Subtle Manipulations of Reality, Part 3.
(Last of the series.)
At the beginning of May our local arts and events rag here in Spokane,
The Inlander, put out an issue devoted to the upcoming summer movies.
The cover featured a photo of Indiana Jones, seen in the new installment
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The photo on the cover showed Indy in his
signature fedora and khaki shirt, with his pistol and his tote bag and
his whip. It was the rather iconic image that you always see.
But I noticed one thing the minute I saw it. Indy in the photo was wearing
his tote bag bandoleered across his torso with the strap going from his
left shoulder to his right hip as he faced you in the image. And his pistol
was on his left hip. Which is exactly the opposite of the way it should be.
It was something that most people wouldn't have noticed. Most people probably
just looked at the image for about four seconds, said to themselves "Oh,
Indiana Jones" and opened the magazine. It would have taken an experienced
photographer or graphic artist, or (like me) a hard-core Indiana Jones fan,
to notice the difference.
Indiana never wears the bag on his right hip. Never, in any studio or
movie still you will ever see does he have the bag on that side. And he
always wears the pistol on his right hip.
Looking closely at the image of Indy on the cover, you could tell that the
photo had been scissored out (using a photo editor) very close to Indy's
body and had then been pasted into the background art. Not only that, but
the image had been flipped horizontally. Which is pretty easy to do in any
image editor like Adobe Photoshop. That was why the bag and the pistol were
on the wrong sides.
The past month has seen some pretty terrible disasters happen in the
world. Starvation in Burma, earthquakes in China, floods and tornados in
America. Given all that, the fact that an image of Indiana Jones has
been flipped on the cover of a little local rag in Spokane, Washington
might not seem at all worth mentioning.
But I don't think it is unimportant. And the reason I don't think that
is that subtle manipulations of reality like the Indy cover are the tip
of a much bigger iceberg in our culture.
Philosophers have long debated the nature of Reality and Truth. And in
fact there is a whole area of philosophy devoted to that — epistemology.
But since the Enlightenment we have generally defined Reality to be
empirical reality. This is still how the hard sciences (and to a great
degree the soft sciences) look at it today. In this paradigm, Reality
is discovered by closer and closer approximations, using the tools of
observation, experiment, hypothesis formulation and testing, and open
and free discussion among peers.
What would we have without this? There are two things that can be said.
First, we wouldn't want any one person's view of what constitutes Reality
to define Reality. Bob the barber may be a very intelligent guy, he may
be a genius, he may also be a very good and ethical person. But we would
hardly want to accept Bob's individual take on Reality as constituting
Truth. And neither would we want our idea of Reality to be decided by
some public opinion pole. Otherwise, our idea of Reality and Truth would
become like leaves that are blown by the wind, blown this way and that.
Scientists do debate hypotheses and theories. But the final determination
(if things are working the way they should) isn't just a pole-like consensus:
The working models that scientists debate are based on empirical facts, not
just opinion. That is the groundwork.
Sciences like Physics and Chemistry today still are very much based on
empiricism. And as I mentioned there is a good bit of this in the soft
sciences as well. But that doesn't necessarily apply to our culture as a
whole. I don't mean to get political here, but it doesn't take much of a
leap to see how the mostly unnoticed flipping of Indy's image (who cares,
right?) is part and parcel with the whole Weapons of Mass Destruction
issue that led up to Iraq. Reality these days is often just a matter of
the latest spin, on which direction you decide to present the image. If
we don't notice the little things like the Indy cover, if things like
that become so routine that we no longer notice (or care), what hope
is there for the big issues that we must deal with?
Not everyone back in early 2002 accepted the WMD presentation, of course.
Even our own C.I.A. didn't accept it. But the vast majority of the American
public did. They accepted the Reality of the flipped image without even
realizing that it had been flipped.
I have said it before on this little blog on the Nile, and I will say it until
the pen falls out of my cold, dead fingers: Without any sense of what
constitutes Reality and Truth, there can be no possibility for Justice,
Ah, that's much better.