THE TALE OF TWO MIRRORS
THE TALE OF TWO MIRRORS – by Samuel Thambusamy
“ It (The mirror of Erised) shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, more desperate desire of our hearts… However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible…It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that…” – Aldus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 12If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror and forget what they look like as soon as they leave. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don’t just hear and forget. – (Jam 1:23-25 CEV)
Dumbledore’s words to Harry Potter are perceptive about human search for meaning and fulfillment in life. Faced with the cultural crisis of purpose, we seek after the desperate desires of our heart. These ‘deepest and more desperate’ desires of the heart are expressed in the realm of arts. Today, media reflects the hungers of the human heart. Off late, sex, sleaze and violence have become Bollywood’s selling mantras (especially if you don’t have Shah Rukh Khan). Film actors hide behind ‘the-script-demands-it’ excuses, movie-makers resort to deliberate padding and producers blame the changing tastes of audiences. Ever wondered why there is an overdose of sex and violence? The cultural products of our time betrays contemporary outlook on life. Media is our mirror of Erised. It reflects ‘nothing more or less than the deepest, more desperate desires of our permissive cultural mindset. Advertising is, Stewart Ewen contends, “ not about the qualities of the products being sold, but about the lives of the people being addressed.” Filmmaker and researcher Vasudevan argues, “ We must historicise media forms and conventions’ and ‘that would tell us more about the media as well as the people who consume its products — and about society.” We watch what we are. Not surprisingly, the dream merchants of our tinsel town tell us, “What you want is what we give”.
True, we watch what we are. But, we are what we watch. ‘We become what we behold”, said Marshall Mcluhan. Media, not only presents the troubled nature of our society but it also promotes the same troubled nature as prescription for the societal dis-ease. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s prophetic words are painfully true now more than ever before. He said, “at first art would imitate life, then life would imitate art and finally, life would draw the very reason for its existence from art”. Our cultural products are bedecked with images and visuals devoid of conscience, story line without conviction, characters without purpose, technical sophistication and finesse devoid of wisdom, music without content and lyrics without meaning. We are technical super giants and yet moral dwarfs. Little wonder then, if we have lost our moral moorings, and consequently distorted the imagination of our hearts and minds .Media, as the mirror of Erised, reflects ‘ the deepest and the most desperate desire of our hearts’. And thereby we know who we really are. And yet, we are lost in the fantasy world and we fail to detect the malaise. The blurring of line between reel and real life, and societal approval of it, is the true horror of the situation.
Info-tainment is not really the answer to the hungers of the human heart. Every attempt to reduce us to mega bytes, mega-pixels or machines has failed. We are more than machines. It is a pity that we do not recognize that media can “ neither give us knowledge or truth”. Media messages are constructs that are designed to gain profit/power. Media content is colored by the intent of media managers. News channels are not neutral. Newsgathering and analysis are not innocent. Entertainment is not value free. Programming is not for public service. Can we rely on the media to give us knowledge or truth? Dumbledore’s words come as a wake up call. Like those who have stood before the mirror of Erised (and wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible) humanity has surrendered its call, conscience, and character to the media. Dumbledore’s closing words are instructive: It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that. Likewise, we must not do to dwell in a media-ted world and forget to LISTEN, as we ought to, to LOVE, as we ought to and LIVE humanly as we ought to. Who or what can show us who we really are?
The mirror of Erised shows us what we deeply desire and helps us live out this fantasy. It is of no help when we seek knowledge or truth regarding what makes us human? We must wrestle with the basic questions of origins, destiny, meaning and purpose if we are to find answers to that question.
When we stand before the mirror of Erised we see what we want. When we stand before the mirror of Truth we see who we really are. We see our disfigured faces and fragmented lives. The Bible, as a mirror of truth, discovers our inner most desires and thoughts of our hearts (Heb 4:12-13 ) and moves us into the realm of truth, not fantasy. If we look into this mirror we gain knowledge and Truth about ourselves and about the world around us. Jesus said, Your word is the truth. So let this truth make them completely yours (John 17:17 CEV). How can a disfigured and fragmented humanity belong to God? Bible, as the mirror of truth, leads to life (1 John 1: 1). The mirror of Truth is “ for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live” (2Ti 3:16). Therefore, it we see, listen and obey the mirror of truth we have a grasp on life. We must never stop looking at this mirror of truth, for it sets us free.
We have two mirrors before us: The mirror of Erised and the mirror of Truth. The mirror of Erised shows what we would like to see. The mirror of Truth shows us what we ought to see. The choice of the mirror is completely ours. We watch what we are and we are what we watch. Let us remember Dumbledore’s words: It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.