Longer Observation (9): Imagination & Reality: Forgetting the difference between Imagination and Reality.

Recently there was a ten episode T.V. mini-series on a U.S. television station. It was called "The Killing" and was, we were told, based on a Danish television series. In the first hour long episode, there was a murder of an adolescent girl, and two detectives (a woman and a man) are assigned the job of finding who did it. In the following episodes we learn more and more about the main characters and follow the detectives as they follow one promising lead and then another and then another and then another, all to dead ends.

After each episode we are told how many episodes remain and to keep watching for the dramatic conclusion. After episode five, for example, we are told, "Only five more episodes remain until the surprising conclusion!" or something like this. The tension builds each week as we learn more and more about all the characters and suspects and still are no closer to learning who committed the murder. After week nine the loyal followers of the program are told, "Only one more episode! Tune in next week for the startling answer!" or something like this.

But, in the last episode, the answer is not given. There is a new suspect, but there had been different suspects throughout the series, each one turning out to be innocent after appearing guilty to the viewers. After this episode we are told, "Tune in again next season for the dramatic answer!" Apparently, it seems, there will be another season, and viewers will have to wait for nine months or so to find out who did it.

Loyal viewers were angry, some furious. "How could they string us along like this? Unbelievable! They lied to us! They said we would know who did it after the tenth episode! Now we have to wait! And who knows if they will string us along for another ten episodes!" Apparently this was a nationwide reaction. There were newspaper articles about the now notorious "last" episode, some expressing anger, some explaining why the T.V. company did this, and some arguing about who, in the plot-line of the program itself, who really did the murder. One article said that all the upset was silly, because it was obvious who did it — it was the candidate for mayor. Others agreed that all arrows pointed to the mayor but, "Hadn't this happened before? Hadn't all arrows pointed to the school teacher, and he turned out to be innocent? Right now it looks as if the mayor did it, but everything could change on a dime." Others felt that the family of the murdered girl might be indirectly, or even directly, implicated. The father was in debt and had mob connections, and it could have been a revenge hit or worse. Another possibility, raised in the very last episode, was that the male detective (whose professional and private life we had learned much about during the series) was involved. In the last episode we see him involved with shady characters, and, apparently, he planted some evidence to implicate the mayor. — In short, it is all up in the air, and viewers wanted to find the answer, they watched each week expecting to find it, being told they would find it, and they are left with an annoying and irritating feeling of lack of closure.

This was upsetting enough for enough people that the writer of the series allowed herself to be interviewed to explain and justify what happened. She said that none of the developers had realized that there would be a second season. They planned on wrapping everything up in the tenth episode but then were told there would be another season. So they didn't have to give the answer after all, and they could use it as a lead in for the next season. She argued that this is how it was done in Denmark, but many did not accept her argument and remained angry. Some vowed not to get "sucked back into" another ten episodes.

What occurred to me, when I entered my psychological mode, is that this is a very interesting example of something that must go on all the time. I think everyone watching the program had some idea or ideas about who did it, and they were watching the last episode to find out who really did it, but this is a little strange when you stop to think about it, because nobody really did it. Nobody did it at all. There was no murder, no suspects, no detectives, no clues, and no answer to the question about "who did it," because it was fiction, the figment of the imagination of the writer. Yet everyone watching felt somebody did it and wanted to know who and were upset when they didn't find out. If this isn't a clear example of confusing Imagination and Reality, nothing is. Let's say that the author had given the answer in the last episode. This would not have been a real answer to a real question about something in reality but the author's made up answer to a made up question. What's to prevent a viewer from making up his or her own answer? This answer would be just as true or false as one the author would make up. How can anyone argue that they know who did it when nobody did it, because there was nothing to do?

Not only did viewers get "sucked into" a fictional reality and begin, in some way to believe it was real, but they got frustrated and angry when they couldn't get fantasy answers to fantasy questions. Of course everyone, or most everyone, knew it was only a T.V. program, but then why did they get so angry and say things like "I know who did it!" or "Now we don't know who did it! They left us hanging!" or "Those jerks! They strung us along and never told us who did it!"

There must be some function in us that needs to do this. I call this function "Imagination" and see it as one of the four psychological functions along with Thinking, Valuing, and Sensing (see under Key Concepts — Experience.) It pulls us away from the world of the senses and allows us to "wander into" a fantasy world or dream world or fictional world and begin to forget the sensory world. In fact, in another place (Metaphor and the Imagination), I argue that this is inherent in, and built into, the Imagination — the Imagination feels real, at least to some extent, and at least for a moment. Since it feels real (and this is due, in part, to our limited attention — we can't focus on its unreality while we're in it — see Law of Limited Attention), we react to events in this unreality with real feelings and real thoughts. We get confused, frustrated, and even angry as we would in a real life situation.

We can understand this full-bodied reaction as a Complex of thoughts, feelings, evaluations, and images (see Key Concepts: Complex). A year later, when we look back at the complex, we wonder at how we could have been so involved. We marvel that we could have been so upset by a T.V. series, that we allowed ourselves to be "pulled into it." And this is true of all the other stories in our throughout our lives that we are told and get "pulled into" whether they are about a politician or about another country or about other individuals we hear about or about religious issues. When we are in them, they have "grabbed us," and they feel real, they are real (at least to us). When we are no longer in them (for whatever reason), we look back on them and feel them as last week's dream.

When we realize this once and then twice and then three times about ourselves we may resolve not to "fall under" any more "spells" ever again. We realize there is as much a temptation to fall into a myth or story as there is to eat ice cream, and we resolve to be strong and resist. But, I believe, this is impossible and even dangerous. The Imagination is one function. It is built in. We are in the Imagination, like it or not, all the time. We are in the sensual world as well, all the time, like it or not, but this doesn't mean our imaginations aren't always weaving a web around and through our sensual experiences. If we think we really can resist the Imagination, we are in danger of becoming more blind than we are when we recognize its power and try to factor it in (I heard it once said that even a saint isn't immune to the temptation of women). Perhaps we can resist being in some particular myth if we know we have to be in one or another myth at all times. But if we think we can escape all myths, we will be in one and not know it and be certain it's real, and we and others may very well suffer from it before we wake up.

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