As with most 11-year olds, the Boy gets easily confused about things, such as returning clothes and books to their allotted drawer or shelf, or shutting doors once you’ve opened and gone through them.
But recently, he got confused over something that made me think twice.
It was an episode of the Film Programme on the 70th anniversary of ‘Brief Encounter’, the not-in-the-least sci-fi film that I’ve previously speculated may count as real, literal sci-fi on the basis of Trevor Howard’s pushing back of the boundaries of medical science in Africa. In this, Francine Stock wondered out-loud about whether Alec was, in fact, a serial bounder who had preyed on bored housewives previously, possibly regularly, rather than a good egg helplessly besotted and confused.
The idea that characters have existence outside of fixed texts just baffled him. His strong view was that there’s a book or a film and what they say or do is in the script; otherwise they don’t exist. If the text doesn’t tell us whether Alec was prone to dalliances, or that his (non-)affair with Celia Johnson was an uncomfortable departure for him, then it’s a non-question. What happens is in the book or film; if it isn’t then why ask?: there is no existence for a fiction. QED.
It’s a stance that has a logic. You and I are flesh and blood, we have a life when others’ aren’t looking. To ask what we’re doing the rest of the time is a real question. If you only exist on a page then the rules aren’t the same, there is no existence outside the script. To speculate on what a fiction, a creation, does outside of what the author tells us does seem somewhat bizarre. To extrapolate from the actual made-up to the yet-to-be-made-up (Alec is a philanderer; Chewbacca marries Bungle; James T Kirk is finally picked up by Intergalactic Yewtree) has a hint of intellectual masturbation about it.
And, lest we forget, it’s the sleight of hand that allowed M Night Shyamalan to forge a film career (think about it; The Sixth Sense works for the moments we’re privy to – but what about the bits in between?).
But, maybe, we’re doing this all the time. Our Facebook and Linkedin profiles, our online lives present us in such a way. It’s more important to be seen online than off. We’ve split. It used to be that only Mister Bond’s reputation preceded him. Now all our reputations precede us. Soon, our reputations will go places we won’t follow, won’t even be invited. They’ll be more important than us; what our online creations that share our face and name, but are constantly smiling and continually successful, are up to will matter more than the activities of our last-century actual beings.
It’s getting to the stage where we’re beginning to feel inadequate, not in comparison to our peers or our neighbours or our bosses’ or parents’ expectations, but in comparison to our own online claims. And not factual claims, I’m not talking about the brazen porkies, but the gloss we put on things, the selfies of us doing, having, achieving. We can’t be that person 24/7, even if that’s the person staring back at us from our own profile page 24/7.
Search on Google and you can find horror story after horror story on abuse and bullying through social media leading to suicide. But how long before somebody takes their own life without anybody else’s intervention, simply through not being able to live up to their own hype?
Believe me, if it happens, it won’t be the strangest thing this year.