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"I can tell the darkest and most terrifying truths about human nature with zero consequences. The consequences exist within the parameters of the scene. And when they call 'cut,' I'm free," Jenn Tullock, Everything Now, page 166. When I read this little quote, I did what many avid book readers do and underlined the sentences, adding a short note, "Why, though?" Then, I did what many avid book readers swear to never do and dog-eared the page. For some reason, Tullock's sentiment stood out to me. After finishing the book, I looked over my notes and came back to page 166. What are the darkest and most terrifying truths about human nature, I wondered. And why is a movie set the safest way to explore those truths? I found Rosecrans book by happenstance: I was dating someone new (a relationship that long ago ended) and we decided to read a book simultaneously so we'd have something interesting to talk about. I put it down for a few months before finishing it; this is a book that gets better the deeper you read. Everything Now is about the city-state of Los Angeles, the wildness, the corruption, the dazzle. The gentrification, the wildfires, the droughts, the urban sprawl. The author, Rosecrans Baldwin, is a deeply empathetic writer and I'm not sure a truthful story could be told about L.A. without a deep dose of empathy. Las Angeles is a beautifully insane place. It is the lost and the found; the island of misfit toys and the place dreams go to blossom or wilt or magnificently implode.
"Why, though?" I wrote in the margin on page 166 because I didn't understand. What are the darkest parts of human nature? What are the terrifying truths that Jen feels able to tell? And what are the consequences of talking about them, both on screen and off? Probably, how we talk about them matters. We could couch the dark, terrifying things in the world of fiction, in a movie or online or through some similarly shape-shifting medium, and that probably feels safe. But what is the consequence of telling a dark and terrifying truth just blatantly and in the open? I can understand why that feels scary, but I don't understand the consequences. Usually, when truths are told the consequences are more positive than not.
I wondered too, if the dark and terrifying truths are simply things people don't want to hear, like: we are born alone, we die alone, we are all, essentially, alone. That's a truth that used to scare me, before it set me free. A dark, terrifying, uncomfortable truth cannot be uncomfortable for everybody because (I think) we all have different levels of tolerance to truth, different ways accepting things, different callouses and different soft spots. These difference are part of why writing about anything objectively is nearly impossible.
The terrifying things are only terrifying the further away you get from your true self, or maybe, the further you get from the truth. I don't actually think truth is terrifying at all. And the people who might be afraid of their truths are the people who come to Los Angeles to pretend to be someone they're not. The façade of truth is alluring. The lights and noise are welcome distraction. The constant hustle is a black hole. We are collectively terrified of ourselves. I've written about my eating disorder ad nauseum, but when I was the most sick, the most terrifying truth was the fact that I was sick. I couldn't face that truth for a very long time so I buried it, swallowed it, threw it up and flushed it down too many toilets to count. I was removed from myself and miles away from who my best self could have been. Now, I think about all the people living in their own dark truths. I think about all the people who are stuck, and who might be so close to finding the light if only they looked, if only they kept going.
In a recent podcast, Jordan Peterson defined the Pareto Principle, which states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. This is also called the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity. In his podcast, Peterson said, "What you most want to be found will be found where you least want to look. If you're willing to turn around and stand up and face the darkness fully, what you discover at the darkest part is the brightest light and that's something that's so much worth discovering. Because there is going to be terrible darkness in your life and it's going to make you cynical and bitter. And it could easily be that you're just not looking at it enough, because if you looked at it enough and you didn't shy away and you brought everything that you had to bear on it, you would learn that there was more to you than there was to the horror."
What I think Peterson is saying is that at the bottom of the darkest and most terrifying truths is simply truth. And truth is light and truth is, probably, the least terrifying thing of all. The propensity of Hollywood to tell truths through screens feels safer than telling the truth in real life, but it's not any better or worse. Maybe Hollywood is showing us, through the world of make believe, how we might be better to each other and to ourselves.
Anyway, read the book.