Who we pretend to be . . .

It seems all my most recent posts come equipped with an italicized prologue/apology.  My writing schedule of late (see previous post) allows  only for penning randomized thoughts rather than focused diatribes. 

Fisch wrote to me a few months back, citing his concerns over a former classmate’s downward spiral due to World of Warcraft.  “Back in high school, Larry could have kicked major ass, dude.  Samurai sword in hand — you know he has five or six replicas from Highlander — he could have . . . have . . . I don’t know, vied with the rich and powerful.  Made a difference in the world.  Tried to conquer it, and crush all lacrosse-playing douche-bags beneath his thumbs.  Instead, he’s teaching Spanish at a local college and hosting Magic tournaments at the local comic shop every Friday.  It’s unhealthy, man.”  

Fisch by nature is an idealist — he also cares little for lacrosse or the brainless bullies the sport occasionally empowers.  His mother has planned his presidential campaign since his thirteenth birthday.  A mind for politics, law, and changing the world has little to no use for fantasy or the MMORPG scene.  Building digital characters and hunting pixelated loot has no worth since it carries no currency in the real world.  This may be true, but still I wonder about his ‘self-evident’ conclusions of WoW, not to mention our private fantasies and self-identity. . .  This is my reply:

I managed to see The Book of Mormon over the weekend, and though I cannot count myself among the most ardent fan of Southpark, the concept that we define ourselves by our beliefs – regardless of how imaginary, fantastical or fictional – holds a kernel of truth.  After all, if we accept religion itself as a mere tool to improve our lives and the lives of those around us – a philosophy, which if applied might just dissolve many forms of bigotry and persecution around the world – then like polishing a rare stone, all the messy trappings, ceremonies, and ‘truths’ associated with religious dogma fall away to reveal a gleaming beautiful codex, a how-to-guide of “how to live life fully and stop treating each other like the excretions of a malnourished mutt with dysentery.”

The diversity of Christmas celebrations or how we dance to “Don’t Stop Believin’” at a friend’s wedding is proof enough that while ceremony may not be universal, truth might be.  We all hear the same song, but how our bodies react differs.  Ergo how we choose to package the truth, attracting the geeks, homemakers, politicians, doctors, bums, or 1st-graders, is only important to the salesmen and their clientele.  The message is the same.  On the highway to enlightenment, only the fool cares whether his neighbor paints his chariot red or plaid.  And if cosplaying from time to time as Bilbo Baggins inspires you to find courage, wisdom, and kindness in your daily life, how can we dismiss that as unhealthy?

If this is true – and I believe it is – then fantasy and fiction might prove as influential as the most holy scriptures.  One of South Park’s more controversial episode, Imaginationland, suggested that the existence of imaginary characters does not negate their importance.  Now I cannot in all honesty admit that I hold Captain Crunch in the same regard as Moses or Buddha (to say nothing of Christ — once an altar boy, always an altar boy).  The guys in Southpark have made that claim, citing that ‘imaginary characters’ through our love and attention to them have impacted more of human civilization than any historical figure or politician.  As such, the biographies of history’s most infamous villains and cherished saints are romanticized, demonized, or aggrandized into works of fiction.  Did Saint Patrick really purify the island of snakes?  Did Pocahontas really ward off the killing blow aimed at John Smith?  Did Hitler really kick puppies?

Thus, this begs the question, what is real?  In point of fact, reality is more liquid than most people care to believe; perception can shift the fabric of time and space.  If you believe in your heart of hearts that you will be President of the United States one grand day, does that belief not affect how you live your life?   Imagine a kid who believes himself a level 59 paladin, not just in Warcraft but in a very real sense.  He defends the weak, confronts bullies, strives to improve himself both inside and out . . . perhaps exercises on a regular basis.  Short of being knighted by Arthur himself, that boy is a paladin. In a very real sense, we are who we pretend to be.

I am reminded of that line from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, a movie which I quite enjoyed despite its gross historical inaccuracies:

Balian:  Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.

Balian:  [cuffs the man with the back of his hand] And that’s so you remember it.

Jerusalem:  Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?

Balian: Yes.

Perhaps belief (much like the movie itself) is all romanticized drivel, the palaver of a fanboy trying to justify his obsession.  Maybe.  Yet, this does not dismiss the fact that Batman and Frodo have inspired me and thousands of others to become better people.   The fact that kids still yearn to fight for the marginalized with either sword or mask and cowl gives me hope, slaying the dragons of hatred and ignorance simply by playing and pretending.  And if more of us strives to be heroes in our imaginary worlds, imagine what good we might bring to the real world.

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