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Allegory of the Living Room

Joe S. Kimbrough II wonders if our condition is better than that of Plato’s prisoners.

In a dream I am transported to a cave. Thick iron chains restrain me to a wall, while clasps at my neck stop my head from turning. My eyes squint against the dim light, so I close them for a moment.

When I open them, a soft white glow surrounds me and the chains have vanished! I’m sitting so deeply in an overstuffed brown leather recliner that any thought of movement is dismissed. An array of speakers at the top of the chair blocks any view of what is behind me. My view appears to terminate in a white wall that surrounds the room.

I roll my head to both sides, and see others. Their gazes are fixed in the direction of a television set, where a news program reports events of the day. No event is described; rather, the news anchors analyze events as scenes play in the background. A ‘ding’ accompanies every statement of the broadcaster. These sounds appear to be very close to me, by my side; so I shove my hands between the armrest and the seat cushion, where something resists me. I pull hard and retrieve a device. Labels on the device show that each ding announces a message of either agreement or ridicule of the views declared by the TV figure. Someone’s opinion conflicts with the announcer, or supports their claims.

Suddenly my recliner snaps the footrest away and the chair tilts, compelling me to stand. What had appeared to be a wall is merely a glass divide, with other groups clustered on the other side. Some groups see the same programming that appears on my group’s TV, while others see newscasts with different images and broadcasters. I twist round to see a door behind all the groups, plain white with a plastic handle. Despite its plainness, I am drawn to this portal.

With my first step forward I fall face down on the cement floor. Immediately, I try to push myself up, but my arms fail to support me, and again I meet the floor at full force. I roll onto my back and assess whether anything is hurt, then grab the chair’s armrest to climb again to a standing position. I try again to move by shuffling one foot in front of the other. Weight shifts tenderly with my steps, and with a toddling pace move around the glass dividers and past the last group to finally cross the distance to the door. At my arrival it opens of its own accord.

After being pulled through the door, I stand in a dark room with intermittent spaces of light. Loud noise causes me to cover my ears. Something bumps me from behind, so I take a couple of steps forward; then another something pushes me to the left. These unknown objects keep pushing me until I begin to see that they’re carts, whose motion I begin to anticipate and dodge.

Slowly, the source of the noise around me is revealed: the lit areas contain cameras with folks sitting behind desks talking about various scenes behind them. I recognize this as the programming on the TVs in the first room. Other people hustle between the lit areas pushing the carts loaded with piles of papers, shouting comments on reactions to the images and sliding pieces of paper to the talkers. Positive comments leave the images on the screen a bit longer as the talkers read from the sheets they’ve been handed. Negative comments change the images immediately.

Dodging the carts, I move through this room past all manner of programming. At last I pass through a curtain, where light blinds me to my surroundings. At first I only feel the heat from a spotlight above me, and air blowing from right to left; then as my eyes adjust, a green carpet emerges beneath my feet, and brown columns appear. I’m beside a moving pathway (though apparently one on which I cannot travel). I recall that the brown columns that support green offshoots are trees, and that the moving path is a stream. The warmth and silence of the forest strikes me as novel and captivating. The texture of fallen leaves and the running water seem more alluring than any of the programming I saw. Surely this is where I am intended to be; so I explore for a while, revelling in each new sensation.

After some time the thought occurs to me that I should return to the first room and tell everyone of the wonders here. I find the curtain again, but the darkness inside causes me to pause. I take two cart bumps before remembering to dance around the carts. Eventually I find the door back to the first room and push through to the glare of the light. I take a moment to adjust until the clusters of people reappear. The group that was first around me makes no acknowledgement of my return; so I step in front of their television and begin to describe what I have seen. A chorus of moans arises from the group, still in their recliners. I move away from the TV and this quietens the group, who fixate back on the programming. I shake my head, shrug, and move to the next group.

© Joe S. Kimbrough II 2015

Joe S. Kimbrough II labours and writes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Please visit jskimbroughii.com for more.

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