In a world of emerging media, reality is optional

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo in which the character played by actor Jeff Daniels steps out of the movie screen—literally—to run off with one of the theater’s patrons played by Mia Farrow. The scene blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. In the heavily mediated world in which we spend a good deal of our everyday lives, the distinctions between reality and fantasy, exemplified in The Purple Rose, become so intertwined that those differences don’t mean much. In other words, we live in a world where reality is just one stop on a continuum that ranges from pure fantasy to that which is really real, and everything in between.

One of the ways in which those distinctions are blurred is through imaginary relationships we form with media figures – actors, sports figures, political figures, etc. I most recently wrote about this in a post on the blog site, Medium, regarding Sofia Coppola’s movie, The Bling Ring, based on a true story, in which a group of California youngsters broke into the homes of several celebrities to steal their, well, bling. The teens’ caper was rooted in their desire to become like the celebrity, one of the traits of an imaginary social relationship, and it exemplifies the blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy.

In the latest iteration of hyperreality — the movie by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon — a young man is tempted to mediate his addiction to Internet pornography with an authentic relationship. Again, we are at the intersection of reality and fantasy, or rather the intrusion of one into the other. And in November we will be treated to Spike Jones’ latest foray into the imaginary world in the movie, Her, in which Theodore, a socially alienated writer played by actor Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his new computer operating system which, unlike Apple’s Siri, sounds quite human (she is played by actress Scarlett Johansson), and who responds intuitively to Theodore’s endearment. It is somewhat ironic, I think, that the mythical Hollywood dream factory becomes the primary purveyor of lessons about reality and fantasy.

Thomas de Zengotita explores the reality-fantasy continuum in his book, Mediated: How The Media Shapes Your World And The Way We Live In It, in which the author claims that the opposite of real isn’t fictional, but rather optional. What he means by this is that at one end of the continuum, reality is something that must be dealt with; it’s not optional. And the freer we are from a mediated world, the more real our world is. However, maybe living in an imaginary world is not such a bad thing. After all, reality isn’t all that good or pleasing. Don’t we just love options?