Welcome to America, where it looks just like it does on TV

My buddy Mike just got back from a week in France, and we took to the links for a quick nine holes so he could tell me a few lies and tales about his trip. His wife, Sandy, had been there before, and they were meeting an old college friend of hers with whom she had spent some time in France years ago, hoping to recapture a bit of the fun they had way back then.

His tales were more colorful than anything that had happened to me over the past week, so he regaled me with all things French until we hit the green on l’hole neuf. (Well, we both hit the green briefly as our balls skipped over into the bushes, but c’est la vie, there was nothing newsworthy about that.)

“So,” I said to him, “what do you think will be the lasting take-away from the trip? Ten years from now, when somebody mentions France, what image will jump to mind before you have the chance to choose?”

He thought for a moment, and he shook his head with the impossibility of the task I had set him. It was too soon to ask a question like that. Fresh memories have a way of jostling and elbowing each other like an unruly mob, only arranging themselves into a manageable queue after time has passed.

But then he got that “Mike twinkle and nod” that announced he had made his decision. I knew his answer would be dripping with irony, or something of the sort.

“It was on our tour to Normandy,” he said. “It was a long bus ride from Paris, and after touring the beaches where the D-Day battles raged, and after all the emotions washed over us about the courage, and the fear, and the magnitude of the duty all those men faced, we got back on the bus and headed back to Paris. And as we drove through those beautiful, peaceful meadows and farm fields, feeling drained of emotion, I said to Sandy, ‘Wow, it looks just like in all those war movies.’”

I laughed, because I knew it was Mike’s wry way of telling a subtle, ironic joke about how we are as Americans, to whom the highest form of validation for an event is to see it on a screen. For an American visiting France, midnight in Paris is charming because it’s so much like “Midnight in Paris.”

Ask an American to describe his experience surviving a hurricane: “It felt like I was on the movie set for a disaster film.”

Or see an interview with someone who was standing on the street corner when the shooting started: “It was like one of those videogames.”

Or talk to someone who walked away from a horrendous auto crash: “It was like everything went in super slow-motion.”

Film-makers and videogame creators strive to make their products as lifelike as possible, and if they are successful, their creations become larger than life. And forever afterward, whenever anything dramatic happens to us in real life, we explain it not in real-life terms but in virtual-life terms.

In other words, art imitates life, and if it does its job well, it convinces us forever after that life imitates art.

When we sank our last well-traveled putts, Mike and I put our clubs in the car and headed off to our favorite watering hole for a burger and a beer. And French fries, which Mike thought looked an awful lot like pomme frites.

When we opened the front door, Jim, the owner, called out a greeting to us, and Lisa behind the bar started drawing us a draft without our having to ask for it.

I smiled at Mike as we took our usual seats and said, “It’s nice to go where everybody knows your name, right?”

Because that friendly pub wouldn’t be nearly as real to us if we didn’t have “Cheers” to define it for us.

At the end of the day, I went home and turned on the Chicago Cubs game. The Cubs were winning in the later innings, so I spent a little time watching the crowd instead.

As the pitcher delivered a 3-2 pitch to the batter with two outs in the inning, fans behind the plate held up their cell phones to capture the action to watch later.

When the batter stroked a liner down the left-field line, several fans turned their eyes away from the ball to watch the center-field jumbo screen so they could see how the action really went down.

And little kids, bored after sitting next to Mom and Dad for a few hours in the box seats of a world champion baseball team, stared at the screens of little devices in their hands, their tiny thumbs flashing to bring some shape to their otherwise humdrum lives.

Because, after all, this is America, and would you really expect Americans to pull themselves away from their screens just to take a naked look at the un-edited world around them?

Get real.

Author, musician and storyteller TR Kerth is a retired teacher who has lived in Sun City Huntley since 2003. Contact him at trkerth@yahoo.com. Can’t wait for your next visit to Planet Kerth? Then get TR’s book, “Revenge of the Sardines,” available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online book distributors.

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