Oprah, Myth, and the Truth/Fact Dilemna
Truth and fact are two words that seem synonymous initially. However, in thinking over these words for the last few months if not years I feel they operate at different semiotic levels. Fast is set in stone. It is not changeable, it is the reality of the situation. Truth is a little more subjective. The meaning is a little more idiosyncratic. Something can be true without being a fact.
For example, look at the scandals brewing around a few of Oprah’s book selections, mainly the latest Angel at the Fence. The author wrote of his time in a concentration camp and of meeting his now wife from opposite sides of the fence. In truth only about 40% of his story checks out, according to the investigative reporter taking credit for the find. In fact, once news broke and he admitted to how little his story was accurate the book was pulled from shelves and discontinued. If this book was published as fiction or even historical fiction a controversy never would have arisen. What is interesting to me about this is the reliance on truth as being fact and fiction as being imagined.
What is strange about the myth is that it is outside the boundaries of fact and fiction. We live by myths – recognizing them as not “true” but partially true, or culturally important. An apple a day will not keep the doctor away, but eating vegetables and fruit will go a long way towards healthy living. Working hard does not always mean you will succeed, but it is a good step in the right direction. Roland Barthes once said,“Myth is neither a lie nor a confession: it is an inflexion.” In this sense myth is synonymous with the idea of truth posted above.
It makes me wonder, are we looking or a deeper expression of being alive by living vicariously through those who have experienced unimaginable circumstances? Is the day to day a dream world of repetition and fantastic circumstances the only real world around us? According to researchers, our brains have not “evolved” to understand media such as television and even to a lesser degree books. For all intensive purposes what we see, read, and hear is to us “real”. Why do we get emotional or aroused at sights and scenes in movies? We know it isn’t real. But do we really know it isn’t real? Why does it matter if it is real? Isn’t the deeper meaning of a story of love and survival the love and survival of the characters? Is it, for entertainment’s sake, important to know if the details are completely true, or is the idea of the story the part that we need and are desperately looking for?
What we have lost in the era of investigative journalism and scientific determinism is the ability to see outside of the fact/fiction dichotomy. The myth understood to be simply fiction – placed into categories for easy consumption. But what if we looked at the story from another direction. What if the book should be published under the idea of a myth as a third category of literature. It may or may not be true yet the ideas presented are human and necessary.