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Split-Screens—Contemporary Dualism


Social networks, the structure of some of today’s blockbuster novels, and experiments in original content for television and movies have given us a world that is a split-screen reality. Plot has merged with multiple points-of-view (POV) more than ever.

Pushing further, there is no one reality but a gradient of realities, in flux, and based upon the beholder. A split-screen reality.  No black and white, but seemingly infinite shades of gray. Our individual reality, in truth, is a fiction emotionally true and relevant but not absolute.

TV series like the award-winning “The Affair” or Netflix’s “Bloodlines” , present a number of points of view, with the audience unsure about the truthfulness of any given character as the drama moves forward. Other examples of split-screen reality include the blockbuster novel and movie Gone Girl, and Celeste Ng’s exceptional novel, “Everything We Never Told You”. The authors dive into a range of point-of-view characters whose retelling of scenes often is head-spinning. But that’s the point.

Characters we love can also be unlovable. The dualism pulls us in more. Just watch as the point-of-view shifts in Gone Girl. Amy is a demon (from her husband, Nick’s, point of view) until we hear her side of events. While not a sympathetic character, we soon realize the two main characters both have different realities, revealing only what they wish to reveal: what novelists call “unreliable narrators” who can’t share a single narrative.

Multiple witnesses of events recall the Rashomon effect (named after the classic 1950 Kurosawa film). We as viewers watch the same story, only from a different character’s point of view. Each character’s viewpoint seems like the truth until we hear the next version. We end up unable to make sense of the contradictory stories: to connect the dots and reveal the truth. Who is lying and who is telling the truth? The answer may be “both”. The viewer’s (or reader’s) sympathies switch from account to another. At the conclusion, all versions remain equally plausible and equally suspect.

Still, why does it amaze us when intelligent folks can diverge so much in their opinions and perceptions of exactly the same thing? We want to know more about that divergence. No matter what we read, no matter what we hear or see on TV, YouTube, or Facebook we are confronted with someone else’s interpretation, created from their own experiences and background… experiences and background which may be completely different from our own.

The split-screen reality of drama, literature, and the Internet reinforces the notion of multiple realities, of contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. Memories are already being replaced  not only by the stories we tell, but also by the posts we read, the blogs, the “data”– so that all that remains is a memory of a memory of a memory of what is fact and what is truth. Some details are reinforced with each telling while others fade, lost forever. Which version will I tell to whom? And why? Which do I believe is real?


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