A generation ago, a film titled Who Framed Roger Rabbit attracted a lot of attention for portraying cartoon characters playing out their roles in the real world. Now, something more sinister has happened; more and more of us are feeling like human beings living out our lives trapped in a cartoon. Reality seems to have been drained from the world around us, leaving us the only creatures left who are three-dimensional, and bleed.
Everywhere we look, imaginary animation is replacing reality. On our screens, people demonstrate their prevailing mood by leaping and dancing and shrieking with laughter and grinning idiotically — and this is because they got new dishes. Why do you and I never feel or act like that? Because we are real, not the product of sophomoric animators.
The screens teach us that for every bad feeling we have there’s a pill — and they prove it with animated (of course) illustrations of simple, machine-like digestive systems or nervous systems tamed in 30 seconds or less by ingesting an animated pill. My favorite is the laxative ad that shows the magic elixir taming all the angry internal arrows and making them turn cool blue instead of angry red and head obediently south. So subtle. Given a couple of thousand exposures to such messages, is it any wonder that young people are eating laundry soap — in case it might make them feel good?
But it’s not just advertising that sucks us into the two-dimensional, animated fantasy world.
- Journalism takes us there all the time, and seldom brings us back, even when the news it’s trying to convey is not fake. As a minor, but irritating, example, take the recent story about the mistaken alert of an incoming missile, sent to the people of Hawaii. In virtually every story, the mistake was made by someone hitting “the wrong button.” But that was the cartoon version. In the real world there was no button, just a list of options on a drop-down menu on a computer screen. (Similarly, there is no “nuclear button” on either Donald Trump’s or Kim Jong Un’s desk.) What’s the difference? It’s the difference between animation and reality.
- Politicians live in a comic book all the time, and it did not start with the current president. In their colorful pages, wealth trickles down, Christmas is under constant attack and there are no poor people, only lazy people. There is no climate change, no pollution. and we all benefit from what the cartoon-character-in-chief described just last night in his State of the Union address as “wonderful clean coal.” There is, of course, no such thing, outside of comic books, as clean coal.
- Industry lies to us all the time, and always has done so, about what it’s doing and why, and what kind of a world will result. But I do not believe it has ever in history fooled more people, more of the time, about its ability to improve our lives and its innocence of the things that are ruining our lives. Exxon Mobil fooled us about what would happen when we burned all their petroleum; Monsanto fooled us about feeding the world, when what they were doing to the real world was poisoning it. Tesla Motors is fooling us about when they are going to have driverless cars on the road — it’s been two years away for about ten years now. (Outside the comic-book world, there is no such thing as a driverless car, anywhere in the world.)
The death of reality in our surroundings and our discourse should not surprise us. For a very long time now we have been electing the people who draw for us the best comic book, buying the products that make us feel the most euphoric and out of touch with reality, accepting narcotic lies even when ascertaining the prickly truth would be easy. Even when we try to get away from our comic-book world, it seems all we do is crawl into another comic book. Of the ten top-grossing movies of 2017, five were based on comic books (the rest were either science- or escapist-fiction).
How do we get back to the real world of Roger Rabbit, where the idiots are cartoon characters and the rest of the world is real?