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Friday, May 26, 2006
A Culture of Lying Accepted as Normal
We are a lie-happy society. Our incessant need to write television comedy with nearly every episode based upon one or more character’s lies to another may have made us comfortable with dishonesty. In the cases of many of us the boob-tube has brainwashed us from a young age into believing that lying is a common function of life, practically a necessity. Count the lies in your life. Start your next day carefully monitoring the truthfulness of every single person you encounter. Don’t discount small lies for they are dishonesty no less! Don’t assume your best friends and lovers won’t lie to you also.
Jack Benny tells a lie to Rochester at the beginning of the weekly episode of the Jack Benny (radio) Show. Rochester buys it and complexity wrought with humor ensues for the entire half hour. At the end of the episode the truth is discovered and Jack Benny is embarrassed, Rochester is mad, and the audience enjoys a hearty laugh.
Ralph loses his job at the bus company but is ashamed to let Alice know and so he lies to her. The stage is set for the half hour television sit-com. He brings Norton in on the deception, but Norton spills the truth to Trixie, who can not contain the deception from Alice. Alice conducts another deception of not disclosing her knowledge to the humiliated Ralph. In the end Ralph threatens Norton and then Alice with a trip to the moon. But at the very end Alice loves Ralph and Ralph proclaims he is the luckiest man in the world. The audience is swooned with romantic sympathy and laughs and cries tears of endearment.
Television history had begun and its writers understood that when any other story line fails to move, a lie is a source of content unparalleled in its ability build interesting scenario, to take a storyline anywhere and to end the story with anything. Ricky conceals from Lucy that television cameras will be broadcasting his show at the Tropicana, because he wants her to stay away. He tells Fred Mertz because he can trust him. The lies and deceptions follow and hilarity fills the pilot episode of I Love Lucy. The sitcom was so dependent on dishonesty in its plots there was even one episode titled Lucy Tells the Truth, this willingness to propagate lying on a national scale in 1955. Days of virtue? Family values?
Our television entertainment has not changed in five decades. We still are exposed to a majority of episodic entertainment involving dishonesty, outright lying, obfuscation and avoidance of direct truth. We sit our children down on the floor in front of these seemingly harmless, family oriented, half hour vignettes of characters unable to speak truth. Interestingly, every single episode is showing a moral lesson to the viewer, that dishonesty always results in hurt feelings and complexities and trouble. But because the lesson is bathed in the murky water of laughs and giggles, the lesson is lost on every viewer.
But no sitcom can properly convey the feeling of being lied to by a friend or a lover and so Rochester’s emotional sinking pains from being lied to by his lifelong boss and companion is not conveyed at all. If a sitcom were attempting to imitate real life, the small screen conveyance of a feeling that Alice Cramden has when learning that her own husband won’t tell her the truth about a major event in their lives, would be incredibly difficult to portray and would surely cause every viewer to change the channel. No one season of episodes will convey how Ricky Ricardo feels to have realized that he has to live with a wife whose word is consistently untrustworthy. Portrayals of real human pain, of real consequence and the sharp stabbing of betrayal, are reserved for the directors of cinematic drama, who seek realism and not a quickie portrait of the world through happy-glasses.
Stop lying yourself. Don’t lie to yourself that you’re not lying – life long liars will be dishonest to themselves to the deep core of their own psyche – it’s a defense mechanism your brain has self trained to react with.
After a few weeks to a few months, the people around you will realize you are a wall of honesty. Their realization that they can’t get away with any bull-shit around you will cause the habitually dishonest ones to fall-out from your circle. The semi-honest friends and acquaintances will begin to change their demeanor and comfort level with you, for the better. At the beginning of your change to honesty you may feel like a dweeb, like young Jimmy Olson from the Superman comic books. Your honesty will lift stress from your shoulders, tightness from your neck and jaw. Confidence will show itself as speaking and planning and interacting no longer requires any forethought of deceit or thought of how and when to implement dishonesty.
Point out to your children each lie portrayed on each television show and ask them how that would be, in real life.