November 25, 2009

It’s all over now, baby blue

American popular music has long advised that “Life is but a dream” (“Row Row Row Your Boat”) and that “Nothing is real” (“Strawberry Fields Forever”), but until recent years, it seemed that our collective grip on reality was secure. Sadly (or maybe not so sadly), that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. A careful analysis of a variety of popular entertainments reveals that reality has been subverted, and that Truth is no longer universal.

We need only recognize the corporate interests behind the major news organizations to write them off as biased and therefore irrelevant to their supposed purpose. As in rules of evidence where a statement against interest is given more weight than a statement of clear bias, journalistic integrity is only valuable as long as it doesn’t result in the termination of a reporter’s employment. Guess who you aren’t going to tell the truth about, now, Mr. Rivera?

We can look down on the fools who get their news from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” but there seems to be more truth in the process of assaulting our tolerance for absurdity than there is in the supposed truths delivered by countless talking heads elsewhere.

Earlier this year, Alex Knapp — in his article, “Is Barack Obama an American Citizen?” — playfully argued that a profound segment of our population (commonly associated with the “Birther” movement) had, as a whole (and arguably as a recognition of societal trends), rejected the dominant paradigm of metaphysical realism, as well as the concept of philosophic naturalism. Ultimately recognizing a new kind of subjective reality based in cognitive relativism, Knapp tolled the death knell on objective reality. The article is astonishingly — in its comical, sweeping rejection of a status quo — offering its readers the opportunity to redefine their circumstances with boundaries defined only by their wildest imaginations.

The season premiere of “30 Rock,” an episode titled “Season Four,” opened with a sequence in which Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin) endorsed Jenna Maroney’s (played by Jane Krakowski) decision to “go country” in an effort to generate a more mainstream appeal with the admonition, “We’ll trick those racecar-loving wideloads into watching your lefty, homoerotic propaganda hour yet!”

And at the end of the episode, Krakowski’s tennis-based parody of a Sunday Night Football promo is followed by Baldwin’s recognition that, “There’s nothing wrong with being fun and popular and just giving people what they want.” Then he adds, as an introduction to the following program, “Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Leno …” Of course we all know that there is, in fact, something wrong with Jay Leno, but I don’t have enough room here to cover that territory.

A lot of people were bothered by Quentin Tarantino’s disregard for military history in his film “Inglourious Basterds,” but they failed to notice that the detailed description of German cinema (which was very popular and marked by propaganda) was factually accurate. Why would Tarantino change some of the facts and not others? We may never know.

I was excited when I heard that AMC was “re-imagining” the classic 1968 series “The Prisoner.” The station has had hits with “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” and I had hoped that they would have a new ongoing property here. Abandoning the espionage theme of the original, the new version has a mental health theme expressed as an effort to imagine the utopia in which the individual would like to spend the rest of one’s days. In the fifth episode, Number Two (played by Ian McKellen) has a conversation with the shopkeeper about the deadly nature of cigarettes and tobacco. “These things kill you, you know,” he says. Thereafter, he outlines the specific health risks. He lists the variety of cancers that cigarettes cause, and concludes that, “Smoking is a kind of suicide,” a real message couched within one of the most surreal entertainments currently on the air.

And then there’s The Onion. Comically self-described as “America’s Finest News Source,” The Onion has ordinarily been recognized as a source for humor, satire and parody, but a recent cover story, “Vince Vaughn Appears On ‘Tonight Show’ To Deceive Country About Latest Film,” proved to be as verifiably accurate as any story delivered by a major news outlet this year. Has The Onion abandoned humor? Read the article for yourself; the Truth, after all, is in your hands.

This week’s assignment: Give thanks for what you know is real.