I don’t think it’s over egging the pudding to say that we are in an age where Truth and Fact are under attack. it seems our headlines, positions of power and boardrooms are populated by habitual liars and abusers who perpetually gaslight us on all levels; personal, professional, governmental. To advance their personal goals (whatever they may be) they first rely on deception, then when challenge arises they deny, distract and discredit. I reminded myself last week that these liars both use/abuse Story to propagate their lies and are terrified of its inherent Truth – and thus attempt to render it inert. I am also reminded that at such a time, Story is one of the best tools to reflect and comment on such trends – and for me that’s why Spiderman: Far From Home was so timely and relevant.
It’s a Story about Deception and Perception; and brings a clear mirror and commentary on our current experiences with Fake News. Deception is represented metaphorically by the city of Venice – the City of Masks, a city with literally insubstantial foundations, just as all lies have no foundation. Perception is represented by the Edith glasses which give Peter the ability to “see”, sometimes more than he wants to. Less metaphorically we have multiple levels of deception: Of course the major Mysterio/Beck deception, but also Peter as Spiderman himself is a deception, there’s the falseness of the mournful Ironman hagiography and there’s the reveal that Fury has been Talos the Skrull all along. (This last didn’t come out of nowhere; he was obviously not as paranoid as the real Fury, had a conversation about Kree cells right in the middle of the movie and literally kept telling us “not everything is as it seems”.)
Beck uses narrative as the means to deceive, just as in our universe narrative has been used to manipulate and deceive (as I touched on at a little last time) . That’s the power of story, there is an inherent trust we place in a narrative – even after it is exposed as a lie, because it’s been told to us as a Story, it’s difficult for us to untangle the lie from the medium and to see through to what is real. As with all the best liars, Beck uses a fiction that lies close to the truth, using the familiar, reflecting a narrative that has been played out in their world only recently – The stranger from another world (Thor, the Guardians, Captain Marvel to an extent) seeking refuge and giving protection was the perfect narrative for Beck to exploit. This was also made easier due to the vulnerable place the audience was in following the losses of Infinity War and Endgame – the audience being on the Micro level Peter and Fury/Talos, on the Macro level the wider citizens of earth within the movie and on a Meta level us in the “real world”.
So yes, Beck builds a narrative, weaves a story, gives us glimpses of a myth that are believed because of the inherent nature of Story as a pathway to Truth. That’s why Beck (and his real world counterparts) uses it.
Perception has two tools to counter this: Authenticity and Exposure. Authenticity is often driven by vulnerability and together they lead to Trust (more on that in an upcoming post). Authenticity is simply displaying the truth so that the lies suffer in comparison. The more familiar you are with the truth/real thing, the less likely you are to be taken in by the fake. So for example, it would be unlikely that someone who knew Fury well (Coulson, Black Widow, Cap…all now unavailable! *sob*) would have fallen for Talos’ impression. And the genuine grief about Tony shared by Peter and Happy on the plane is in stark contrast to the painfully plastic “mourning” we see earlier in the film – and seeing the genuine article helps us understand why the fakery made us so uncomfortable.
Exposure is equally powerful. It’s asking questions, it’s demanding openness, it’s making transparency habitual. If an individual or organisation is uncomfortable with questions then that should be a red flag for abuse of power with deceit and coverup of toxic behaviour at the heart. In our Spiderman story, exposure is made to work in the villain’s favour. Peter, perhaps unwisely doesn’t ensure that Beck’s lies are made public while still leaving Beck in control of the narrative. He pays for that by having his own identity exposed… that will mean some interesting times for the character in future movies (sadly outside of the MCU now by all accounts).
In our world we don’t have powerful tech glasses to see what’s on people’s minds and we don’t have a Spidey Sense that warns us of danger or dishonesty. But we do have the means to be our authentic selves. We do have the means to share our own stories and demand to be heard. We do have the means to speak out the truth (the democratisation of the internet has always been a concern to those in power) and to hold up the original so that the fake becomes overshadowed. We do have the responsibility to confirm authenticity. Right now, objectivity is not an option, we must be biased towards truth. There’s a well known statement on journalism -“If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s NOT your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out of the Window and see which is true”. Being objective in these times is no longer a benign position. We must be subject to truth itself, sympathetic to it, purveyors of it.
I’m still cogitating over this story, it doesn’t hold answers, merely a mirror. But a mirror that perhaps shows the start of a pathway through all this.
I leave you with this thought. If the liar/abuser strategy is deny, distract, discredit then the strategy of the truth teller could be summed up as embrace, expose, elevate. Work through that yourselves for a while.