Memory can never be entirely accurate. The further you progress into the future, the more you mentally leave behind. The identity of your past self is buried under your current identity, like how the width of my past thighs is buried under the width of my current thighs. And I certainly don’t remember the long-lost joys of wearing a Youth Medium.
Works like autobiographies are really the author’s present self narrating his or her current perception of his or her past. By extension, Benjamin Franklin took to editing his “errata,” or errors, by writing about his life. He customized the organization of his life to create an intended impression of himself (i.e. that he’s a genius, and y’all Americans better follow in his footsteps).
Franklin shows us that art makes memory malleable. The act of presenting your past to others in a format outside of your mind is necessarily contrived. But artists have the power to manipulate their memories in their works by erasing superfluous details and filling in the cracks. Sure, what’s lost is the reality and, perhaps, honesty of these memories. But so much more is gained.
It’s easier to swallow your past when it’s suited to your tastes. (And Tina Fey’s memoir “Bossypants” is metaphorically delicious.) If your past is up for interpretation to yourself, it’s even more so for your audience. By altering your memories, you take a more active role in reliving them. You can even alter history by creating a badass revenge story where a small yet menacing band of mostly-Amurrcan Jews overthrow the nazti dictatorship of World War II, as seen in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”
And, as Evey’s father from “V for Vendetta” so eloquently said, “Artists use lies to tell the truth.” Although art doesn’t capture the true incessant boredom and desire to run naked down the street (isn’t that what it’s like for every kid?), it gets at the heart of childhood by having, ya know, so much heart. Aww. But really, it’s truer to present what your childhood means to you now than to inevitably fail at recreating what happened in a precise manner.
This brings us to the stylization of childhood in coming-of-age stories. In our culture, the coming-of-age story is so prevalent that it seems to be a rite of passage for viewers. And they never go out of style because we audience members never stop coming of age, well, until we die. Um, yeah. Let’s look at a meaningful example to take our minds off of our ultimate demise. You can compliment me on that segway later.
So there’s this film called “Submarine,” directed by the brilliant Richard Ayoade (you probably don’t know him from the British comedy series, “The IT Crowd”). From the very start, the protagonist, Oliver Tate, addresses the audience via a letter that says the film is a biopic of his life. “But wait! He’s a fictional character,” you exclaim. Yes, my reader, autobiographical content is invented within the confines of a fictional story and vice versa. Woah.
“I find the only way to get through life is to picture myself in an entirely disconnected reality” is a quote by Tate that is totally relevant to this column. He imagines alternate, hypothetical scenarios (e.g., the mournful effect his death has on his usually desensitized classmates) to escape his life. The finely constructed narrative of the film in no way reflects a real-life sequence of events. And yet, it’s more evocative of what it’s like to be an awkward, deliberately classy Welsh teen than any string of fading memories.
It seems backwards to approach the truth of the past this way, but it is apparently effective. I mean, the commodification of memories is widespread in such mediums as Facebook and Instagram. We customize our timelines to create an impression of ourselves through documentation. Most people filter out anything from their lives that isn’t funny or good news; only the least-relatable people post statuses of their every waking feeling. We don’t get the whole truth of others, but we couldn’t attain it if we tried. All we need is what’s meaningful about the truth — and to try a little tenderness.
Contact Caitlin at [email protected]