The Mythaholic's Failure to Distinguish Fantasy From Reality

Fighting crime with fiction, just like in the movies.

Posted Feb 27, 2018

Trump coulda woulda marched right into that school unarmed. He says the problem isn’t guns but movies. He can just picture Rambo teachers mowing down the coward villains.

Maybe the problem is movies but less their violence than their invincible heroes. Blockbusters keep us on the edge of our seats but we always know how they’ll end, never with the hero failing, always with them victorious to swelling music in the end.

Heroes stay one step ahead of the enemy in movies. What’s their secret?

Fiction which you can write backward. With fiction, you can write the ending first and then write everything that leads up to it. Whatever the hero will end up needing later, the screenwriter can plant earlier in the story. Unlike life which is lived forward, fiction can be written in any direction.

That would be a wonderful way to live real life. You’d never have to say “If only I had thought of that.” Whatever you should have thought of you can just plant as an afterthought earlier in the story. That way, you’d always be able to do everything in the nick of time, just like in the movies.

The gun epidemic is one thing. We’re suffering a worse epidemic these days, not optimism or pessimism but possumism, people playing dead to reality to protect themselves from it. When the stresses of life get too great, people close their eyes and imagine that they’re living in the fictional worlds where they’re the heroes, handsome and brave, and always crusading on the path to invincible virtue. Anything in their way is the enemy of truth which they alone represent.

Trump would like to have been a hero. He shows no evidence of wanting to actually do anything that heroism requires. It’s all bluster, all fiction and he’s the star, a legend in his own mind. And roughly 40% of Americans fall for it. They fall in line behind this bluster just like they identify with the hero in the movies.

Movies have become more vivid over the decades, giving people the false impression that they’re just like real life. Better special effects, more realistic dialogue and just more, an endless parade of irresistibly hyper-stimulating fiction.

After a long hard day slogging through reality people can escape for hours into their TVs, some living more than half their waking hours in fictional worlds.

It’s wonderful. It feeds the human appetite for fiction. We’re just not keeping up with what it does to our ability to manage the difference between reality and fantasy. Distinguishing fantasy from fiction is the greatest challenge for humans. We have imaginations unlike any other organisms, but we still have to adapt to reality or pay the price.

We teach children to know the difference. It’s just getting harder because our fiction is getting so seductive.

For a lot of Americans, politics has become a spectator sport. Our wars aren’t fought on the home front. Though politics can affect our lives it does so indirectly and abstractly. We can spout our political beliefs for the heroic fun of it without having to think through the real-world consequences.

The draft ended 45 years ago. That means many of us have lived most, if not all of our lives without our political decisions feeling life-threatening. We can play political Monday morning quarterback without direct consequence, spouting off about what we would do if we were in charge of the world without having to think it through.  Politics has become so abstract that it plays like fiction. Except you don’t get to go back like a fiction writer to plant what you failed to think of beforehand.

The next best thing is pretending that you planted it which Trump does all the time. When he didn’t think through the consequences of his bluster, he just denies the bluster. “I didn’t say arm teachers with guns,” he scolds and then says arm teachers with guns in a way that convinces him and his fan fiction supporters.

That’s all that counts for fiction, convincing the mythaholic audience. Reality doesn’t matter. Just the impression of reality sustained with still more fiction.

The NRA’s response to all gun violence is always more guns. The realistic consequences of following their logic is a vicious cycle, more violence, more guns, more violence, more guns. When we’re realistic we can see how the cycle will play out and stop it. Instead, we’ve getting NRA fiction about God granting us the right and duty to bear arms because as anyone who sucks down blockbusters can tell you, a good guy with a gun always stops the bad guys with guns.