The Paper Lion
Opinion

Culture of Make Believe

There was a point in time that I had a distaste for artifice, i.e. fakeness, untruths, lies, deception or whatever synonyms that float into the mind. However, as I have aged my previous rejection of these things has softened. To be more accurate I have come to embrace the noble lie as was espoused by Plato.

I have always felt an unease at things like internet memes, and subcultures such as hipsters. These always felt like cultural dead-ends to me; these don’t contribute to the larger culture. These “signs” don’t point to or signify any deeper meanings, instead they point to themselves as a self affirming phenomenon. The implication here is that these “signs” or ideas (or spectacles if you wish) are inherently meaningless. I guess though that this argument presupposes that truths are only truths if they are tied to something concrete. I failed to see that socially constructed truths are valid in their domain, which to be clear is the social and not the universal.

A fun example of this at work are people who dress up as fictional characters at conventions, specifically anime, fantasy and sci-fi ones. It goes like this: dress up as a character you identify with, consequently by association, become identified with that character or a trait of that character. This in a nutshell is a reification of identity, and the convention allows room for the negotiation of that identity.

To dress up and play pretend is a sort of play where they try to sell an “image” to others, I guess you could almost see it as a commodification of identity. In this case however the exchange is not financial, but is an exchange between amusement and pride. The onlookers become amused or even admire the cosplayer, and the cosplayer receives the admiration and becomes proud. This isn’t a bad thing, rather I believe this to be a neat conjuring of meaning going on.

This is what I mean by a culture of make believe, we conjure up meaning, that is we create meaning out of the social fabric as if by magic. This is something one of my professors would have called affectation, and it works in several everyday situations. We affect meaning, especially in social situations, by putting forth an image in order to convince others of something. A clear example would be the businessman or politician, they wear a suit that evokes a sense of authority and power (even if they don’t have any).

While a younger me would have seen all this pretense as something to be despised, it instead possesses something that evokes a kind of wonder. This same thing holds true for norms and social contracts, I have come to understand and more importantly, appreciate, the need for conformity and social harmony.

I don’t know if this is indeed me just “growing up,” or if it’s a surrender and abandonment of my younger and perhaps naive self? I am undecided on this point.