Tuesday, August 11, 2009

making fake things real.

When I was in college, I wrote a story for one of the fiction-writing classes that I was taking that centered around this fake deed that the main character had done. He hadn't really done the thing, but he had lied about it so often and with such conviction that his friends believed him. As the story progressed, his family started to believe that this thing had happened, and as the story reaches its conclusion, the main character is unhappy that he has this reputation for doing the (fake) thing - everyone in his life believes that he was a drug dealer earlier in his life even though he never really had been. It was intended to push people to think about what's really real - the things that happened, or the things that we think happened?

Of course, the story was ripped by my classmates. They said that there's no way that someone's family would believe that their son, their brother, had dealt drugs when they knew he hadn't. I tried to fight for my philosophical implications, but even the teacher, in notes on the original manuscript that I still have, told me, "Perhaps this is reaching too far - would they really believe this? They know better!" Maybe I'm still just getting my feelings hurt and it's not that it's an unbelievable concept, but rather I just wasn't a good enough writer to get the idea across successfully.

Now, however, I don't have to be the only one to try.

At the beginning of this month, John Green updated his blog with a bunch of info on DJ Paige Railstone. When I saw this entry, I was confused at first. Even if John's a fan of something, he usually offers some kind of background on the subject matter. This, however, was posted just as you see it: naked, alone, without a word of interpretation. This caught my attention in a huge way and I wondered if this was a character in one of John's upcoming books. I wondered if this girl was going to be involved in one of his new plots, or if she was related to the whole This is Not Tom idea. It was just too out of place.

Then, at the end of last week, explanation:

Now, go back and read the comments on that first linked entry! What meticulousness! What ingenuity! What commitment! But then...go through again. Look at the repetition. The doubts. The coldness of the trail...

It's a fantastic concept. It's a great attempt. But what else is it? I don't really know. When my brother and I were in high school, we decided that we were going to invent a new slang word. We invented this story about how we'd gone to California for the summer, and everyone there was using "lord" as an adjective. (This was shortly after everything had been "hella" good, but before No Doubt got around to making the whole damn nation sick of that word.) New Mexico's always been a little behind the curve (pre-Internet, of course) on fashion and music and slang, etc. so we kind of figured that people would jump on it. We started incorporating it into our everyday speech. "That test was lord hard." "That chick is lord fine." It sounded stupid when we just did it by ourselves, but we stuck the course. We kept repeating it around school.

We gave up when we heard one person utter it one time. I really don't know if the word caught on, per se, I mean, I never heard anyone else say it the whole time I was in high school (but my mom, hilariously, does still throw it out every once in a while: "It's lord hot out!") but I do know that we heard it that one time. Enough people had heard us say it and repeat the story and believed it to birth that word into the world at least one time. Was it a joke? I don't know. Was it a victory for us? Did we prove anything? I really don't know.

I think there's something to be said, though, for this concept of bringing things into the world. What does it take, really? I mean, I had a big argument with one of Kat's friends this summer, while I was out in Pittsburgh, regarding how beneficence was just a social construct. I maintained that it doesn't matter if it's "just a social construct"! If the fact that we've made it important exists, then the fact is that it's important! Gender is oftentimes argued as just a social construct, but it feels pretty real to me. I would argue that's true for the LBGT groups as well - sometimes even more so!

So...is Paige Railstone real? Can we make her real? Have we already done so? The Foxboro Hot Tubs were a real band. The famous circus exhibit of the amazing Egress, ironically, I've heard, was not real. But the story's been repeated so many times that many people only know that word because of that story. Does that make some part of it real?

What does it truly mean to be real?


Jenn said...

What does it truly mean to be real?

Good question. In the case of a person, and speaking as a fan of John Green, no Paige Railstone is not real. Not as a person anyway. And I'm not gonna get all sentimental and deep about a fake DJ, because she isn't a real person. But she is a real collective effort/ real imagination/ a real inside joke of sorts.

You asked also what it takes to make things real. And I think it takes a lot. Practically the whole world has been explored/said/thought/painted/traveled etc. that bringing something new is almost impossible. Making a person real takes 9 months of morning sickness and weight-gain. A new word needs weeks of repition. But its worth it, I think.

Anywhoo, that was a whole lot of rant. Your blog is really good! Keep writing :D

Michael said...

@Jenn - Thanks for the comment. I definitely agree with your baseline - I mean, clearly Paige isn't real. But I think the 'creation' of her and some of the things in our culture really does mean that we should examine that question a little more closely. By narrowly defining it as something we have to be able to touch, something we have to be able to see, etc. I think we're doing ourselves a disservice.

Thanks for reading.