Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Compelled By The Zeitgeist

I was lunch with a woman.  At one point, she asked if I wanted another drink and I said no.  When she got up to refill her cup, I decided that I did want a refill, too, so I got up and said, "I lied.  I do want another drink."  When she heard this, she corrected me, saying that I changed my mind; I didn't lie.

This sparked a conversation about culture.  Our culture (American) is a truly bizarre one.  We are so well-trained to think that we're perfect that we cannot admit that we would change our minds.  If our initial decision is always right.  We would rather admit to being actively deceptive than admit to being wrong.

This made me realize exactly how much we do lie, and how acceptable it is to us.  And sometimes we lie for no good reason.  We lie because we're scared that we might not fit in.  We lie because it makes us look cool.  We lie because we can.

I say "we" because I am no exception.  I hate lying, but it is a difficult thing to resist.  It feels as though I am compelled by the zeitgeist to lie. Even though it disgusts me to deceive people, our culture says it is better to create this alternate reality where I did normal things than to admit to being different.

It makes me wonder: What are the people of different cultures compelled by the zeitgeist to do?  Are there people who despise alcohol, but have a glass with every meal simply because people can't imagine not doing it?  Are there cultures where physical conflict is the only guaranteed way to settle disputes and people who would love to be pacifists still trade blows because it is easier and safer than any other means?

It seems we always put our characters in our culture or ones very similar to it.  It's understandable, I admit.  You know it very well and the audience instantly understands.  But there are limitless possibilities when it comes to social mores, folkways, and laws.  Start playing the What If game and coming up with some insane cultures.  Then make some characters who don't like that culture, but are still compelled to take part in it.

No matter how different those people will seem to you, they will still be very human.

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