Newspapers, stories, imagination

I wonder if by reading scare stories in free newspapers, tabloids, and in the more gutter-y type of website, there is a cumulative effect on our imaginations. The above scene from Amelie made me think about this, as it is remarkable that she can imagine someone coming into her house, and for this to be a source of comfort. Of course, it is a fantasy of hers, but what is truly remarkable is that when there is a stirring of the beads that she is not ricocheted out of the dream into a nightmare. She does not jump out of her skin (as I know I would).

The realization that the interruption is so banal causes her to weep, rather than for it to be a sense of relief. I interpret this to mean that the fantasy is her baseline (and this is true for her as a whimsical personality), rather than fear. She returns to the groove that her imaginary world dictates, and contrary to the usual quotidian and singularly unimaginative interpretation of the imagination, this is not by definition a happy-go-yay world. Now, I understand that there is no reason to put fear and joy on opposite ends of a spectrum, but there is something to be said about the fact that her imaginary world is self-created, and individual. Its positive and negatives are joy and sadness respectively. The alternative, as found in media, is one that is passively ingested through the eyes. It is predicated on group consumption, and accordingly, its activating emotions are similarly group defined: exultation and fear.

What of all those articles, about bankruptcy, war, rape, child-abuse, abduction, surveillance, tax-evasion, theft, murder… these are our narratives. They are also true, undoubtedly. One cannot say that such stories are to be denied. The problem may be that there is a gap between our group narratives, and our individual narratives. We have difficulty in making the group-orientated emotions manageable, and so fear as experienced in a group context returns in to the individual as dread. This is how I understand the difference between fear and dread in existentialism (I prefer “dread” to “angst” as a translation, even though they are cognate, because the latter is all-too-readily dismissed in the belittling coinage “angsty”, which doesn’t do much justice to the emotion Kierkegaard was attempting to confront).  The fear returns to us, and our inability to compose our own stories diffuses the fear, away from the events in the news article which had been the focus. Instead of the flashlight of fear, there is a sinister glow of dread suffusing our entire world. Yes, the news is (often) true, but does it not change the world as we see it? Then does this not even go to change the news, beginning a damaging positive (in the technical, rather than the evaluative sense) feedback loop?

Do we imagine our homes being broken in to? Do we by reading these stories (or hearing them told, and retelling them ourselves) thicken the choking miasma of dread? Is this something more pernicious than simple prudence in the face of a fallen, shitty world? Happiness is fleeting, and individual more often than not than its opposites, fear and dread, which, like a bacillus, spread any which way from group to individual to group in an unending cycle of contamination. Exultation, as I noted above, is a group phenomenon, and it can be seen in sports, or music, or whatever. Joy I consider individual, but it can be shared in a small group, and yet again, there is a focus for this joy. Fear can have a focus, but even this focus can be transformed into a focus for something to be overcome. Fear at its most effective is ill-defined, which is why the worst kind of rabble-rousing tabloid articles (which is to say, the most effective) are light on facts, and heavy on hear-say and insinuation.

The bacillus simile above isn’t just figurative language, but in fact may approach a true perspective, with fear regarded as a meme.  I use this concept in Susan Blackmore‘s worked out model, rather than Dawkins’s throwaway notion. The meme is a replicator, interested only in its idiotic self-perpetuation. The meme does not think, and indeed thought is a kind of antidote to the meme. Fear exploits our imaginative powers in the news scare, and then outsources it to our own imagination, turning it into dread, which expends all this potential power into the ether, uselessly. Then our ability to imagine positively is compromised, contaminated, and ultimately killed.

This is another reason why more than ever we need those who live in and for the imagination. And no, surprisingly for me, I don’t mean just the philosophers, historians, or the like. I mean the dreamers, the whimsical, the myth-spinners, the ones who in their music compel us to hear in new ways, those who in their art demand that we expand how we see. Those who excel in the purity of the imagination, who take the pure power to imagine, and raise this power to a power of itself. Those whose gifts or determination and graft allow us lesser types to participate in that world, if just for a little while. This should show that I am not calling for an ethical, or moral, or politically aware, or uplifting literature or art. That would be and is bullshit. I want, rather, a space for artistic art, for literary literature, for whimsical whimsy, for fun fun. As Charlie says, “Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.”

I know it’s hard to think like this, and be taken seriously. The world seems like it has been taken over by loud assholes, and the good types all have really gentle voices. Or that there are the cool kids, or whatever other clique there is, and to say things like I have said in this paragraph seem really dorky. I can think of one ultimate antidote to all feelings of defeat, or cynicism, or despair, or failure: The Muppets. Seriously, go watch some Muppets videos, and then try believe that the imagination doesn’t have much to say for itself.

God, I love The Muppets.

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