The Balloon Blower: "Truth doesn't matter when you're telling a good story"
Ah, the balloon blower, I remember him well. Him, but not his name. He was a tall man, in his mid-50s, from the American countryside: a farmer.
We were sitting at a roadside cafe on "the strip" in the ironically labelled City of Angels.
He told me lots of stories. He showed me how to correctly hold two knives during a fight; that he could instantly know the length of a piece of hose-piping just by looking at it; that pi is his favourite number; that he refused to use emails or facebook as people should write him a letter if they wish to communicate to him; that other people's names don't matter to him and that he worked as a children's entertainer, attending birthday parties and making animals from balloons.
I saw him do just that. He was an expert at making animals from balloons. He told me that he would always go to work wearing a tuxedo and that he refused to give the balloons to children who did not say "please" and "thank you" and I found myself nodding approvingly. He told more stories and then he said it. The somewhat tainted-golden phrase that has stayed with me ever since:
"Truth doesn't matter when you're telling a good story."
Time went by and we shared some beers and suddenly the balloon blower's uncle appeared from the dusty street and joined us. As he approached, the balloon blower quickly stood up and whispered in my ear, "what's your name?" So, I told him. He told me his name and then greeted his uncle with a firm handshake and introduced me as his friend. "This is my uncle, Jake," he said to me. I remember his uncle, and his uncle's name.
Uncle Jake was older but still a fit and strong man. He spoke intelligently, with a clear, authoritative voice and I can imagine the balloon blower addressing him as "Sir," although I do not remember if this was actually the case. Regardless, he had an immediately obvious respect for his uncle.
Whilst they were talking together I was thinking about thatphrase and whether his stories had actually been true or not. Had he really used two knives in all of those street fights? How about the small forest that he described as his home in America? Did it really exist? Did he really own all that land? Does he really have a live-in partner who is getting slowly fatter by the day and is obsessed with fast food? Does it really matter if any of it is true anyway, since I had been entertained?
They spoke for some time. Suddenly, Uncle Jake assertively offered some "advice" to his nephew.
"You cut yourself off from the world just to spite yourself. You are right that people should take the time to write a letter to you, but they won't. They are not going to, so accept that most people prefer to send e-mails and use facebook. You should be understanding and do the same so that they can have a way to communicate to you.... What are you doing wearing those tuxedos? It's a child's party for Goodness's sake! And you can't expect a four year-old boy to say thank you at a party. He's four years old. You didn't say thank you when you were four years old. You demanded things because you were a spoiled little brat!"
He continued. "Listen, you have to have consideration for the other people, for all of the people, even if they are only four years old!"
Those last words have stayed with me too.
So it seems that the balloon blower was mostly telling the truth about his stories, but what of his special phrase? Does the truth really matter when you're telling a good story?
To begin to answer that, I will run forwards in time to last night when I was viewing some music videos and stumbled across an interview on Youtube of one of my favourite singers and song-writers, Adam Duritz, of Counting Crows.
He was asked, "What do you want people to take away from your new album?"
He replied: "Sands of me I guess. That's all they offer, really. I hope that what people take from them is that they're true. You know, the most important thing is that. Just understand that it's true. I mean, all you can really do is to talk about yourself as openly as possible....erm...whether that's interesting to people....but the fact that it's true... because that can really kill you if people don't believe that."
You can see the full interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qKKPEdgZow
So, I am not alone in my views.
Finally, I fast forward once more to just a few hours ago and reveal the main inspiration behind the writing of this piece.
I received an e-mail labelled "Elle est mignone (She is cute)" which contained a link to a video of a girl singing on the French version of the TV show X-Factor. She was wearing dark clothing and when she started to speak, she spoke with a very sweet voice and immediately I was able to predict what was about to happen. You see, a few months ago I saw a video of the Fillipino X-Factor TV show that began in exactly the same way. Unsurprisingly, it also ended in the same way. The girls in each of their instances sang with very impressive, surprisingly deep, heavy rock voices and shocked the audiences.
You can see the videos here:
When I first saw the Filipino version a few months ago, I was also shocked and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was amazing, although I had some doubts over the second part which seemed slightly staged. However, the judges are seen as highly credible in the Philippines and so I did not trust my instincts.
Today, when I saw the video from France my heart immediately sank. I find myself feeling cheated; that I had previously bene impressed and amazed by something that is most likely not real. It seems very much that it was all a media stunt. I find myself immensely bothered by this. On the other hand, I was entertained, so does it really matter?
"Truth doesn't matter when you're telling a good story."
I liked the balloon blower very much. I liked Uncle Jake too. They are good people with good stories and good views on life that have helped me from time to time. But now I am once again left wondering about it.
Does honesty really matter when it comes to entertainment?
It does to me and for some reason I hope it does to you too.