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Published:December 9th, 2007 11:03 EST
The Truth In Glamorizing

The Truth In Glamorizing

By Sean Stubblefield

The documented public reaction to the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast exhibits the impact and influence of perceiving something unreal as real " the power and potential of stories to effect us. Our stories define our culture as much as our culture defines our stories.

I sense that something more can be done to blur/blend the lines between fiction and non-fiction in our narratives. As well as reconcile and abolish a general opposition to this unification, and the common insistence that segregation is necessary or even meaningful or useful. Most people are accustomed to an inherent differentiation of opposites, tending to be caught up on things being either/or " instead of and " such as real or unreal. Two opposing precepts can`t both be true. Can they? It is either real or not real. Right?

That depends on what you mean by what is real? How do you define true ? The imposed and assumed separations between non-fiction and fiction in our narratives are not only unnecessary and irrelevant, but increasingly non-existent and need not be contrived. Just as our narratives can simultaneously cross genre boundaries and Trans-media formats (film/TV/comics/novels/games/music/ internet/ fan fiction/ toys/ real world), they can also consist of both fiction and non-fiction, without contradiction. The text acquires, or is imbued with, different meaning in the way we approach or interpret it. Things considered real are typically given more credence or substance than if considered imaginary. There is a social bias against fiction as being frivolous and less important or less mature than non-fiction. In mainstream society, that which is seen as real automatically has more weight and value, merely for being so-called real . We place a great deal of worth on what we think of as real; not just in and of itself, but in who we (think we) are because of it. The most socially relevant piece of science fiction will usually be overshadowed in the general population by the most insipid of news reports " for no reason except that it seems to be real.

Why should this be so? If that is the predominate attitude, then shouldn`t we strive to make our narratives more convincing by having them be more attuned to realism, and thus more believable? Belief is a matter of belief. An inspirational quote suddenly loses vigor and vitality in the public mind if discovered to have not been said by the person everyone thought, or that person didn "t mean it, or was misquoted. But we should keep in mind, as Jesus would advise, that the message is more important than the messenger. Speaking of which, what would happen if the Bible or Koran or Torah were revealed conclusively to be fictions? And if God himself exposed the lies? Or if it were somehow proven there were no God, or a least not as these books describe.

Would these books-- or more precisely their moral teachings-- lose all power and meaning? Why?

But don`t misunderstand. I`m not suggesting falsehood or imagination be confused with or passed off as factual. Clearly, and for obvious reasons, accuracy is desirable in matters where the point of the story is to relay exact and specific information; like a scientific study, a documentary, a medical analysis, a legal case, an operations manual, or a news article. What I`m illuminating here is fiction and non-fiction becoming more integrated in our narratives, and less ostracized from each other. Making narrative fiction more realistic and narrative non-fiction more imaginative. The cardinal rule of story telling is show, don`t tell ", which is why they are so effective a means of presenting ideas and information. Narratives illustrate and demonstrate ideas, making those ideas more interesting or entertaining, more compelling and comprehensible, and more relatable to us than plain, raw data.

Fiction, history, biography, journalism, philosophy, myth, legend, anecdotes, and even culture and identity can all exist as forms of narrative. Because life, itself, is a narrative. As a story telling method, fiction can be portrayed as a kind of non-fiction, and non-fiction can be presented with a feeling or appearance of fiction. For the sake of augmenting details or relating data.

Such blurry/ blendiness is exemplified by Ayn Rand`s Fountainhead; the story is fictional, but constructed in a way that seems non-fiction. It is believable. And if you didn`t know better, you could accept that it was a true story (or based on one). Ultimately, this refers to a story being believable not because it is a true story, but because it is framed in realism, expressing and relating to essential aspects or archetypes of the Real and the True by being authentic. Fiction is not synonymous with-- nor excuse for being-- inconsistent, nonsensical or absurd. Indeed, fiction is best when consistent, internally and externally, as the story requires. No matter how fantastical or extraordinary the story, if its core elements are realistic and realistically crafted, then concerns about classifying fiction or non-fiction are moot " because then the difference is functionally undefined and insignificant. Maybe the story isn`t completely factually true, but it may be conceptually true, or possess elements of truth and realness within and among the non-truth. A story that is nigh impossible to believe as real might as well be called fiction, since that is most probably how it will be received. But at least the story is told.

Yet, if truth is such a big deal for us, then we should be open to realizing and embracing it regardless of coming packaged in fiction or non-fiction.

The only distinction or demarcation between fiction and non-fiction-- at least as much as it means to us-- is our ability and willingness to believe " to suspend disbelief. What has changed in the transition from thinking a story true to thinking it isn`t? Not the story, but our perception of it. If we are told that a story is fiction-- or assume it is, although it did happen, does that mean it didn`t happen? No, of course not. The only difference is in our minds, as Buddhism proclaims. If we are offended by a deception or misunderstanding or mislabeling about the actuality of a narrative, it is often because of an insecurity and inflexibility we have with uncertainty, in which we are demanding and comforted that our reality be static, known and absolute. Those who are upset by this disruption, are so annoyed because their sense of reality-- what is real -- is disturbed, and because their delicate egos don`t graciously permit them being wrong or fooled without permission. But more fundamental than that, this reaction stems from a disorientation and betrayal of trust which Nietzsche summarizes as, I`m not upset that you lied to me, I`m upset that from now on I can`t believe you ". However, he also recognized the limitations of conceptualizing true and real , asserting them as tentative illusions inhibiting authenticity, and warning, Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies".

When Wil Wheaton and Jessica Stover tell a story on their blogs about something that happened in their lives, how do I know they haven`t just made it up? Or maybe they have engaged in creative liberties with the facts to enhance the telling. Considering they are talented story tellers, it is possible.

Does it really matter if a story is (entirely) true or not? What does it matter if you don`t know the difference? Or is it more important that it depict and represent Truth? Or even just an interpretation of some truth? And that it makes sense? Does a story`s actuality-- whether it really happened-- affect its point, its relevance or its essence? Must its meaning to us be negated or invalidated?

Narratives, regardless of being fiction or non-fiction, are-- to varying extent-- subjective accounts anyway. They inform about and from particular perspectives and experiences and remembrances.

If a story doesn`t denote events as they actually occurred (or how we think they occurred or should occur), if any part of it is embellished, exaggerated or invented " is that story necessarily false or untrue? Does that make it fiction? But what if that story relates genuine conditions, situations and philosophies that are indicative of real scenarios or verifiable facts? What if it is a mixture of fiction and non? Non-fiction can legitimately be told through fiction or as fiction. A sort of "based on true story" rendering or rendition? Isn`t that the principle of science fiction and fables and parables: to present the literal/real in figurative/unreal terms?

What is acting, but telling truths with lies? The re-enactment of a true story is not real " it is a performance, a re-creation of actual events. A story based on true events is not fully true, but that doesn "t mean the original source is unreal. Suppose the names of the characters were changed? Is the story then untrue? Is a general narrative portrait false because it doesn`t portray actual events as they actually unfolded? The Diary of Ann Frank is what we call a true story, but in the way it is delivered, it is the sort of story that could easily have been manufactured. And even accepting it as a true " story, how much of the writer`s estimations and interpretations are accurate and reliable as fact, rather than misinformed, imagined or assumed or solipsistic or delusional or fraudulent (and therefore fictitious)? Are the written comments of Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin the realm of history or biography or philosophy? Is using narrative to report an event simply a story or is it news? And what happens when science fiction becomes science fact?

See, definitive categorical lines are not so simply drawn.

Despite all our protestations of preferring the truth, is ignorance bliss? Do we really and truly want to know the truth, always? Or just assume it? Would we rather frame alien abduction as fiction or non-fiction? If the United States government were complicit in the assault of 9-11, would you actually want to know? You seriously want to learn that leprechauns, Cthulu or Alice in Wonderland are based in truth?

We presume a faith in classifications of fiction and non-fiction, real and unreal, in accordance with our beliefs about reality, and what is possible.

Faith that A really is A.

But faith, according to Nietzsche, is only not wanting to know what is true."