"Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Deep into the darkness I peered. Frozen. Unable to avert my eyes. Unable to call for help. It all seemed so real that I could hardly imagine that it had ever occurred before. A man was working in his office by a large window at his home. Something was watching him in that darkness from the outside. Something with murderous intent. Only the shadow of that thing was visible at first. Every limb of my body convulsed. Out of the darkness stepped the apparition. It was a giant gorilla that had escaped from a nearby laboratory. The moonlight caught its eyes as that thing flashed a demonic smile right at me. I did what any 8-year-old boy would do in that situation: I ran from my seat in the movie theater as fast as I could in to the safety of the lobby.
The movie was called "Konga," a cheap exploitation film loosely based on "King Kong." In the film, an evil doctor injects a chimpanzee with a serum that makes him grow to the size of a large gorilla then sends him out to kill his enemies. One reviewer of the film labeled it "Inept, silly ... and an improbable-looking ape." Many years later the film was on television, and I watched that same scene with fascination. What had terrified me as a little boy was just an actor in a cheap gorilla suit. Instead of horror, it brought laughter. What had changed, though? The terror I felt as a boy was real. One answer might be found in the Greek philosopher Plato's "Allegory of the Cave."
Plato describes a world where several prisoners live chained in a cave facing a wall with their backs to the entrance. They are unable to turn around. As people pass by the entrance, they cast shadows on the wall, and these shadows constitute reality for the prisoners. To them, the shadows are as real as Konga was to me. One of the prisoners is freed by a teacher from the outside who drags him kicking and screaming out of the cave. At first, he is blinded by the light of the sun and fearful about the new world. The man finds the outside world terrifying. The shadows always seemed so real to him. In time, he realizes that his entire existence has been controlled by a system -- puppeteers -- and he now knows the truth of the real form things have in the sunlight. He returns to the cave, excited to tell those still there that what they see is but shadows of the real world. However, the people in the cave think he is crazy and threaten to kill him. Paraphrasing John 8:32, Gloria Steinem wrote: "The truth shall set you free but first it will p*ss you off." Especially, Plato says, if it comes from other people who were blind like you.
Much like those Grecian prisoners, I was utterly convinced as an 8-year-old I was looking at a real gorilla. Only with education on how movies are made did I realize just how wrong I was. Some would say with the recent pandemic, many of us have retreated to our caves. We now sit voluntarily facing the wall, watching the new shadows of the outside world being played by what the puppeteers put in front of us as reality. We sit frozen, unmoving. We don't ever question the validity of what we are seeing. Soon those shadows take on a realness that an 8-year-old boy would appreciate. The columnist Jimmy Breslin put it best: "The purpose of television news is to get you to watch more television."
What is the answer? Stop facing in one direction all the time. Turn around. Go outside into the light. And if you see a fierce-looking gorilla waiting to pounce on you, tell the guy inside the suit I said hi.