The Doors of Perception

As we enter this new year, I thought it might be a good time to take back up the world of blogging after last year’s prolonged absence. Mostly I stopped as I was experiencing some hectic personal issues. But with a new year comes new opportunities. I’ll be shifting away from academic writing for the most part, but there might be allusions to academia on occasion. I am still a trained historian, after all. But mostly I’ll be writing about various forms of popular culture.

Since the new year often revolves around resolutions and reflecting back upon the previous year, I thought I would start with something similar. I recently saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens and watched Marvel’s Jessica Jones. In preparation for TFA I re-watched the original trilogy (prequels, what prequels?). Both Star Wars and Marvel are now owned by Disney, but I noticed another similarity between the original trilogy and Jessica Jones: perception and interpretation. In Jedi, Obi-Wan said most of the truths we hold are based on our own interpretation. This idea was true in almost everything we do.

Jessica Jones

There are spoilers below. You’ve been warned.

There was one episode of Jessica Jones where Jessica and Kilgrave were remembering 18 seconds when Jessica wasn’t under his mind control. Jessica stayed with him during those seconds, before being forced to again with a command. Kilgrave interpreted it as a possibility of love. Jessica interpreted it as finally being free of a horrible experience and trying to figure out what to do next; imagining a way of escape. Both characters were there for the event, experienced the same 18 seconds, but had a completely different viewpoint on what it meant.

Later in the series Jessica doesn’t believe that she’s a hero whilst at the same time people are calling her, saying she’s the only one who can save them — the traditional definition of hero. Jessica thought that since she had to kill someone, she was not heroic. The rest of the world seemed to think that because she killed someone she was heroic. It’s a subtle difference, but obviously the implications are huge.

In TFA, someone asks if Han is the Han Solo, the hero of the Rebellion. He replies ‘I used to be’. To both the character asking him and to the audience, he’s still the stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder who shot first. To the mature Han of TFA, he’s an ordinary smuggler with no dreams of getting (re)involved in intergalactic affairs.

Which interpretation of Jessica Jones or Han Solo is correct? Can they both be heroes and not be heroes at the same time? Can they live up to both their own expectations of themselves and other people’s expectations?

Perhaps this meme can illustrate the point (I’m a cat person, as you may have noticed).

cat perception

Is the cat really on its side? Or is that just one perception of it?

On a personal level, perceptions are huge. I think of myself as hard-working, dedicated, a good (ish) writer and loads of other positive attributes. Those are the things I put on my CV when applying for jobs, for which I (obviously) think I’m the best candidate. Yet since I don’t have every job for which I’ve ever applied, there’s a somewhat different perception from employers. Maybe they see I haven’t quite finished my PhD yet (arg!) and aren’t willing to take a chance. Or that my writing examples aren’t as good as they would like. Maybe I really am the best candidate for the job, but I don’t have the personal connection with the hiring manager that someone else does, so I don’t get invited for an interview. Whatever the reason, our perceptions of who we are and other people’s perceptions of us are different.

That’s not always a bad thing, per se. In secondary school and university I never thought I was particularly attractive. My partner has a different perception, which she makes known on a regular basis (thankfully!). Should people stop looking to Jessica Jones as a hero just because she doesn’t see herself like that? Should I continue to see myself as unattractive? Should Han still be considered scruffy-looking?

Our individual truths are not the only truths in the world. We just need to be aware of that and be willing (possibly) to change our perceptions when given a different interpretation.

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