The empire has the god-like power to create reality, we say on page 33 of our book, If Not Empire, What? Its version of life is so encompassing and “normal” that it becomes most everyone’s default worldview. Thus, even its highly deceptive assertions and claims become “real.” People live accordingly and thereby lose the ability to imagine anything else as workable and worthy of respect.
Recently, this squishy aspect of “reality” brought to mind memories of The Truman Show, the 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey. He plays a man whose life—unbeknownst to him—is a live, 24/7 reality show. Although everyone around him plays scripted roles, Truman’s emotions and actions are authentic. That authenticity is a valuable commodity, which translates into a huge television audience.
Over a period of years, Truman notices anomalies in his existence, such as the way the same people appear in the same places at certain times each day and the way his wife seems to advertise the various products she buys. This leads him to conclude he’s trapped in a false reality created for an audience he cannot see. Eventually, he escapes the set of The Truman Show and enters the real world.
Reality TV also seeks to capture authentic human responses for an audience to enjoy. As compared to The Truman Show, many more variables come into play. Actors are carefully chosen because of their unique identities and behavior patterns, but their emotions, speech and actions are usually unscripted.
But what is presented on Reality TV is not the raw video, but a highly edited reconstruction that creates a coherent and dramatic story line the producer believes the audience will like. As described by one writer, it requires “working backwards from the ending in the most interesting way possible, crafting an inevitable occurrence into an emotional, humorous, or provocative journey.” Yes, the final product consists of real footage of real people responding authentically in real settings to real human dynamics. But the sequence of events might be rearranged, and the words of a voice-over that accompanies a scene might be very different from the words the actors spoke when the scene was filmed.
It’s sort of real, but not really.
Recently, I’ve also been thinking about ISIS. It makes war in ways every bit as brutal as anyone else. Perhaps its most unique aspect is providing television-ready videos of especially inhumane actions. Apparently, it’s very important to ISIS that we in the West regard its cruelty as off-the-charts.
What about other ISIS-related news reports assembled by Western media outlets? They also typically hype the ISIS threat. Recently, FAIR (the national media watch group) reported on the “Top 10 Bogus ISIS Stories.” Have a look at the article; you’ll see the names of top-rung media organizations.
Then there is the remarkable similarity of coverage about ISIS across the major Western media. You don’t see one story line here and another there. Instead, all reduce a mass of reality-based data to fit the same story line. How does that happen?
Needless to say, there is something artificial and contrived about all of this. No, it’s not The Truman Show, nor Reality TV. But it’s not real.
During the first term of President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, a close advisor to the President, explained to author Ron Suskind how this all works: “We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Of course, the Bible denounces such hubris as idolatry and the god of the Bible (YHWH) opposes the empire. But in Christendom, this fundamental aspect of the Bible is rarely mentioned, what with all the studying we need to do of ISIS—or whatever distraction du jour the empire has cooked up for us.