Image: Watermelons in their near-natural state.
Are you wondering what watermelons have to do with anything? I hope the title has intrigued you. In particular, what do watermelons have to do with writing?
The example is drawn from my recent Facebook experience, being spammed by photos of carved watermelons. That the photos were fake became more and more obvious, but I was astounded by how naïve people appeared to be. Comments along the lines of 'how lovely' the watermelon looked or 'how talented' the carver was were common. I was particularly amused by a comment about how much effort the carver of a 'watermelon cow' had gone to.
I couldn’t believe that people were not challenging the reality of some of these images. The turning point for me, however, was an image purported to have been taken from a drone showing salt lakes of such wonderful colours that I knew they could only have been digitally altered. The photographer assured me that the image was real, albeit run through a ‘series of filters’. How many filters are necessary to remove the image from real to fake? The spectrum (pun intended) is extensive.
Image: A colour-enhanced image. Fake or lake?
The same discussion might apply to the written word. The lines between fake and fiction become increasingly blurred along a continuum. The transition from real, to fiction, to fake is not always obvious.
Fake and fiction, while seemingly similar, represent distinct concepts in a world of narrative and truth. At the heart of this is the intent behind the creation. How any creation is perceived is also important. When I questioned the reason for the photographer's doctored image, his response was along the lines of ‘What harm can putting a little colour in people's lives do?’ Perhaps his motive was honourable, but would it have been any less if he had advised viewers that the image was doctored? At least (in some cases) it is clear when words are fake, fiction or reality.
Image: An intricately carved watermelon. Real or fake?
Fiction is acknowledged as fabrication, a product of the author’s imagination. It does not claim to represent reality. It is an art form, where stories are created with characters, and often whole worlds that are grown from the writer's imagination. The beauty of fiction lies in its acknowledged unreality. It has been described as a consensual hallucination between the author and the reader. Each party to the ‘contract’ agrees that the narrative, while potentially emotionally resonant or at times intellectually stimulating, is not an assertion of fact. Fiction, in its purest form, is a vehicle for exploring human experiences, and societal norms and extrapolating universal truths through the lens of the writer. It can also provide highly valuable catharsis for the writer, without necessarily altering the writer's reality.
Image: The cow that started it.
Of course, there are times when the lines between Fiction and Reality are blurred. This space can even be intentionally mischievous. It can also be a veneer designed to prevent potential litigation (e.g. Succession and the Murdoch family). Fake, on the other hand, implies a deliberate deception. It is the creation or dissemination of information that is intentionally designed to deceive or mislead. This can range from forged documents and false news to deepfakes and manipulated images (dare I suggest like the cow above). The core of what makes something 'fake' is the intent to pass off falsehood as truth. Unlike fiction, which is a dance between reality and imagination, fake materials are a deliberate intrusion of falsehood into the realm of reality, often for specific gains – whether political, financial, social or other.
Image: A hard-working writer surrounded by watermelons.
The potential implications of fake and fiction are profoundly different. While fiction is a cornerstone of creative expression, fake information erodes trust, skews perception and can lead to real-world consequences. The spread of fake news, for example, can influence elections, incite violence, and undermine trust in institutions. It is a source of amazement that the world leader who decries the dangers of fake news the loudest is the same individual who promulgates that news and profits from it the most. In this case, the deception is deliberate, devious and exceedingly dangerous.
Image: A normally black and white Australian magpie (koolbardi), colour-enhanced and fake.
In our digital age, the line between fake and fiction has become even blurrier. Fake images can be readily conjured and fed to willing (and amazingly naïve) recipients. This apparent gullibility is enabled by many social factors of the recipients. Perhaps in an increasingly dark world people do find some joy in (colourful) fake images, fake or not. Who would have thought that the Cottingley Fairies (pictured below) would have caused such a stir in Victorian times? Today’s digitally-savvy public, attuned to movies made solely with CGI would have called the fairies out as fakes at first glance.
Image: The Cottingley Fairies, a photo attributed to Elsie Wright (1901–1988) and Frances Griffiths (1907–1986) and popularised by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The ethical implications of Fake versus Fiction are vastly different. Fiction, by its nature, is a creative and often ethical endeavour, bound by the unspoken contract of knowingly suspended disbelief. In contrast, fake information is an ethical affront, a conscious attempt to manipulate perception and understanding, often for dubious reasons.
The difference between Fake and Fiction lies in the intent and societal implications. Fiction is an acknowledged creative exploration of possibilities, whereas fake is a deliberate distortion of reality, often with harmful consequences. Understanding this distinction is crucial in an era where the boundaries of truth and fiction are increasingly contested, and the impact of information, whether true or false, has significant real-world implications.
Image: The final word on watermelons.
Note: Other than the separately attributed picture of 'The Cottingley Fairies' all of the images in this blog are AI-generated (and therefore fake). No watermelons were harmed in the production of this article.