Many of us look down upon fiction. You will hear many people say smugly: Fiction is not for me. What is there to learn? They are stories after all. But those of us who do that don’t understand that fiction serves a vital need of our lives: it gives us the lies we need to live. It’s not that only those who read fiction resort to living in lies. All of us need our fantasies.
Either we get them from the novels we read or movies we watch or we manufacture them ourselves. Remember the guy at the school whose uncle brought him things from around the world, or never stopped travelling to beyond-the-horizon locations, or did more incredible things, or the college friend or office colleague with a friend who partook in sexual escapades with wives of rich men and celebrities?
There are two things that characterize these lies. One is they are always about things we aspire to at a social or individual level and the other one is platforms used to set the lies on – it’s always an uncle or aunt, people who have floating presence in our lives, our lack of accountability for their actions making them perfect figures to build stories around or a distant friend who no one has seen and will never see because the person doesn’t exist just like the uncle.
The aspirational part is worth exploring. These lies or fantasies may come from unfulfilled (and in some cases unfulfillable) aspirations, but they also come from a yearning for social/economic equity. It can sometimes be targeted at an individual but that individual is a representative of a social class or is someone who aspires to a higher social class (pretention in fact is more enraging – because it adds an extra thing to the mixture – pseudo-ism).
These sentiments cut across age. With age, in some cases, the stories become more grounded.
However, it’s not that people who don’t wage their proxy wars through fantastical lies – and most of us don’t – don’t need lies. They also have their own lies – the only way their lies differ from those of their more colourful counterparts (like the ones told by the imaginative school or college friend) is that they are subtler.
Unlike their more colorful and incredulous counterparts which stem from iconoclastic convictions, the subtler lies enjoy greater social acceptability, questioning them can be frowned upon collectively.
Infallibility of community beliefs, glorification of simplicity (which can be anything from low brow-ness, general ignorance to earthiness), an extremely pious concept of honesty, dishonesty (which comes from an ‘ends being more important than means’ conviction – people subscribing to this belief generally look down upon honesty but they will support a govt on social media which claims to stand for it).
In fact, these sentiments are so universal that they sustain industries and careers. People idolize public figures – mainly film stars and cricketers – who they believe embody these attributes and take any criticism against them personally.
These lies are not eternal beliefs. They change or lose their hold on us but it mostly takes a generation. The subsequent generation looks back upon the follies and foibles of the prior generation with a critical approach. But then the subsequent generation falls prey to its own lies depending on the needs and aspirations of the times. And the cycle continues.