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Reality Spectacles

[First published in RetroFuturism #14, January, 1991.]

The title of this column refers to the essentially chaotic nature of reality and the efforts of humanity to impose some sort of pattern/order onto the chaos. In previous columns I have explored several kinds of "codes" (or order-imposing systems), my explorations often springing from whimsical or absurdist premises. This column is no exception to that tradition, for I will begin with a turn-of-the-century children's novelist and end with the dustbin of history.

So tag along.

In L. Frank Baum's classic Oz books, the great wizard's Emerald City is not made of emerald at all. Visitors are made to put on green spectacles at the city's gates to that once they are inside the city, everything they see is tinted green, and looks to be made of emerald. A simple trick, and apparently it worked on the Ozian populace. The great wizard is taken seriously, and his Emerald City is the capital of the whole country.

So what? So this.

The green spectacles which make the Emerald City look to be made of emerald are clearly a metaphor for the spectacles many of us voluntarily don to make the world appear to be what we want it to be. But the spectacles in the serious world of grown-ups are invisible. We call them ideologies. And they don't sit upon our noses. They sit within the recesses of our brains, coloring all we see and all we think.

True believers in an ideology see a different world than the rest of us do. One where oppressed workers struggle eternally with evil capitalists. Or where nefarious Jews scheme against gullible Gentiles. Or where Jesus and Satan use men as mere pawns in a spiritual war. Or whatever. Fill in the blanks yourself.

With the recent collapse of Marxism as a viable political or economic ideology, it is now possible to watch a paradigm in disarray--a pair of shattered spectacles, as it were, cracked by numerous anomalies. It is as if the visitor to Oz had his green spectacles torn from his face and suddenly saw the Emerald City as it was, not a sparkling utopian dream city, but a rather drab backwater.

Break a man's ideology spectacles and you have given him fresh eyes. But the fresh eyes show a difficult vision.

Many of those who wear the rose-colored spectacles of Marxism are having a difficult time accepting the crack-up of their reality lens. Instead of awakening to the truth of the world around them, they are denying this new and uncomfortable vision. As Tass reports the latest unearthing of a Stalinist mass grave, or admits yet another historical cover-up, many still refuse to see. The old vision is still correct, they say, it was just a little out of focus, that's all. Next time we will adjust the lens more carefully, we will create a more perfect picture.

Admittedly, those in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have no trouble accepting the truth of Marxism. It is the true believers in the West, comfortably removed from the harsh realities of Marxism-in-action, who deny the cracking of the lens. They sneer over the yearnings of Russians who desire such mundane consumerist goodies as a McDonald's hamburger--never mind that McDonald's provides the freshest meat in Moscow. They worry over the rise of democracy in Eastern Europe, worry it will be as shallow and meaningless as that in the West--never mind the end of gulag barbarism, the restoration of an open forum of debate. They gripe about the Sandinistas allowing power to slip from their grasp--never mind that the people wanted it that way and voted them out.

His red spectacles held together with tape and crazy glue, the Marxist ideologist continues to search for a world that never was, keeps praying to an idol gone lopsided.

Ignore that man behind the curtain, he shouts.

--Thomas Wiloch