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Reality

02/22/06 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(HOST) Commentator Caleb Daniloff has been thinking a lot about reality lately, and how its appearance has changed.

(DANILOFF) Snowdrops dot the lawn in front of our house, sap
is running in the woods, and forlorn plow trucks tilt mostly at rain clouds and sunlight. The calendar says February, the eyes say April. One plow driver told me the fat Vermont winters of his childhood have, for the most part, disappeared. Reality ain't
what it used to be, he quipped.

He's right. Reality has changed, and in more ways than one. Not just the generational differences or technological advances - but the notion of reality. The idea of what constitutes real life has
been softened, devalued like currency.

I realized how vulnerable reality had become during the recent James Frey flap. Oprah's initial defense of Frey's fabricated memoir put reality in the ring against a slippery opponent known as emotional truth. In other words: feeling something to be true trumped knowing it. Until Oprah retreated from her position, many of us nervously clutched our towels, fearing some sort of horrible tipping point.

Perhaps reality has always been under siege, or maybe I've become more reflective and nostalgic as I trudge through my middle thirties, but the portrayal of what is real has felt off for
some time. From the slew of highly manufactured reality shows
to literary imposters to the fudged government narrative that
launched a real war, the ground underfoot is less certain.

Some might argue reality changed on Sept. 11th, others the day the Supreme Court installed our current president. For me, the erosion began with a more banal development: T~shirts. In the mid~to~late nineties, mainstream clothing stores started offering distressed T~shirts with faded, idiosyncratic logos ~ for bicycle shops, bar~and~grille softball teams, obscure concert venues. Pre~ripped and patched jeans soon followed. The illusion of experience was for sale, individuality no longer need be ac-
counted for. Suddenly, my old shirts with cracked lettering and stories behind them had lost their value. Result and method had been separated like conjoined twins.

When I was in high school in the late eighties, the term "poser"
was one of the deadliest arrows that could be slung. You were expected to earn your stories, your celebrity, your political position. Now you just have to be styled correctly and possess
a little media savvy. And its that lack of accountability ~ and the demand for it ~ that leads to vulnerabilities in reality.

It leads to a world where people shrug off supposedly live superbowl performances that are time-delayed for the censors. Where TiVo and other digital video recorders trade in the god-like illusion that real life is so soft and malleable it can be paused with the push of a button. When reality is incrementally compromised,
I fear it makes room for incredible ideas like End Times and Clash of Civilizations to take root.

To stay oriented these days, I look for solace in everyday things: proud woodpiles stacked roadside, local humor, my dogs sleeping at the woodstove, and the snow-dusted Adirondacks that seem to keep the rest of America at bay. But lately I find myself staring longer than usual, and wondering if it isn't time to grab some magic markers, tweak those Civil Union signs, and take back reality.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a freelance writer, and recipient of the 2005 Ralph Nading Hill Jr. Literary Prize.
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