by Donald Jeffries, Keeping It Unreal:
One of the most memorable passages in English literature comes from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts….”
The Kinks notably sang, “Everybody’s a Star.” One of the most intriguing films ever made, 1998’s The Truman Show, carried this idea to its logical conclusion. I have been haunted by this ever since, and played around with the concept in my unpublished novel The Simulators, which I think is the best thing I’ve ever written. We probably all have thought, at one time or another, that we’re being pranked here. And they’re all in on it.
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I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with many older entertainers over the past few years, while researching my upcoming book On Borrowed Fame: Money, Mysteries, and Corruption in the Entertainment World. Most of them have been nicer than I would have expected. The underlying premise of the book is that fame has a very short life span for almost all who attain it. Maybe they were arrogant and nasty when they were A-listers. No present A-lister is going to answer my inquiries.
I can relate to all the musicians I communicated with, who sold millions of records and usually received few if any royalties, every time I look at my own royalty statements. The artist, the creator of any work of art gets only a fraction of the money that those who sell it get. I would have to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of each book to become wealthy from them. Needless to say, I have a ways to go to reach those figures. So start buying! And telling others.
Most musicians play because they love it. Most actors act because they love it. Most writers, like me, write because we love it. A small percentage of musical artists, and actors, and writers, become very rich. But the vast majority don’t. The size of the stage, or the reach of the platform, varies greatly. But like Bela Lugosi memorably put in the same high level performance even when he was starring in ridiculous Ed Wood productions, most artists try their best, even if the club is nearly empty, and the pay is laughable. I know that’s the way I approach every show I do; I assume millions are tuning in, even when I know the audience is small.
Each of our lives call for those “many parts” Shakespeare referred to. We are children, and teenagers, young adults, middle-aged, and elderly (if we make it that far). Most of us “play the parts” of sibling, aunt or uncle, parent and grandparent. We grieve when it’s appropriate, and celebrate when we should. Sometimes, the tears and laughter are forced or staged. We feign cordiality, and talk behind others’ backs. “The most acceptable form of hypocrisy,” Ambrose Bierce called it.
When someone asks us “does this make me look fat,” do we answer honestly? Usually not, since the person asking the question knows they are fat and is looking for validation. We lie- we act– to make them feel better. If a friend bakes us something, and wants to know “if it tastes alright,” do we ever tell them, “well, no it doesn’t- I can’t eat this?” But that kind of acting is part of civility, and hardly nefarious.
More often, people use subterfuge to get what they want. I stopped lending money to friends when I was very young. A buddy of mine took my $75, got his guitar out of hock and fled to Florida. I never heard from him again. What kind of moral compass do you have to end a friendship over $75? A girl I cared deeply about was always struggling financially. I lent her $500 so she could buy a junky used car (this was the mid-1970s). She paid me maybe $100 or so, then moved away. I tried to contact her without success. She was one of the nicest people I ever met. That was a really disillusioning experience. How many other friends are simply acting like they care about us?
I discovered, after being fired so unfairly three years ago, that I really didn’t have any friends at the place I’d worked for my entire adult life- forty four years. Those we work with, like those we went to school with, invariably drift apart. They seem like friends, and often we socialize with them like friends, but once the work or school connection is severed, so is the friendship. People I shared the most intimate details of my life with, and who shared theirs with me, never even called me after I was fired. I was replaced, as so many others have been replaced, by someone else who became their “friend.” I contend that this all requires some kind of acting ability.
Someday I may write a book about the epidemic of dysfunction in American families. I know of countless tragic examples. Caused by irrational pride and petty slights. So many parents estranged from their children. Siblings who become strangers. Isn’t there a biological bond there, a love that shouldn’t be so easily shattered? Did they really never care for each other? Were they, too, just acting?
Does any politician speak without acting? They are never genuine, and are essentially reading scripts. Every parent conspires, in a worldwide long running production, to pretend that Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy exist, to make their children happy. That certainly contributes to the magic of childhood, but makes for a rude awakening eventually. It’s a wonder more youngsters don’t feel betrayed.
In the world I cover most often, leaders at all levels engage in histrionics to sell false narratives to the public. Oswald killed JFK. Crazed Arabs did 9/11. In the Beginning, there was this giant ball. White Supremacy is our greatest threat. COVID-19 is a deadly pandemic. It takes tremendous acting ability to sell those narratives. And lack of conscience. They are essentially in full Santa Claus/Easter Bunny mode 24/7. Maybe that is hard work.
Those who misrule us subject us to the most laughable inversions of reality imaginable. These are most often promulgated in the putrid products from Hollywood. White street criminals rule all the big cities. Half of all relationships are interracial. Transgenders are a huge, powerful section of the population. Upward mobility exists. Any female can easily beat up any male. We have to send our youth to far flung parts of the world to “fight for freedom.” Trust the “science.” And the “experts.” Race is a social construct, but nonwhites- especially Blacks- are “special” constructs. All positive stereotypes apply to them. Free speech doesn’t cover “hate speech.”
The Greek philosopher Diogenes is still remembered- by the small portion of the public that isn’t historically illiterate- as searching for an honest man. Diogenes- a classic Thespian- garnered attention by walking around in daylight holding a lantern. Naturally, this attracted attention, and he replied to any inquiries by declaring he was looking for an honest man. Nice gimmick. Still being talked about over two thousand years later.
Mark Twain reminded us that truth is stranger than fiction. But what are we being ruled by, if not fiction? Fairy tales of lone nut assassins, false flags, broken promises, incomprehensible and preposterous theories and dictates, double standards, injustice, unfairness, sanitized McHistory, etc. Only duplicitous and two-faced people can sell such whoppers. Peddling such conventional “wisdom” must be harder than the work that has made telemarketers so beloved. The business world is rule by actors, trying to convince the public that their identically priced product is better than the “competition.” Pay extra for our extended warranty! Get your “free” trial- pay only shipping and handling!