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Handling the Truth by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley  
Date: 02 February 2009 /

Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I want the truth.

Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson): You can't handle the truth...we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. -- A Few Good Men (1992)

Perry White (Frank Langella) Truth, justice, and all that stuff. -- Superman Returns (2006)

"The Truth Is Out There" -- tagline "The X Files" (1993)

When Jack Nicholson delivers his dismissive line in A Few Good Men (1982), he's speaking for dogmatic authoritarians from the first tribal priest to the last President of the United States. There was a time when we supposed that truth was part of the American perspective, or at least our most famous illegal alien, Superman, thought so. At least until the last movie, where he dropped "the American way" part in favor of "Truth, Justice, and all that stuff."

In an interview, Superman Returns writer Dan Harris explains the change: "The world has changed. The world is a different place.....the truth is he's an alien...and he is here for everybody. He's an international superhero."

It's worth mentioning here that Superman doesn't utter the altered line, Crusty editor Perry White does. I don't doubt that the world has changed, and from our vantage point in history, it probably doesn't look like America has as good a track record on truthfulness as we once thought. But that doesn't mean that we don't want to be everything Superman ever thought we were. Or that we've lost our only chance to be.

In fact, we may well be entering into an age of truthfulness the likes of which the world has never seen. "The truth is out there", as Mulder has been fond of telling us, but it's not nearly as well hidden as it once was. In a world where cellphones can upload images and video to the internet from any site any time, we're more likely to be inundated with the truth than sheltered from it.

And the new administration has set out to embrace this new reality with unprecedented transparency. It may well be a genie that's impossible to stuff back in the bottle when they've used up their allotted wishes, but in truth, it's inevitable, so they might as well enjoy it.

The notion that the average person can't deal with the harsh realities of the world, is based in part on wishful thinking by those who hold power, and partly on a realistic appraisal of how sheltered those of us who live in quiet, civilized communities are. Americans have a strong streak of isolationism, and we've been known to turn away from unpleasant, or inconvenient truths, but today those truths are in the habit of not respecting our borders, our airwaves, or our web searches.

In the short run, that's likely to make lots of folks uncomfortable. But in the long run, I expect that we'll get used to the truth, whatever it is, and find that it's not as scary as our protectors thought it was. That we're braver than they knew, or wanted us to be.

That in short, we can handle the truth. We may have to admit to ourselves that we want rude men with guns to stand on the walls. Or that we care more about our cars than the climate. But we should make those decisions from an informed point of view, not one of ignorance...and I think we're up to it.

Ernest Lilley

Sr. Editor

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