rashomon and the frailty of human perception

akira kurosawa’s rashomon is a masterful piece of film-making. it recounts a set of heinous events from several different perspectives, and in the process tells a story about the subjectivity of human experience, and the way that truth is usually in the eye of the beholder.

as i’ve consumed the presidential and vice-presidential debates over the last few days, along with the exhaustive media analysis and punditry, i’ve had the distinct feeling i was reliving kurosawa’s film.

the first presidential debate seemed a clear win for kerry, from my perspective. i felt that the President was inarticulate, peevish, and off balance. kerry, on the other hand, seemed polished and unflappable – his positions on the issues, while rehearsed, were at least coherent with some world-view based on the planet earth in 2004.

and then i watched the subsequent analysis on NPR. one conservative commentator (whose name escapes me) sat directly opposite donna brazile after the debate and shared his opinions. in his opinion, president bush was clearly more articulate, more poised, and generally won, without a doubt.
are we on the same planet?

i read a fair amount of commentary after the debate, and most conservatives went so far as to concede that this might not have been the president’s best outing and that kerry did ‘ok.’ but to say that bush was articulate and poised, in all sincerity, on national television?

it boggles the mind, not that he would say these things, but that our points of view on the same set of events could be so radically different.

my girlfriend elaine put her finger on it quite well – when it comes to watching these debates, we’ve all got our filters on. we see, to some degree, what we want to see and what fits with our world view. if someone thinks dick cheney is a pitchfork-wielding pit viper from the 7th plane of hell (and a grumpy one, at that), then that’s what they’ll see, whereas others might see a solid, devoted defender of national security with a wealth of experience and knowledge. is john kerry a flip-flopper, or someone who sees complex issues from all sides, and who does his best to rationalize competing points of view? probably depends who you ask.

i think the debates are an important part of national elections, rules and rehearsed points of view and image contests included. they provide an opportunity to hear and see things slightly less canned than what you’ll see at a press conference or in a scripted performance.

is there an objective truth about the debates? are there clear winners and losers? does it really make a difference in the end?

again, i guess it depends who you ask.

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One thought on “rashomon and the frailty of human perception

  1. ToNY

    Didn’t Fitzgerald say genius was being able to hold two opposing thoughts in your head at the same time and still retain the ability to function. To do that with Bush and Kerry would, without question, make one a smarty pants.


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