When life mirrors art
FEB 16 — Oscar Wilde once wrote in “The Decay of Lying” that, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” What he meant by that was that art is the reality and life a mere mirror. As strange as it may sound, the evidence appears to bear Wilde’s aphorism out.
Consider this for a start. In 1828, Morgan Robertson wrote a short novel entitled “Futility”, or the “Wreck of the Titan”.
The story is about an ocean liner called Titan which sinks in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg. A scant 14 years later, real event followed suit with the ocean liner being none other than the RMS Titanic.
The similarities between fact and fiction did not just end there. Both the Titan and the Titanic:
§ were considered unsinkable;
§ carried less lifeboats than was necessary;
§ struck an iceberg; and
Of course, I accept that one solitary incident like that could be explained away as mere coincidence. The problem is, there have been many more incidents like that.
In 1915, D.W. Griffith directed a film entitled “The Birth of a Nation”. It did tremendously well at the box office, raking in almost US$10 million (RM34 million). Today, that sum sounds paltry but back then it was a princely figure and once we take inflation into account, the US$10 million is equivalent to today’s US$200 million. To put it in simpler terms, it is right up there with Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.
The movie was not truly noted for its box office figures though. It was famous or perhaps more truthfully infamous for romanticising the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as saviours of white civilisation. So effective was it at its task that the almost defunct group leapt back to life “from just a few thousand members to more than 100,000 within the same year”. Once again, life imitates art.
As for the piece de resistance, well I can only offer this: sometime in 1997, a then little known author wrote a series of books about a young dark haired and bespectacled wizard called Harry Potter. She built a fascinating world in the book replete with a Ministry of Magic, a school of magic and an antagonist who for various reasons ‘must not be named’.
It caught the attention of the world and spawned tremendous interest even over here. As fate would have it, things then took a bizarre twist.
Sometime in the late 2000s, someone in the Home Ministry took umbrage over the use of the word Allah by some communities in East Malaysia. With one magical stroke, the Almighty was relegated to ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’.
The story, of course, did not end there. The community there, upset by the change, objected to the Home Ministry’s actions and ‘wizards’ came, from near and far, to advance the merits of the objection. Such was the arcane intricacies of the matter that deliberations were often long and painful but finally, a decision was handed down favouring the objectors.
By then, of course, things took a life of its own on the ground. In early January of this year, a number of churches were attacked. Even the website of the Herald and the Judiciary did not escape unscathed. The supreme irony, of course, was that all of it was supposedly done in the name of the Almighty.
It may very well be that in doing so the perpetrators were only taking their cue from Wilde’s other aphorism that “Arguments are to be avoided; they are always vulgar and often convincing.”
The thing is what the aphorism may read and what it actually means are two different things but such intricacies may, perhaps, be beyond the grasp of those who believe in brutish ways.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
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