Monday, February 16, 2009

True story or based on a true story

What we now believe is that for the majority of Americans, truth has become absolutely relative. Films tout that their plot, events, characters are based on a true story. Memoirs are the most popular genre, and newspapers and news media are generally opinions first and as I said before usually based on a "true" story. What is it that they say about every lie having a kernel of truth. Well, that is where we are now. Every truth is the kernel around which we now tell and know our stories.

Yesterday, a receptionist at my doctor's office asked about the book I was holding. "Is it good?" she asked. To which I replied, "Well, it is well written but the story is terribly sad, so I can't call it good." The book we were discussing was Irene Nemoirovsky's, Suite Francaise. "It is a story, the story of the early years of WW II in France and how the people fled Paris and how the different levels, classes of society and even the Germans reacted. The author died in Auschwitz."

"Oh, it's based on a true story, then?"

"No, it is work of fiction."


It was as though I had told her that the story which was as true to life and as close to the reality of being there as the author could make it, was actually not true. I know other people these days who hold this same position. They only go see movies or watch TV shows that are based on a true story. It is as though that's all it takes to make them believe it, the plot of the story really happened and if that's true then any other part of the story can be taken at face value, too. So the question becomes, what is the true story?

I can't be the only one who has noticed. After all, even scripted stories have tag lines like "You've been watching too much TV." when a character alludes to the way things are supposed to happen. Medical dramas, and courtroom/police shows dominate what I call spare time tv. Cable loads up hours of these shows and they in turn carry a sense of being real. And if they are real then the behavior and the beliefs and especially the actions of the characters are then real. Meanwhile, scripted reality shows go even one better. The people really are just people. So that makes what they do and say have a certain kind of validity. But they are also acting too, and extremely aware, as we all are these days of the camera's eyes.

Real CSI workers laugh out loud at the way TV shows portray their equipment and the flashy way they demonstrate their results. Last week on Medium, a news report of an arrest carried this piece of false information. "The police recovered 9 fingernails torn from the victom's fingers covered with the person arrested's DNA." This amongst real world news reports saying that DNA testing has fallen as far as a year behind in reporting results because of the glut of work.

What is the truth against this? The public actually appear to believe the story over the facts. This inability to separate truth from fiction is a major factor in our continuing stress as we try to figure out which person, newsreporter, politician, preacher, or story to actually trust.

What is it House always says, "Everybody lies." It's funny to me that the natural response is "trust no one."

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