Naomi Shewa

We don’t live our lives based on reality but rather our perception of what reality is. The line between real and fiction is becoming ever the fuzzier. From the invention of the kinetoscope to the invention of alternate facts, our lived reality is being constructed and construed, changing effortlessly to suit different narratives. Post truth culture has seeped into our real, this has led to skewed perceptions that have ultimately affected outcomes; the most obvious examples being the US presidential elections and the UK’s eventual withdrawal from Europe. It can be argued that politicians, no longer satisfied by falsifying reality have taken the next step and started to invent their own. Thus pulling us all into a vacuum of warped real.

We don’t live our lives based on reality but rather our perception of what reality is. Reality is subjective. Alternate realities coexist.

The Thin Line Between Film and Fiction

In the book, the social construction of reality, Berger and Luckmann describe the way people experience alternate realities through television and cinema. “While individuals may visit other realities (such as watching a film), they are always brought back to the everyday reality they assume (once the film ends)”.1 

The Wire (2002) combined real spatial dynamics and a fictional environment, taking reality and morphing it into an output often described as alternate. While most of the stories played out in this show would be labeled fiction, the show astutely conveyed Baltimore as the social, economical and political wasteland that it was at the time. “The Wire overtly suggests that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right,”2. Before The Wire, the common perception of Baltimore was one of a rich commuter town. The Wire delivered an authentic exposé of the “other” Baltimore; one littered with vacant houses, disadvantaged by a poor performing public schools, and plagued by relentless poverty that often led to high levels of drug abuse and violent crime. This Baltimore was a mere 40 miles away from the nation’s capital, Washington DC. Some native residents have found themselves stigmatized as a result of the Wire’s portrayal of their neighbourhood; “It has damaged the city’s reputation to the point where if I say I’m from Baltimore, people will say, ‘Ohh, you’re from Bodymore’ or ‘Murderland’.”3 The Wire drew attention to the city’s urban ills and consequently additional funding has become available to programs such as; start up initiatives, safe injection sites and school initiatives for students.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2013) focuses on Anwar and a group of gangsters who were executioners in the 1965-66 Indonesian government-sponsored killings of so-called Communists. The film follows the gangsters while they endeavour to re-enact, through directing their own film, their roles in the 1965 killings. The film displays how subtly and how dangerously people move between realities. This becomes evident when, after becoming frustrated with a persons acting, one of the gangsters bellows ‘Let’s kill him for real!”. It becomes clear there is not an obvious distinction between ‘fiction’ and ‘reality’ here: all of these individuals were involved in these events ‘for real’ and in some sense killing was as much of an act in 1965 as it is on this film set. This again is apparent when Anwar admits that the way he approached his killings were influenced by cinema; ‘‘In mafia films, they strangle the guy in the car and dump the body, so we did.’ Ultimately, The act of killing demands another way of looking at reality. It is filmed like a constant hall of mirrors, where real people become characters in a movie and then jump back into reality again. This raises the question of where the boundaries of real and fiction are set or more so, for people like Anwar, if there are any boundaries at all.

Post Truth Politics

Alternate reality isn’t just confined to the television screen. We find ourselves told that we can lift off into another reality if we buy or watch or vote the way some want us to. 21st century politics has become known for alternative facts i.e. dangerous fabrications rather than substantiated truths.

When Donald Trump claimed Barack Obama “is the founder” of Islamic State and Hillary Clinton, the “co-founder”, even some of his supporters were perplexed. Surely he did not mean that literally? Perhaps he meant, as the interviewer suggested, that the Obama administration’s rapid pull-out from Iraq “created the vacuum” that the terrorists then filled? “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” replied Mr Trump.4 The US election saw polar realities constructed and construed on the sides of both candidates. Described as post-truth politics, these alternate realities were being spoken and acted into existence. Whilst inner city crime has decreased gradually over recent decades, the Republican’s campaign played on the anxieties and frustrations of the voters. One of the claims being that inner city crime was reaching record levels, a flagrant disregard for statistics, consequently surveys showed that the public perceived inner city crime to be increasing; proof that perception is being swayed by these fictional claims. ‘Brexiteers’ proposed an extra £350m a week would be available for the NHS. This claim didn’t demonstrate how it would be achieved but influenced the voting process that shaped the referendum outcome nonetheless. It is clear that post truth politics is creating fictional reality, warping the evidence based reality we have taken for granted, a distorted lived reality is imminent.

An Independent London

After the vote to leave the European union, the United Kingdom for the first time recognised itself as a fragmented country. What was apparent was that the reality of London was different to the rest of the UK. What emerged from this, were calls for London to separate itself from the rest of England and rejoin the EU. 60% of Londoners had voted to remain and the overall consensus was that London did not vote for an exit. London has a population right now that is bigger than Scotland and Wales put together and generates 22 per cent of the UK’s GDP whilst being home to only 12.5 per cent of the UK’s population; its economy is the size of Sweden’s. When the Scottish referendum happened, 20 per cent of Londoners reported that they were interested in the idea of London secession. Independent London is a plausible reality.


1.     Time for London to Leave. Holly Baxter, 2016.
2.    Author’s own, 2016.
3.     Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, 1889
4.     The Wire. Clark Johnson, 2002
5.     The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer, 2013
6.    Donald Trump waits to step out. AP Photo, 2017


1.    Peter L. Berger, T. L. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality. USA: Anchor.
2.     Talbot, M. (2007, October 27). STEALING LIFE The crusader behind “The Wire.”. <>
3.    Johnson, Q. (2010). “The Wire” and Its Impact: Is There a Change? (K. Anthony, Interviewer)
4.    Economist, T. (2016, September 10). The post-truth world Yes, I’d lie to you.