ELAYNE RIGGS: Would I lie to you?
Galaxy Quest is one of my favorite movies. I mean, go wrong with Alan Rickman and Tony Shalhoub, you know? And even the nominal stars of the ensemble, Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver, go down pretty easily in this brilliant vehicle. But there’s one scene that makes me cringe every time I see it.
The bad guy, Sarris, has coerced Jason Nesmith to confess to Mathesar, who idolizes "Captain Taggart" and the Galaxy Quest crew, that he and his fellow Terrans are ordinary actors, something Jason has been trying to figure out how to do without success for much of the movie as Mathesar’s people have no concept of, I guess, showbiz. But it’s the way Sarris forces his hand that makes me squirm:
Jason: Mathesar, there’s no such person as Captain Taggart. My name is Jason Nesmith. I’m an actor. We’re all actors.
Sarris: He doesn’t understand. Explain as you would a child.
Jason: We, uh, we pretended. [On Malthesar’s blank look.] We lied. I’m not a commander. There’s no National Space Exploration Administration. We don’t have a ship… It’s all fake. Just like me.
Mathesar: But why…?
Jason: It’s difficult to explain. On our planet, we, uh… we pretend to… to entertain.
I was reminded of this scene again just recently when blogger Skot Kirruk at Izzle pfaff! said much the same thing:
[begin quote] I try not to lie. And when I do lie, I try to lie in such a hyperbolic, overblown fashion that I hope that it is patently obvious that I’m just making shit up. I probably fail at this, though. It’s just too easy to lie. Writers lie all the time, because most of the time, life is just fucking dull. So we pull out our little tricks, and we lie. We insert or import in false details to serve an anecdote… Writers are liars. Don’t trust them.
And especially don’t trust me, assuming that you even consider me a writer, as opposed to some twitchy dilettante. I’m also an actor, so I’m also trained in lying. I think I’m pretty good at it… It’s no good protesting that when people go to the theater (and nobody does any more, but never mind), that the audience is damn well expecting that I lie to them: it’s my job. It’s no good because we are delighted to take those very same skills and exploit them for our own base wants and needs.
I have been taught to lie, we realize at some point. This could be awesome.
And so we do. But it’s more sinister than even that. It’s more sinister because actors aren’t just trained to lie, they are trained to lie with the unshakable conviction that they are not lying at all… Don’t ever listen to actors or writers, or worse, some unholy combination of both. They are liars and aren’t to be trusted. [end quote]
Naturally, I believe everything I’ve just quoted to be absolute hogwash. In other words, a lie.
There’s a world of difference between lying and pretending, between lying and embellishing, between lying and storytelling. Oh sure, there are little nuanced areas where they meet, where fish tales and whoppers cavort, enchanting exaggerations created to entertain and perhaps to make a point about something — or maybe just build up the ego of the teller.
But the stories that move you, straight down into your bones — they’re all true. Even the imaginary stories. Aren’t they all?
And the people who tell you those stories, whether on pixels or paper or with their voices and bodies, they’re not liars either. They’re the most hallowed of truth-tellers, showing us the human condition in all its wondrous variations. They’re the jesters in the courts of the arrogant kings, given dispensation to verbalize their actual thoughts, to literally speak truth to power.
You know who the real liars are as well as I do.
The arrogant kings and their descendents, those are the ones of whom you need to beware. They have your lives in their hands, and they and their minions are ready, willing and unfortunately able to squeeze as much of those lives out of you as they can get away with. And they do a lot of it with honeyed phrases and propagandistic feel-good buzzwords that they never define. Because we all know what "freedom" is, don’t we? And we all know the meaning of "support" or how to "value" a family, right? So they and their minions keep repeating their mealy-mouthed nebulous vagaries (in other words, lies) until we "loyal" subjects become utterly convinced that we’re hearing the truth. Partly because we want to believe — who doesn’t want to believe that people in positions of authority have anything but our best interests at heart and would therefore strive to be honest with us whenever possible? — and partly because we’re now well trained to view everything as suspect. If everything is propaganda, then nothing is, everything has equal weightlessness.
But deep down, we’re still omnivorous humans, and we crave substance.
And that’s what stories do. Myths and legends and folk tales and fantasies tell us what we want to believe is possible, what we shouldn’t be afraid to face within us, what we can aspire to with bravery and community and maybe a little bit of luck, what binds us together. The redeeming truth of the "lie scene" in Galaxy Quest is that Jason needs to purge himself of his royal-level arrogance in order to be what he’s always pretended to be. That, as with Dorothy, his courage and his heart and his brain and his home were within him all along.
Stories tell us what we most need to hear, what we most fear, what we most desire, what we most dread. If we stop believing in the absolute power and truth of stories, we have voluntary ceded what makes us the most human. We should hold these truths to be self-evident.
Elayne Riggs is news editor of ComicMix, and has trouble lying.