Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Reality" TV

Vladimir Nabokov, who authored the chess novel Zashchita Luzhina, once said that the word "reality" should always be in quotation marks. I was reminded of this while watching Bobby Fischer Against the World on HBO. Was there really "something wrong with the man," as one newsman described Fischer? Or maybe Fischer was on the right track when he asked, "You don't see how f---ed up the world is? That's a form of insanity." It all depends on what your definition of "reality" is.

Personally I find it too big a coincidence that the same tragedy could befall Paul Morphy, a century earlier, and Bobby Fischer without society being responsible. The documentary that needs to be filmed should have a working title The World Against Paul Morphy, Bobby Fischer, and the Next American Chess Genius As Yet Unknown.

The central flaw in BFATW is that it barks up the wrong tree in trying to solve the enigma of Bobby Fischer. As a chess master, you learn the discipline of looking at both sides of the chessboard. By focusing on Bobby Fischer's side in his figurative match versus the world, the documentary avoids the main problem, namely that the world was less than perfect in its treatment of both Morphy and Fischer. In denial about the world's culpability, the film in effect puts the murder victims on trial.