In spite of what some have said, I do not have a television just so I can watch golf.

Sometimes I like to relax with a scripted TV series. Let me see if I can list some things that add to the likelihood that I’ll watch. Fun, well written, not terribly deep, patriotic when appropriate, inspiring, clean, likeable characters, and good is victorious.

There may be more, but you get the idea. If I want to go deep, I’m grabbing a book. If I want entertainment, I’m watching a comedian like Nate Bargatze. But give me a show that has everything on that list, and I’ll probably watch.

For example, Leverage. The “action crime drama” series debuted in 2008. In the intro, Nathan Ford (played by Timothy Hutton) says, “We give innocent people who have been hurt — leverage.”

The “we” is a group of five former criminals who “use their unique skills to help ordinary people fight back against injustices.” The show ran for five seasons. Eight years after it went off the air it was revived as Leverage: Redemption, with Noah Wyle taking the place of the absent Timothy Hutton.

My wife and I like these shows. There is no “soft porn,” there is no foul language, the bad guys lose, and the good guys win. Sometimes there is even a morality lesson.

Does that sound like art imitating life?  I wish.

Aristotle

It was Aristotle, a very smart guy, who wrote that “art imitates life” in a book we call Poetics. Since Aristotle did not write in English, there has been some debate about the word he used that is usually translated “imitates.” Interestingly, it is the same word from which we get the word “mime.”

And to be fair to our pal Aristotle, he wasn’t writing about television, or even movies. He wrote Poetics around 330 years before Christ was born, so film of any kind was a long way off. Storytelling, however, was big.

Do stories (art) imitate life? In some ways they do, which is why we can relate to them.

But for now I want to tell you about the flip side: “life imitates art.”

In an episode of Leverage from 2009, the “bad guy” is a TV reporter working in the Boston market. She herself describes her work this way: “Fear sells, and I sell fear.” The name of her show is Search for Truth. (I’m sure the writer’s sarcasm was intentional.)

Her pattern: find a tragedy (e.g., kids dying in a school bus accident), create a false narrative about how that happened, including an innocent person that can be made to look guilty, then coerce a quote from that person to add to the appearance of guilt. Then push that story until the innocent person becomes guilty in people’s minds.

That was all fiction, but I was still glad when she was exposed as a fraud by the Leverage team.

The day after watching that episode, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a real, live activist who was using essentially the same tactics.

Her target wasn’t an ordinary citizen though, she was after Supreme Court justices. Specifically, conservative Justices.

Now for the quote

On the Leverage episode I mentioned, the journalist would try to find a quote that made her chosen victim look guilty.

In real life, journalist Lauren Windsor, an activist who apparently fears America is “in danger of becoming a Christian theocracy,” recently tried to do exactly the same thing.

But instead of just going up to those she thinks are part of the problem and sticking a microphone in their face, she played the spy.

This all happened at a gala at the Supreme Court, which she infiltrated posing as a Catholic conservative. The Wall Street Journal said she “secretly taped herself trying to goad two conservative Justices into untoward remarks.”

She failed in her quest, so there is no damning quote. But she was able to get a little air time on some cable news shows who applauded her efforts.

The whole incident would hardly have caught my attention (it is the week of the U. S. Open, after all) had I not just watched that episode of Leverage the night before.

I wondered if Lauren Windsor had seen the episode, which would mean life was imitating art.

While I seriously doubt that ever happened, it did help open my mind to the surreptitious ways of the world.

That, by the way, is also true of the Leverage team. They often pose as one thing to help bring down the bad guys. Which, I believe, is what Lauren Windsor thought she was doing. More about that in a future post.

What people say, and what gets repeated

Not long ago a congressman from Florida, who happens to be a black man, spoke about how Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” — intended to help the poor — actually hurt the poor, both black and white.

In his talk he said that Jim Crow times were terrible, but they didn’t destroy the black family. Many in the press who disagree with the congressman’s political views claimed he said that Jim Crow was good.

So one way to get a quote is to lie about who you are and try to trick people into saying something that suits your narrative. Another is to take something someone really did say, then twist it to suit your narrative.

There is one more option, of course, but it is much more challenging: report the truth.

If the truth cannot be discerned, then there needs to be a diligent attempt to pursue it. Which is what made me laugh at the title of the fictional reporter’s show, Search for Truth. It was anything but that.

Far too few of us are actually seeking truth, we are seeking agreement with our opinions.

In the best shows, and in the best fiction books, the truth is finally discovered and good prevails.

And that is a way in which I hope — one day — life will imitate art.

Do good. It’s in you!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Frank McArdle

    You, my friend, are an artist I continually strive to imitate. Thanks for all the good you do…

    1. Lewis Greer

      Thanks very much, Frank! We will keep spreading good as we can, just as I know you do.

      Your kind words and encouragement are both *very* much appreciated!!

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