087: The Art of Deception

John Timmons’s short film perspective #4 addresses or may address certain human themes. We could make a list: new media aesthetics, technology and history, the nature of truth, the nature of reality, and/or the art of deception, issues that fill the news these days as it’s election season and the season for world governments wondering how to spell the word e-n-c-r-y-p-t-i-o-n.

The speaker, who is not John Timmons, claims with irony that aesthetic quality of digital video should be made to look like film, an analogue technology, as there are technological problems that render digital video outside an aesthetic norm or a technological and aesthetic custom. Most viewers of film are accustomed to the look and feel of film (indeed, most people probably don’t consider how accustomed they are to it), therefore footage captured in another format should be manipulated so that it takes on the qualities of that other format. The same issue was confronted by early photographers and by present day remodelers of books into ebooks, so that when a reader confronts Huckleberry Finn on the digital reader, the motion of page turning is to be simulated, as instructed in the Ten Commandments. This will bring aide and comfort to the reader, who, if confronted with common words on another technology, in what may or may not look like prose, might fling up their hands and say, “If I can’t turn a page, then I might just have to give up reading and turn to hiking the back country, instead.”

Which calls to mind the question of the early poet for whom Plato readied cement shoes or pink slips because poets were prone to taking perceived reality and turning it into something that was perceived as untruthful, inactual, or an outright lie. This recalls the nature or truth and reality, two ideas that presuppose the existence of untruth and disreality. If, for example, I told a friend that my father was seven feet tall, I would be altering reality and “the truth” as my father is not seven feet tall in actuality. The friend’s potential image of my father, that is, his mental picture of my father, would be permanently shaped, even if I backed off the description and said, “I was just kidding. He’s really only three and a half feet in height.” It would be fine, however, for me to tell my friend that I believe in a being who is a deity and can rise into the clouds and disappear there on his way to heaven.

A theory goes that we walk in a perpetual smoke of invention. Reconsider my above paragraph and that not so subtle reference to truth and reality and consider human inventions, one of the most powerful of which is the common life narrative parents tell their children on pretty good evidence. You’re born, you go to school, you must work or perpetually seek work out till your fingers break, and then you die, hopefully with your mind in tact. Sometimes I laugh when I sit back and think about this “truth.” Why must the inevitability of a working life for Americans be “the reality?” Why must this “reality” be the way things are? Why must employment be the headline in all the papers, analogue or digital? It is the modern framework of human biological survival, encapsulated as “the truth” in the common narrative. In another reality, this “truth” might be different. In some other reality, the common narrative might be: you’re born, you become a poet or a juggler, and then you die, and we make due by eating the hair of ground sloths. Of course, modern work has its analogues in all societies where the stuff of everyday survival might be farming, bargaining, or the backyard vegetable garden.

But we love the lie. Everyday we leave spaces behind echoing or reverberating with the inventions of ourselves. My friend asks, “How are you?” and I lie. She lies back. We understand this. We devise best practices for artful deception and we call these “good manners.”

Modern politics is the perfect playground for tests of truth and reality or their arbiter “irony.” People grow angry at what’s called the “negative campaign ad,” which as a communication genre is as honest as it gets in its evidence of “irony.” Remember, we love the lie, and so lying should be loved and it should come through some aesthetic worthy of our devotion. The real problem with “negative campaign ads” for people is that they aren’t artful enough. As lies, they’re too obvious. We want “good manners” in our negative ads. We want a better knife, a knife whose trail through the skin is harder to detect. We want the beautiful lie, the smiling deceit of the artful dictator, the wonderful, nuanced hands of experienced magicians, not the blundering and obnoxious dunderings of our modern political ad producers. Our modern politicians, furthermore, commit the sin of being unable to actually articulate their lies in a manner commensurate with the sophisticated technologies they have at their disposal. Some of these pols think that the blatant lie is “good enough.”

When the critic or honest person claims that “negative campaign ads” are corrupting the system what he or she really means to say, but is ignorant of a better means of saying it, is: “I wish this Republican or Democrat or so-called Independent running for office was just a little better at lying to me; I wish they could take their nickel and turn it into a silver dollar; I wish they could take that snap shot of the dog and turn it into the beauty that is film.”

Of course, I learned all of this from “the fiction writer.”

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