(The trick to reality is in learning how to fake it.)
When Parker was younger, the business where he worked consisted of four long double alleys filled with brightly colored boxes. Along the windows and framing the front door and capping the ends of each aisle and back-lighting the back counter were huge, full-color, machine-stamped cardboard cutouts, larger-than-life photos of larger-than-life Modern Heroes.
Technically, the Modern Heroes were just human beings, like Parker and everybody else. But these particular human beings, generally pale-skinned human beings, were born with (or had bought) attractive faces, or strong jaws, or interesting voices, or disciplined chest muscles, or bodies with lots of curves but no hard angles.
The Heroes were all made in a factory on the other side of the country, and Their opinions and actions and lifestyles were made desirable to Parker’s customers, thanks to loud noises endlessly generated by the factory. The loud noises were called “Commercials.”
Parker would go to work, human beings would come in, stare at one or more colored boxes, and eventually give him money. Money was another loud noise, made in another factory. In exchange for money, Parker would allow the human beings to borrow little black cartridges and take them home.
Inside their uncomplicated houses, the human beings would walk through their growing collection of complicated machines, then insert the little black cartridges into a very complicated machine that would create very believable illusions, full of Modern Heroes.
The Modern Heroes were always doing vile and perfect things in the illusions, and the human beings who watched the illusions would smile, or laugh, or cry, or get very angry, depending on the personal effect each illusion lured out of them.
Meanwhile, in very large houses and jets and bars, the Modern Heroes, Their collective imagination spent by illusion-making, were finding more and more bizarre ways to create Their own illusions. Many of Them would deceive, or damage, or destroy, or die too soon.
The human beings who came in to Parker’s store never saw this as stupid. It always seemed romantic to them, because they had to believe it possible that somebody, somewhere, could have a full, rich, romantic, wonderful life.
The little black cartridges were artfully-designed collages of color, and motion, and music, and lots of brisk, short sentences. Spoken sentences, that is: there was very little printed material in any of the illusions, usually only at the beginning, and then again at the ending, when the factory would make lists of all the Modern Heroes, human beings and other machinery involved in creating that particular illusion.
After years of this, even those minimal bits of reading material begin to bore, and the human beings would push buttons on the complicated machine to make the words scroll by very fast and go away, so they wouldn’t have to be bothered with reading at all.
After a few more years, schoolteachers even began showing the illusions to their students instead of forcing them to actually read a book for a book report.
Sometimes, the human beings would grow so eager and obsessive over the Modern Heroes thrashing out Their illusions that they would steal the brightly colored boxes from the shelves in Parker’s store, boxes which didn’t even have little black cartridges in them. Parker had learned to remove the actual black cartridges from the boxes on the shelves, shortly after he had learned another sad secret about just how eager and obsessive human beings can be.
And then the human beings would get home and discover that they had not really gotten away with a fistful of free illusions. All they had for company, there at home, in the dark, were empty, pretty boxes.
And lo, the Modern Heroes became highly successful in all types of absurdly unrelated arenas. Reporters would ask Them for Their opinions on world problems or politics or capital punishment or legal precedent or environmental control or the separation of church and state. They had streets named for Them in large and small towns. They were invited to the President’s house for dinner, and invited to other countries to complain there about the President here.
Global media outlets spent many dollars and much time trying to discover if the Modern Heroes were privately making bad decisions, and never missed an opportunity to announce any such discoveries, even if they had to create them. And when they couldn’t create any discoveries, they created little instant mini-Heroes from real human beings, and set various traps for them, and filmed the human beings falling into the traps, and everybody laughed. This became known as “reality TV.”
But the factory that created illusions that Parker swapped for money had been around a lot longer than Parker, or any human beings Parker knew. The factory, therefore, had to create, and constantly recreate, a brand new vocabulary to nudge the human beings into the appropriate emotion for the appropriate illusion. The new vocabulary used words normally associated with destruction and violence, and taught the human beings to get excited by the prospects. So, a very desirable illusion might be called “explosive,” “dynamite,” or a “blockbuster” or a “big smash hit.”
Once, before Parker was born, the factory made illusions called “classics,” which meant they contained only two colors, and meant the Heroes had to depend on clever, witty dialogue instead of expensive special-effects, and meant that no human being that Parker knew would ever even remotely consider watching them.
“Special-effects” was the factory’s vocabulary word for the practice of showing young children the best possible way to shear off a human being’s limbs and destroy a bedroom or an airport at the same time, while simultaneously swearing in three languages and exposing un-sheared-off body parts. The word was later shortened to “Special FX,” then shortened again to “SFX.” This was another example of the complete linguistic control usurped, over time, by the factory – like describing death in “living color.”
Parker received a valuable education in diplomatic tact while assisting the human beings who came in to his store. Many times, concerned mothers would ask Parker to recommend an illusion to show to their impressionable children. The mothers were concerned about the moral content and impact of the illusion. The standard directive was, “Violence is okay, so long as there’s no sex in it.”
And then there were other remarks, mountainous, eardrum-popping remarks that ascended to altitudes beyond Parker’s skills to tactfully navigate.
*** “What’s a good movie I ain’t seen yet?”
*** “When is this due back? Eight PM? At night?”
*** “Ever watched this one? Ten times, huh? Did you like it?”
*** “I wanna rent a movie, but I got no I.D. with me. Could I just show you my tattoo?”
*** “I heard about this movie, I forget the title, but it’s about this man ‘n this other guy ‘n a train or a boat, and a dog, right? Know the one I mean?”
*** “How much is your free membership?”
And the human beings who came in to Parker’s store began to believe that the Modern Heroes were real, that Their lives were real, and that their own lives were the illusions. Slowly, over a few factory-dominated generations, human beings began to doubt the significance of their own existence, especially when held up against the perfect, attractive, bite-size, far-away lives of the Modern Heroes.
And greedy steles rose and rose, bricks laid each atop the last, founded on the idea that all good human beings must think just so, talk just so, smell just so, act just so, gratify themselves just so and just so often, and so on, and on.
Heroes, children, like pyramids, are built up, one brick at a time. And, like pyramids, no Hero is really sure how They arrived, or why, or how many innocents were used up in the process. Remember that each brick is placed but once, each atop the last. And remember that each brick is used but once, to build a pyramid, or a bridge, or a wall.
And remember that it’s humans who build heroes.
Choose your heroes wisely.