This week I finished watching the new HBO series Chernobyl which is harrowing, beautiful and brilliant. I’m fairly obsessed with Soviet Russia, the insane power of ideology in general, and the suppression of truth. The Chernobyl disaster is a perfect example of all those things at work. There’s a killer line towards the end of the series.
“Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”
Killer quotes are killer because they capture huge ideas in a tiny number of words, and because they are true. I really don’t think we actually get away with anything in life. One way or another, the truth will out. I think that’s really where the idea of God came from in the first place - the simple idea that you can’t hide from the truth. Lies will kill your soul and the souls of those around you. Chernobyl shows us exactly what happens when we lie to ourselves, to each other, to the people.
We lie because it’s so often, in the moment, the path of least resistance. It’s easier. But it’s a short term solution. We lie to bury our problems. But buried problems don’t die. They fester and grow bigger underground.
The infinite levels of possible lies were beautifully depicted in Chernobyl. Even the nuclear reactor itself was a brutal metaphor for the power of lies. You can’t see inside the reactors - the red, hot, burning fission below layers of concrete and graphite - but it’s happening. All you can see are some readings on a screen. Panels of buttons. Engineers and operators trying to stay calm. But down in the reactor actual hell is breaking loose. And it’s happening because many years before lies were being told; about how to build a safe power station; and how to stop one exploding. There were actual lies built into that power station. And then hell exploded out of it. And then more lies were told to try to cover the lies that had just exploded out of the ground. Layer upon layer of lies. But the truth cannot truly be buried. It will always find a way out. The debt will always, somehow, be paid.
Once I finished Chernobyl I decided to watch another hard hitting, wildly popular, gritty drama - Love Island. I’d managed to avoid it for 4 series but finally was compelled to see what all the fuss was about. It is a cultural phenomenon after all. I wanted to not like it. Now I’m hooked. It’s kind of fascinating. I mean, it’s different to Chernobyl, but in some way is lifts the lid on lies and the madness of humans in as powerful a way. What it does so well is display the utter insanity and irrationality that love, attraction, and our desire to be wanted can bring about. There are lies all over the place. Sometimes overt; obvious; manipulative. And there are lies that just come out to avoid a more difficult conversation. It’s just easier, in the moment, to lie sometimes. But mostly the lies take the form of the mad stories we tell ourselves. About who we are, what we think we want, and what’s actually happening. And Love Island has all those kinds of lies in droves. It’s like a microcosmic window into the insanity I’ve felt in so many romantic situations. People in Love Island fall in love in like 3 hours. They actually describe themselves as being ‘in love’ with someone they met today. Watching from the outside that is obviously mental. But I’ve been there. I know what they mean. But really it’s a lie - sort of. Not a malicious one. It’s more of a fantasy. An illusion. Hopeful self-deception. They’re lying to themselves. Who are you falling in love with when you fall in love with someone you’ve just met? You’re not in love with that person. You have no idea who they are. You’re in love with a fantasy. A projection of your own mind.
It takes years, not hours, to get to know someone. And years to drop your own guard enough to let someone actually see you. The real you. The you you don’t even know. I’ve been trying to get to know myself all my life and I still have no real idea who I am.
So you fall ‘in love’ with a fantasy. And then, over time, if it lasts that long, the fantasy starts to fall away. Our shields are too heavy to hold up all the time. Cracks appear in our masks. You start to slowly reveal yourselves to each other, even if you didn’t want to. And then you realise….fuck……you’re not in love with the person you thought you were in love with at all. When that happens, often things fall apart. People can’t handle it. They can’t handle the truth. But if there’s enough there, below the surface - if your souls like each other - and you both persevere, you can make it though the rocky revelations. And then one day, maybe, if you’re lucky, you make it to a place where you’re stood facing each other - naked - physically; emotionally; spiritually - foibles all over the place - laid bare and vulnerable - and then, in that moment - you still love each other, maybe even more than you loved the fantasy. And that’s love.
So that’s what I got from Love Island.
Both Love Island and Chernobyl are powerful depictions of how irrational we are. How we lie to ourselves. And how dangerous that is. But that’s because being honest is hard. It takes guts. It’s almost impossible. But it’s worth trying, because sometimes the truth hurts - a lot - but at least we know where we are, and we can get over the pain and grow from it. Lies, on the other hand, will destroy you.