The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

I used to watch bad movies.  I loved the silly plots, bad special effects and hideous acting.  I would complain, curl up in a fetal position, and curse my fate, all the while enjoying it.  I’d wonder how my life went so wrong that I was spending my time looking for strings on flying saucers, all the while reveling in this existential crisis.

I enjoyed “good” bad movies far more than good good movies!  This odd wording  hints at the philosophical dimensions of this pursuit.  I sought experiences most tried to avoid, dreaded a bad movie turning out to be good, and didn’t use to enjoy bad movies. This revealed how arbitrary and transitory values were.

Yet bad movies taught me another lesson — one that that started with a simple question:

What made a movie bad?

This question seemed innocent enough, after all, I could cite tons of bad movie signatures — bad special effects (e.g.: seeing the zipper on the back of a monster suit), bad acting, and so on. Yet I saw good movies that shared some of these signatures — like bad special effects. Clearly something else was going on.

Then it came to me — I had it backwards!  It wasn’t these “signatures” that made the movie bad; rather, the movie was bad because I started noticing these things!  See, to notice these problems, I had to be taken “out” of the movie.  The movie had to fail prior to that point, and to do so on such a fundamental level that I no longer suspended my disbelief.  Once my disbelief was gone, I stopped watching the movie and started looking AT it.  Once I did, I noticed and fixated upon all the defects.

What an apt metaphor for life!

Life is an exercise in the willing suspension of disbelief.  I seek things because I delude myself into thinking they are valuable.  I do things because I tell myself they are important.  I take stances because I think they matter. Yet this is just me believing in the movie.

Then sometimes, life fails.  Maybe it’s a tragedy, a disappointment, or even a moment in which I accomplish a major goal and find it to be… blah.  In that moment, I stop living life and look at it.

And like the bad movie, life doesn’t withstand close scrutiny.  It doesn’t take much looking to see the zipper on the rubber suit of life.  A moment’s honest reflection shows how arbitrary my values were, how none of my goals ever brought me lasting satisfaction (why would they start now), and how my death is inevitable and coming closer every day. I realize my most cherished thoughts and beliefs are not mine, but were instilled in me.  I then realize nothing could ever be “mine” because the “me” required to support this ownership could never even exist.

I realize desire is misery’s seed; the only question is if it will sprout.

What happens then?

Do I return to the movie, but with a lighter heart, knowing it’s a movie?

Do I laugh at the movie, realizing how silly it was and how silly it was to take it seriously?


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