Make-Believe

The recent revelations about Milwaukee Brewers baseball star Ryan Braun — that he did, in fact, take performance enhancing drugs — ends the charade surrounding this particular player and shifts attention elsewhere. But ESPN loves to drag the saga on as long as possible and they are fond of showing interviews with Braun from earlier this season in which he faces the camera squarely and with a sincere expression on his face swears “on my life” that “this substance never entered my body at any point.” It is superb acting in light of his subsequent admission and his suspension from baseball until next year. And apparently he had many people fooled, including his pal Aaron Rogers who bet a year’s salary before Braun’s admission that Braun was innocent of the charges. Someone apparently stands to come out $4.5 million dollars richer — if Rogers pays up.

In any event, the stench that surrounds professional sports, reeking of narcissism,  pretense, and dishonesty amid the drugs and performance-enhancers, has been written about and talked to death. What interests me more is the apparent fact that the men who face the cameras (and Congress) and swear on their lives they have never taken performance enhancing drugs actually seem to believe it when they are saying it. In a word, they seem to be living in a postmodern world in which narratives have replaced the truth. Say something often enough and it actually becomes the truth. What is the case is what we want to be the case in such a world. There is no objective truth — until the evidence becomes so heavy that even the most inveterate liar can no longer shift it aside. This is, indeed, a sign of our times and it may have started with Nixon leaving office to the tune of “I am NOT a crook!” I dare say he believed it.

Much of postmodern literary criticism hovers around the notion that literature — and history for that matter — is simply whatever we want it to be. Critics look for hidden messages and insist that all interpretations of the written word are possible and nothing is as it seems, and, as far as history in concerned, as the postmodernists would have it, “events always have to be reinterpreted to allow for current prejudices.” In the fog that surrounds much of this criticism, the notion that there are printed words on the page, that  there is an objective world “out there” and there are stubborn “facts” that simply will not go away, disappears. That is, it is forgotten or ignored. It seems to be a game academics play in order to keep their well-paying positions in prestigious universities while their students, who go deep into debt to pay for their classes, scratch their heads wondering what all the fuss is about — and plan the next party.

But when we leave the world of fiction, and even history (which many now insist is simply another form of fiction) and return to the real world we discover people who have fallen for the notion that reality is a construct and fiction is truth. If we say something often enough we come to believe it, if we hear it often enough it becomes a “fact,” and if we want something hard enough we will get it. One is reminded of the episode of Jerry Seinfeld in which Jerry wants to date a police woman who believes he watches “Melrose Place.” In order to persuade her he does not (though he does, in fact) he agrees to a lie-detector test. In order to figure out how to “beat” the lie-detector he asks his friend George how it can be done and George says, “It’s not a lie, Jerry, if you believe it.” That line of thought seems to have become gospel among the worldly-wise these days.

It’s all about will-power, and the subject’s perception of his or her world.  Morality has been lost in this world, reduced to mere feelings, and the world itself has been reduced to a kaleidoscope of personal perspectives none of which is to be preferred –until we run headlong into the brick wall of an objective reality that simply does not allow of reconstruction or revision. This finally happened to Ryan Braun. And it will happen to a number of other baseball players as well, as a row of dominoes is about to fall in order, we are told. Hopefully, it will also happen to athletes in other sports. And in the end, perhaps, we will all come to realize that truth is not a fiction, we cannot just make the world into what we want it to be, and there are things that really matter, and other people and serious problems that deserve our love and attention.