In literature, the “set up” is typically so obvious it works to build suspense. In our everyday world we are more typically blind to the set up. As actor and comic wit W.C. Fields once quipped, “You can fool half the people all of the time . . . and that’s enough to make a good living.”
But for the writer to make a good living, it takes credibility. And perhaps society—to survive meaningfully and successfully—must look at things with the eye of the writer.
What went wrong? Taking even a cursory look, you’d think we could hardly miss the lack of substance and credibility in so many puffed-up communications: in hyped press reports … in manipulative advertising … in news capsule and sound bite television … in the increasingly tabloid-styled mainstream press … in films that sell out the fuller story and the bigger picture for the close-up and special effect … in too much teeny-bopper oriented entertainment … in art and art criticism lacking statement, meaning, serious evaluation … in much myopic, distorted, truncated, blurred, less than credible history telling … in increasingly sanitized science-denuded text books … in the painfully obtuse writings of bureaucracy … in the frequently abstruse writings of academia … in the oft-laughable communications of many company sponsored ‘think tanks’ … in the “money talks loudest” communications of lobbyists. … in pandering to the polls … in ludicrous political statements that often suggest everything or nothing … in dubious promises and less than credible rhetoric… in a televised presidential campaign debate where the first half of the debate ignores the war and the economy and a primary question is why a candidate isn’t wearing a flag in his lapel.
We grouse a little. Sometimes a lot. Mostly we accept business as usual. Or our watchdogs or gurus, like Greenspan, speak up more seriously only after they retire or write their books.
We need the serious writer’s eye for authenticity. The writer doesn’t have to be successful or even greatly talented—just ‘desperately seeking’ credibility. At least most professional, serious writers could hardly deceive or lie in their stories if they tried—not if they want to be credible. In literature the plots, characters, stories go where they must. In quality writing the character stays in character while the serious writer, true to his craft, follows. The serious non-fiction writer, too, needs not put-ons or nonsense but real specifics that justify, pieces that fit, odds that are plausible, and, not least, not language used loosely but the right word--the mot juste—to add authenticity.
Are writers less gullible than others? Are they smarter? Probably not. Even the best can barely capture in words a passage from Mozart or the meaning of a raised eyebrow. Writers offer no clear consensus and make few claims—especially in postmodern times—to ultimate answers. It’s not even that the serious writer has mastered words; the words master the serious writer. The professional writer invariably lacks the tricks of the trade because each quality story starts fresh each time—that’s the good part! Talk about building a consensus, most any good writer knows that to get his or her new story across he or she can't rely on old credibilities. Nor can he or she commit deceptions, make deals, promises, threats, demands, tradeoffs or even tell simple lies and expect to be uncritically believed or even read. A politician might—many do—succeed with nonsense. The author, however, even in nonfiction, must build a convincing, credible case.
Patriots should demand reasonable oversight and accounting, a system that includes fully-informed shareholders and representatives and a board of directors who are not—as all too often they are—‘yes’ men. Not least, we need a well-informed citizenry with a larger view of society and the world around us; and, for the well-being of generations to come, we need a serious concern, the way a reviewer critically reviews a book, for a credible, sustainable future.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the U.S. remains in place as the helmsman for the 21st century, and perhaps serves as the best hope—as a partner, not an empire-builder—for the world’s recovery from a half century of cold war absurdity. But the U.S. could also take a needed lesson in credibility.
Recent years have not been good times for credibility; not for the Bush administration, of course, but not even for the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, the Parish Priest or, the most American of idols, our home run kings.Society at large might well take a needed lesson from the serious writer with an eye for credibility, before things turn into one big soap opera: The Clichés of Our Lives.
By Ron Kenner — THE EYE OF THE WRITER