Sunday, August 15, 2004

The unbearable lightness of seeing

I spend some part of every day in the company of another world. It isn't really very far, and indeed it seems all the closer because it responds well to requests. A simple piece of glass is all that separates us, but even so I'll never be able to do more than watch it. I'm talking about television, but of course I mean more than just that. It's movies and photography too, Air Jordan's and MTV, everything from that exquisite universe of possibilities, and all the things of it that tell us we can come along.

On TV, the weather is always right. Meteorological conditions resulting not from jet streams or cold fronts, but instead from emotional imperatives. A glorious sun in triumph, darkness born of fear, rains for romance. Sound too follows the same dictates, conspiring to present along with visual effects and Hollywood's other discrete talents a world which runs on certainty rather than a chance. A place where the exigencies of even one person can rise to the sole concern of the entire universe. It is a place of manufactured perfection, one we know to be false, and yet all the more enjoyable because we can still think of it as ours.

I remember the first time I saw a photograph of Greta Garbo. That woman was long dead, a fate Greta herself would follow in time, but still the picture seemed to hold all the promise of life. We have become so talented in the sculpture of illusion, a craft where are molded those qualities we think the finest examples of humanity. A beautiful woman can look right through the glass, offer in her dulcet tones a confession of her love, and even though you know it isn't true, still you can feel the pull. In the movies, everything is important. All triumphs are magnificent and all defeats crushing, whether the scale balances all mankind or the difficulties of a single individual. It is such exquisite escapism, but it is more than simple fantasy. These displays, through those things in us they appeal to, become the promise of better things. It could be you.

There is a cruelty to the illusion, a bittersweet revelation around which the layers of fantasy entwine. We live our lives in our world, the real world insofar as we understand it, a place where we are only who we are. Now, that isn't necessarily such a bad thing. We can still have a good run as we drift through our lives, small triumphs all things considered, but all the more precious for being ours. It isn't my intention to sound decidedly pessimistic. I enjoy my life very much, that of it as has passed thus far, and there is some justification to expect even better in the future.

I enjoy those things produced for our entertainment very much. It is not my intention to decry the release offered by television. It's just that I know there are many things I'll never get to do. My life will probably be very good, but I'll never be President of the United States. I'll never negotiate peace with aliens, slay a dragon, or win the affection of a famous actress. It may even be the case that, if I could, I still may not want to do any of those things, but that I will likely never get the chance is disappointing.

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