Musing VII: Artifice, Escapism, Fantasy - It's OK to Dream


In my very first musing, I talked about fantasy and how fantasy can become reality when you commit to it. I would like to revisit and elaborate on the subject a little further.

I've never really understood the word "fake" as an insult. "Disingenuous," "dishonest," "hypocritical," and "insincere" -- of course, those are bad qualities that are to be avoided at all costs. But "fake," as in "artificial," would seem to imply that the opposing, desirable quality would be whatever is completely and totally natural. And while "natural" and "desirable" sometimes cross over in the Venn diagram, they don't always line up consistently. When I was a young kid, my family and I went on a vacation to Disney Land. This was a very special occasion for me, as my parents had saved up for us to be able to take this trip. My parents are first generation Korean immigrants and like most immigrants, it took time for us to achieve the privilege of having disposable income. I remember the Disney trip like it was yesterday; it's still so fresh in my mind. When we got to the Small World ride, there was surprisingly no line. We climbed into the boat, and at my insistence, stayed on the ride about ten times in a row. I loved everything Disney, and I still do. I used to fantasize about climbing off the Small World boat and hanging out with the animatronic dolls for the rest of my life, never having to go to school again, everyday just playing with all these inanimate children, so colorful and happy living in a plastic world full of tigers and hippos. Of course I was bright enough to know that they were just figurines made of wiring and polymer, but that didn't matter to me -- I wanted to live in that story.

One night my girlfriend Taylor texted me asking what I was up to on a particular Friday. I replied, "algorithms + watching Beauty & the Beast". She almost didn't believe me until I sent her a snapshot of my open computer displaying my code, along with the dancing cartoon teacups in the background. I admittedly love watching the story where a young girl falls in love with a handsome beast living in a castle with a library full of endless books and adorable servants with French accents -- as unrealistic as that might be. I have a weakness for artifice and escapism. So much of what we fantasize about today is not actually achievable, but through artifice, we can, for a moment, live in the story. I think this is why I love (parts of) Las Vegas so much -- I'll never be able to walk the streets of an ancient Roman marketplace, but I can visit Caesar's Palace and pretend for a few minutes that I am. A few months ago my girlfriend and I took a trip to Atlantic City, and one hotel had a facade that was decorated with signs for fake western storefronts -- saloons, mining supplies, brothels, horse tack, etc. For a moment I paused and tried to imagine the kinds of characters who would walk around such a place. The image was so much more interesting than the actual landscape of Jersey shore kids and sad retirees before me.

We all love fantasy to some degree. We all invite it into our lives through different veins -- Hollywood movies, novels, online rpgs, and even fashion, music, and art are all forms of fantastic escapism. There are so many stories out there in the collective unconscious that are far more interesting than our daily pedestrian lives but which we will never fully be able to live out. Every once in a while we encounter a person who is able to bring a new story to life, a story we want to live in. And it is the furthest thing from the natural state they were born into -- it would be entirely fake but for the level to which they have committed to it. Because of their commitment, their story becomes so close to truth that we are able to momentarily suspend our reality and live in the world that they have created. And often it is a beautiful world, a world so much more interesting and compelling than the one that we actually have to function in on a daily basis.

To an extent, this is what was so compelling to me about the BDSM world. No one is actually born dominant or submissive (though it could be argued that through nature or nurture some of us tend toward being more reticent and some toward being more aggressive, but that only explains an affinity for certain roles, not a birthright to them), but through the players' commitment to their respective roles, we are able to believe them for a moment. We are able to fear or crave as the story dictates. My well-known NYC artist/musician friend is an example of this as well. As part of his commitment to artifice, he wants to recreate the world of a royal court. Whenever he goes out, he has someone carry a black fringed umbrella over him while he walks down the street. His girlfriend carrys a feathered fan to cool him off. In today's world, there are no societal conventions like this one, but if everyone's committed to it, how "fake" can it be? The world of Rock & Roll is often the perfect incarnation of artifice and reality. Gene Simmons wasn't born with a painted face and crazy hair -- no rockstar ever is, but through their belief in a greater image and identity, they create something that's more interesting than most of the people we meet in our everyday lives. What's so great about it is that it's become such a widespread culture that the line between fantasy and reality becomes a blur -- it's a dream, but the dream is real. And me? I am a complete and total construction of my own making. I wasn't born wearing lipstick and expensive lingerie, empowered in my sexuality and seduction abilities, but I have committed to it thoroughly, and today, it's what I am. No man today can ever hope to be with Cleopatra, or with Ava Gardner, or Madame Recamier, but perhaps through the art of my artifice, I can hope to bring a little bit of that spark back to life.

I don't want to be my suitors' version of reality -- I want to be their fantasy, their sweet diversion, their indulgence. I strive to be that person through whom they can escape the doldrums of everyday life. I believe in authenticity, but sometimes authenticity would be better defined as "consistency." Commit to the story you are bringing to life. Take your inner passions, the most vivid fantasies of your innermost authentic self, and commit to them so hard that they become real. Create something for the rest of us to believe in. And then the next time someone calls you "fake," you can smile and say, "You're welcome."


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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art." 

© 2020 Grace Lee Riley