I once saw Casey Affleck in the Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive. He’s from Cambridge, and must have been visiting home. He kept looking at me out the side of his eye, because I couldn’t evoke the courage to tell him I really appreciated he and Joaquin Phoenix’s fourth-wall shattering I’m Still Here. Instead, I just kept glaring at him like big brother Ben probably used to do before delivering him a charley horse directly to the bicep.
The two cinematic scientists—Affleck and Phoenix—experimented with what separates the “real world” from fiction, as Phoenix descended into public career suicide on purpose to propel the plot of their film. The famous spectators and vocal critics of Joaquin’s descent, flipped from witnesses to characters, when the movie hit theatres in 2010.
And now with networks like Hulu releasing docuseries about events that are still unfolding, it seems present day is catching up to the reality those visionaries altered in the early aughts.
Take The Dropout or Pam & Tommy, both produced by Hulu. The latter took place a little longer ago, but I remember living through that fiasco. And the Elizabeth Holmes debacle of her company Theranos has yet to fully unfold, but the big reveal (her secret) are fodder enough for another hit docuseries on Hulu.
Even HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty could classify as this reality-bending genre, although it took place in the early 1980s. Hollywood has certainly been no stranger to making fiction from reality in weekly made-for-TV movies, biopics on prominent public figures and your good old period pieces about the Civil War or ‘Nam. But those traditional dramatizations took so many liberties that the audience knew all along it was heavily embellished. In this data-heavy space we occupy currently, the facts are aplenty and the storytelling is evermore accurate.
Instant drama, based on real events, but reimagined, massaged and maneuvered to fit into the small screen. As the margin between action and reflection shrinks, and we real-world beings can strattle the fourth wall that separates the everyday from imagination, we’ll become characters in our own narrative. Instagram influencers would argue that’s already what they do.
What is the self, but a story we tell ourselves? And now we can tell the general public, by the aid of modern technology and abounding streams to broadcast.
The world really is a stage.