Casey Anthony: both young women apparently have to think to tell the truth. Their reality is what they say it is at the time. Are they sociopaths, or are they merely reflective of a larger society that finds the distinction between truth and reality fuzzier and fuzzier? And did the Anthony jury perhaps suffer from the same inability to distinguish truth from fiction?
I could go on. Drew Peterson not only drew television cameras to him, he flaunted his newfound celebrity. And–guess what?– he was the subject of a Lifetime movie.
Now that I think about it, Rob Lowe played Peterson–and he also played the prosecuting attorney in the Casey Anthony movie. Blurred reality seems to have become a full-employment opportunity for Lowe!
Plato once illustrated a philosophy about reality and appearance with a simile about a cave. All people who sat in the darkness could see were shadows of things that were cast on the wall from a wall of flame behind them. Most people took the shadows for the reality, and lived their lives accordingly.
Could it be that we need to clear out the shadows, move into the light, and ground ourselves in reality in order to live our lives properly? If so, how do we go about climbing out of the cave when it is so comfortable in there?
If I am onto something here, other innocents in the future may be on the path to destruction. And not just because of guns (Jodi Arias inflicted most of her damage with a kitchen knife), but because we can’t judge between what is real and what isn’t.
Sandy Hook was real.
My greatest fear is that we will reduce it to unreality with a–God forbid–Lifetime movie.