A Rant About Reality in Art

alice-flamingoI like movies that are an experience, that take you to a different emotional realm, whether  through visuals or narrative. I’m not into reality. In fact, I don’t consider “realism” a valid criticism unless I’m making a documentary. But I don’t make documentaries. I write stories.

When I was a friendless kid with an abusive stepfather and being teased relentlessly at school, I didn’t want to live in reality because it was unbearable. There was not a waking moment in which I wasn’t reading (even if it was the back of an aspirin bottle), watching a movie, or creating my own intricate movie in my head. Books, movies, and daydreaming saved my life. If it sounds melodramatic, then you don’t remember what it was like to be a kid. Children lack all perspective because they’re experiencing everything for the first time. So, yes, childhood experiences are truly intense and over the top. This is why you have to be so very tender with kids; every experience they have is magnified times ten.

But anyway, I digress. I am here to write about the value of fantasy in life. I have another blog about astrology where I recently wrote a post about the value of being practical instead of waiting for “fate” and the “stars” to do the work for you. I believe there’s a proper time and place for both escapist fantasy and for hard-nosed truths. And I think that illusion, humor, and dreams can be sacred, especially if they give you strength to fight another day.

Really, there’s no more compelling argument for it than Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, especially that gorgeous scene in the black church in which the congregation invites the convicts to watch cartoons with them. Comedy as a genre is so disrespected in the English-speaking world. I mean, am I the only one who’s been on the verge of suicide, only to have a truly funny person pull me off the ledge? We may knock the value of comedy, but its great gift is that it gives us perspective. If it doesn’t realign how we see things, it’s not funny.

The whole “reality” comment also begs the question: Whose reality? Well, here, this clip says it better than I can:

Not to get too philosophical here, but your idea of what truly happens or doesn’t happen in daily life is going to vary widely depending on where and when you live.

I remember having a discussion with some friends about a movie and the topic of coincidences came up. Most had spent their entire lives living in the U.S., one of the biggest countries in the world, but there were some living in Europe or working in specialized industries in which social circles were small.

Anyway, I had lived in Israel, a country so small that I was constantly running into people I knew in the unlikeliest places or met people who knew someone I knew. If I were to write those same scenes in an American setting people would cry foul, for good reason. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen here as much, due to the sheer geographical size of the U.S. But they’re much more common the smaller the country, or social circle. In fact, I left Israel because this kind of thing happened so often that I found it suffocating. (Well, there were other reasons as well.) We all make the mistake of thinking that the way we experience life is the same for everyone else. And it’s simply not so. And this is where books, movies, plays, art in general, can open us up to how others’ experience life.

Anyway, the rules to which we’re bound change according to the time and place. Now, it takes an enormous amount of control and mastery over your material to convey these norms elegantly to an audience that hasn’t had the benefit of traveling to the place where you’ve set your story. (Or if you’re writing a period piece.)

And, lastly, there are some people who seem to have really weird karma, for lack of a better word. They may have been born in the sleepiest midwestern town to the most ordinary couple in the world and suddenly their lives take a left turn and, bam! It all begins unfolding in the most improbable way. These are the stories I love to hear, not necessarily the ones that bolster my way of looking at the world. Shake me up, make me realize that I’ve got it all wrong, jolt me out of the comfortable, boring illusion that nothing much happens in life.

Besides, why should I spend almost $20 for “reality” when I can go sit on a park bench and watch in unfold for free? Or has no one told you we’re in the middle of a recession?

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