The persistent debate is whether life mirrors art or whether art mirrors life. I will confess early, I stand with the camp with believes the reason fiction is referred to fiction is because it is made up, somewhat anchored in life, real and imagined facts oft-times blended to tell the tale. Taking real life events, changing names, dates, sequence, then pretending the events do not represent real people; while friends snicker, knowing full-well where the line between truth and fiction divide. Art most times remains grounded in real life, providing a starting point, deviating at the split in the road.
I have this friend who traditionally interrupts any story with the statement, “umm, and nobody died in your story.” Her point is rather simple, someone has to die, pay the price for each insult, offense, every challenge to the protagonist’s dignity. Much like a Hollywood driven plot, keeping the audience anchored in their seats, forgetting to remember (needing to pee), knowing the plot line, waiting to see, who is going to die. Fifteen seconds in the movie, illicit activity in an darkened room, somebody making love, then the woman dies – flash, flash – followed by disjointed, disconcerted events, someone walking across the street (death of the only black guy in the movie) – two minutes in no less, musical score playing – blacks, greys, blues, a panoramic scan – Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Lake Shore Drive, Fifth Avenue, the cobbled streets of Istanbul, Avenida de Maceo – scan right, scan left – a view of the sky, setting the tone and tenor, an explosion, additional deaths. Five deaths in the first ten minutes of the movie, tracking the first two chapters in the book, remembering now – you need to pee – refusing to move, remaining anchored in place, the light from the screen casting harrowing images over the audiences, settled, calm, satisfied with death, telling a predictable tale, halos magically lowered over everyone, now believers; art is life, not the contrary.
“And nobody died in your story?”
“No, no one died.”
“Then your story has a fatal flaw, somebody has to die for their transgression.”
A comma, followed by a gruesome death; semi-colon, two death; a dash preceding a calamity; more deaths than births, deaths preceding celebrations, deaths accompanied by dynamic descriptive words, flipping pages; the only ambiguity in the story is how many deaths, counting again, wondering why the characters never take a pause in life, seemingly avoiding depression, particularly when annihilation abounds, Armageddon is the path. Step by step, another death; inch by inch, death – turning, turning, turning – seeing death with each turn, each blink of the eye.
Politicians running into trouble with approval ratings, criticizing enemies, perceived or otherwise, leading to the predictable, wagging their proverbial tails (or is the right word, tales), watching their ratings improve, flexing the nation’s muscle, proclaiming leadership – much like the movies – followed by sanitized deaths. Absolutely, I admit my friend’s version of life is correct – in this context – somebody does die; invisible, sanitized death, somebody dies. Flipping channels, seeing the same story, flipping again, and again, seeing predictability unfold, accompanied by music, commercials, telling and retelling the story.
“Somebody gotta die!”
“Somebody gotta to die …!”
Death is inevitable. This doesn’t mean good story telling must always include multiple deaths, retribution for the offender, living by the Old Testament (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth), in living color, with a dynamic score playing against the backdrop of blacks, whites, blues, still-waters, a victim lying in the street.
“Every time …?”
“Yes, every time – at least in my version of life, my version of the story.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the death rate in the United States in 2014 was 823.7 deaths per 100,000 people, with the life expectancy being 78.8 years. The number of deaths in 2014 was 2,626,418. The CDC reports the birth rate was 12.5 per 1,000, with 3,988,076 births (in 2014). The data seems to indicate my friend’s analysis is flawed. There remains still more births than death – in most societies – not the contrary. No the statistical data does not mean every transgression is followed by a birth, breakup to makeup, with The Stylistics singing the score, followed by another car chase, music – reds, whites, blues flashing across the screen – followed by birth, another, another. The statistical data suggest that every good story need not entail 5.3 deaths for every 50 pages of text, a minimum 30 deaths per feature film, untold number of deaths to others when our elected leaders desire to show leadership, bravery, to support the good tale.
The evening light settled on the window sill, refusing to intrude farther than two inches from the edge of the ledge, hindered by time, the rotational pull of the earth, the Gods. The tables in the restaurant no longer seemed sequestered, each now occupied. Kissing, hugging, staring stories, reflecting emotions, sharing their day, interacting with the hostess, the wait staff which moved through and among, those same worker bees moved much like the sugar ants moving across the door’s transom, down the side of the building to the sidewalk. The sun retracted further, out of the building, tracking time, reminding all she was no longer a participant, promising to reappear, settling on the sidewalk, winking, yawning; the proper tenor and tone, a well written play, directed and produced by Hollywood.
The stranger’s eyes pointed in one direction, watching, listening not listening, to her companion. Her ears moved to the next table, listening, following the story-line, directing her attention away from the Eggplant Parmesan placed on their table – yellow, red, purple, white, contrasting against fresh basil – listening, listening, listening – a participant from afar. No deaths took place. Everyone made it through dinner without the hallowing sounds of anguish, allowing the stranger to hear clearly, to participate. Captivated, remaining part of the story, finishing her meal, situated in one world, a participant in another, finally fully intruding.
“Which soap opera are you talking about?”
She believed the story had to be fiction, intricate facts, stranger than fiction, interlaced with intertwined relationships – tears, anger, infidelity, love – reflecting colors, light, life. Her reaction told me she believed, pulling away much like the sun, returning fully to her companion, her table when my friend bellowed a hearty laugh, replying, “No, no dear, no soap opera, I am talking about my friends!”