WARNING: This post exists outside the continuity of Confessions of a Diarrhetic and was posted here because I wanted to share it but didn’t want to start a new blog site.
Yesterday, the big newspaper in the small town where I live ran a front page article about a project I’d been working on at the design firm where I earn my keep. The story wrongly cited me as the mastermind behind an offensive-but-not-really tagline on an ad we presented to a client. The ad was meant to promote mountain biking for females and the offensive-but-not-really tag line read Bitches Ride Too. Beneath this tag line was a picture of a girl getting gnarly-but-not-really on a mountain bike. Ho-hum at best. But someone got offended.
When Jamie’s mom contacted me with congratulations about the press I’d received, I was confused. Later that day I acquired a copy of the newspaper where my offensive-but-not-really contribution had been misrepresented. It read: “The idea for the “B—-es” tagline came from Nathan Carson, Cobb’s graphic designer.”
The article was wrong. I didn’t write that tagline, our H.R. rep did. I’m not offended. In fact, I like the attention, but in that sizzling moment, as I helplessly read my name emblazoned on newsprint, I realized something interesting: most of what we believe is an interpretation of a memory someone misquoted.
Media is the sum total of things people have made. This category includes music, history and the Internet itself. These things exist in absentia of the moment they define and and live on long after it. I know nothing about gang culture except what Dre has taught me. I know nothing about history except what others have written. How accurate is this picture? This morning, in a nihilistic moment which was both profound and inconsequential, I realized the answer to be: not very.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, then the actual existence of the event is irrelevant. What matters is the story we tell about the tree. This is what lives on. The sad and enlightening corollary is, the tree doesn’t get to say what her story will be. She was born a tree, died a tree, and will be forgotten or remembered through history’s fallible lens. The soul may be eternal, but its dimensions are shaped by others. This collective consciousness, in which we build up or profane past subjects and events, is as real and meaningful as it is flawed. There are elements of a higher truth hidden in what we remember, but to put much stock in news stories, histories and personal accounts is to accept the magician’s showmanship for fact. The coin disappeared, but its current whereabouts can always be called into question. In the case of the story written about me, there was no agenda, just a misunderstanding between the writer and an ad executive, but what if it had been otherwise? Are there forces which seek to color the world around us, to trade fact for fiction and thereby expand their reach? Of course there are, and so the better part of wisdom involves restraint. How often have I debated vehemently in favor of this or that while citing a news article I barely remember? Too often.
Every point of view is inherently flawed. Truth is an ephemeral thing. We know very little about the world around us and humility is needed when defending one’s point of view. That’s what I learned in yesterday’s paper.