Navigation Menu  
   The Task  
   Written Explanation  
   Writing Tips  
   Sample Prompts  
   The Context  
   Getting Started  
   Key Questions  
   Set Texts  
   Wag the Dog  
   Supplementary Texts  
   The SACs  
   SAC Preparation  
   Prompts & Approaches  
   Planning a Response  
   Written Explanation  
   The Exam  
The Context — Overview

The question in the Context's title is deliberate: it recognises the existence and validity of multiple perspectives regarding what is considered “real”. The wording of the title also clearly suggests that we should be prepared to accept the existence of alternative versions of reality to our own, whether we share these perceptions or not. Reality is defined as the state or fact of being real, but as humans we have the capacity to perceive and interpret our own realities in many different ways. This Context, therefore, is chiefly concerned with the subjectivity of human experience and emotion, and how differences in individuals and in their personal circumstances lead to alternative perceptions of what reality is. Furthermore, understanding other perceptions of reality can help clarify our own version of what is real, in addition to enlightening us about our understanding of our place in the world and thereby further enriching our experience of life.

Who or what shapes our sense of reality?

The notion of "reality" is inextricably linked to the subjectivity of individual human existence. As such, "reality" is viewed differently by each individual, through the filter of his/her personal circumstances, values and emotions. In addition to this, "reality" is determined through a combination of other factors and perspectives.

Our sense of reality is shaped from a multitude of sources. The media is one entity that plays a significant role in shaping reality. How? Other realms include:

• Science — where reality is perceived according to what is factual or demonstrable
• Religion — where reality is considered according to "dogma" (doctrine)
• History — where reality is considered according to human development – this also applies on a personal level in terms of an individual's history
• Psychology — where reality is viewed in relation to theory and research.

The notion of one, single and definitive version of "reality" is extremely hard to justify in the face of so many subjective and variable perspectives. What are the broader ideas and arguments that emerge from this Context? Consider ways of grouping concepts about "Whose Reality?":


multiple realities
• perceptions of reality
• judging versions of reality
• imagining other realities
• perceiving reality differently
• representations of reality
• fantasy, reality and surrealism
• multiple versions of reality
• reality and the truth
• the nature of reality

emotional realities
• the subjectivity of human experience
• subjectivity and perceptions of reality
• memory, reflection and perspectives
• the relationship between memory and reality

constructed realities
• reasons for constructing an alternative reality
• delusion and fantasy
• illusion and reality
• power, control and reality
• language and reality

cultural realities
• different realities of gender and class
• different places representing different realities
• perceptions of reality and conflict

Our perception is determined, and skewed, by a range of personal and environmental variables that refract events and people according to what kind of people we are, where we come from, and the events that have shaped us. An individual's past experiences help to determine the way he or she behaves and develops understandings, and gender, race, social position, family ethos, culture, religion, inherited dispositions, and other variables, all contribute to the way he or she reads the world and its people.

The combination of these and other factors forms a person's subjectivity. People may perceive the same situation, event or information in different ways because their perceptions are filtered by their different ideals, values and past experience. This notion of subjective realities is in contrast to the idea that there is a version of reality that is factual, the truth, objectively and impartially so.

A prime example of this is when a group of people witness an accident, yet report very different facts to the police. There are many factors that will determine the version of events that is told, such as the age, gender, background, experience and position of the witness at the time. It is difficult, therefore, to argue that one account is more valid or true than the other, because each person will bring to their description of the accident their own reality.

Of course, this is not to say that we can doubt the reality of the actual accident itself, but we need to be aware that the details can and will be quite different, depending on who is telling the story, when the story is being told and to whom the story is being told.

People's interaction with others involves deciding between various ways of perceiving the world. Some representations of reality are preferred over others in a community, so that another concern of this Context has to do with what factors lead to one person's representation of reality being accepted, while another's is dismissed or rejected.

The question of what is 'real', what is reality, is one that philosophers have debated for hundreds of years. Is there a real and factual reality, or is the world only how we perceive it through our senses, our experiences? Some philosophers have argued that we can only indirectly know the effect that reality has on our minds. In this sense, reality is a mental construct and a creation of the individual. The discussion may have a religious element too; many religions attempt to explain the origin of 'reality' and speak of another reality after this life. When tribal societies in New Guinea encountered western civilisation for the first time, some began new quasi-religious movements, worshipping the westerners or the goods they brought. Overnight, their reality changed. In a different way, some Buddhists believe that what we see as reality is literally unreal or a kind of dream. It is a discussion that was later taken up by psychiatrists as it became common to categorise patients who 'lost touch' with reality as being psychologically ill, even insane.

As you study the Context, you should concentrate on the varied ways that experience can be recorded and interpreted, and be aware that people read the world in a plethora of ways, and these readings are coloured by their own experiences and the time and place in which they occur. You should consider how some people in the community have more power to influence which version of reality that is accepted as the 'prevailing wisdom'.

The set texts, and supplementary texts, provide opportunities for you to analyse the ways that different people perceive and respond to the world. Each of the texts promotes subjectivity as a contingent and powerful force that forms and, or, alters people's views of their world, its people and events that occur. The stories we tell ourselves as individuals, in families and as communities, build our personal identities and our values. It is important to remember that all the texts set for the Context are provided to support students as they develop ideas and arguments associated with 'Whose reality?' The assessment tasks do not require you to respond to any of the selected texts per se but to use them as resources for ideas, arguments and approaches.

Each of the two texts set for study present a conflict of ideas in different characters’ responses to interpretation of events and/or the author/director’s interpretation of events.

Barry Levinson’s Wag The Dog invites viewers to explore the relationship between the American political world and entertainment world. An imaginary stage-managed war, complete with digitally-altered atrocity scene, emotive soundtrack and manufactured ‘hero’, is created by a canny media production team in order to manipulate the voters in a presidential election. The political fixer and the presidential advisor work with the Hollywood producer to create their own unreal diversionary world in the two weeks prior to Election Day. It is a realm that manipulates not only the audience, in this case the American people, but also themselves. Ideas explored by this film include the compromises people make in the two professional worlds, the gullibility of the voting public, and the possibility that because technology changes our perception of what is real we can be fooled by politicians and others who have the money to ‘recreate’ reality

J.M Coetzee’s novel Foe is a retelling of the classic castaway tale Robinson Crusoe. In Coetzee’s version we follow the path of Susan, a female who washed up on Cruso’s island and took, both Cruso’s and, her own tales of adventure on the remote island to the ‘distinguished man of letters’, Daniel Foe (Daniel Defoe). This challenging historical retelling asks questions about the truth within storytelling and the role memory, both selective and not, plays in our experience of the past. This layered text presents the idea that experience, or reality, is open for interpretation and ultimately owned by no one.

Reading widely will help you explore and think about the varied ways that experience can be represented, recorded and interpreted, and become aware of how people read the world in a plethora of ways, and how these ‘readings’ are coloured by their own experiences, self-interest, the time and place in which they occur and the prevailing social and political values. Students should consider how some people in the community acquire the power to influence other people, and whether the accepted ‘prevailing wisdom’ can be or ought to be challenged. Two other texts on the course this year include Death of a Salesman and The Lot.

in Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller confronts the audience with a salesman, Willy Loman, who has sold himself a version of reality. The economic pressure to make a living, and the social pressure to conform to the values of a materialist society, have demanded that Willy Loman make himself into a man of his times. Miller’s salesman represent the fundamental character type of mid-twentieth century materialism, someone who truly tries to believe in the virtues of superficial appearances, persuasion based on flattery and cronyism. But Loman is a poor salesman, selling himself a poor product. His reality is terribly unstable. The play presents his lasts days, as his frail and unsuccessful identity and reality unravel.

Michael Leunig’s The Lot: In Words is written from the heart. Leunig writes frankly in his own voice about his take on life. He is an older, middle class, left leaning, white, male cartoonist who presents an offbeat view. Leunig moves through a broad range of topics and poses questions about the values underpinning commonly accepted policies and beliefs. He makes a point of disputing the accepted wisdom and challenging some cornerstone beliefs and icons of Australian life.

There are numerous links with the Context in Spies by Michael Frayn. These include how people cast a different light on events from their past, in turn showing how people's perception of events change over time. Spies also shows how pre-existing ideas cloud our understanding of the world. The allure of certain realities or worlds is looked at through Keith and the narrator's make-believe world. This pretend world may have dangers, but these are not as fraught with anxieties and problems as the real world. More importantly the novel shows how people are able to hold two separate worlds in their heads, even though they may be in direct conflict with each other. The psycho-geography of the world we live in is also questioned. There are layers of history under the environment we live in, layers that can be seen if we choose to look hard enough. The novel is also useful in showing how writers manipulate readers through the narrator, making them by turns reliable and unreliable. This unreliability is used to undermine the world the reader has entered into, which in turn makes the reader question his or her own understanding of the world.

Several films you could explore for your supplementary reading include Peter Weir's The Truman Show which portrays a central character who does not realise that his whole life is an artificial reality that has been constructed for the purposes of a television show and where all the people he meets every day are actors. Kaufman and Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, argues that a person's emotions and dispositions will remain a potent force in the way he or she perceives their reality and the reality of others, whatever technological interventions are made in an effort to change people's memories and influence their perceptions of experience. Robert Altman's The Player helps us explore questions about the ways that people make sense of other people's statements about reality and judge whether or not what they are being told, or led to believe, is the truth. At its most basic level, the film assists us explore issues and arguments relevant to the Context because the film's protagonist, Griffin Mill, seeks to understand and overcome various situations that he feels threaten him. However, he is worried that his perception of these things might be different from that of other people and he wishes to deceive others to forward his own self-interest. Viewers watch Griffin Mill 'read' and interpret particular situations while duping other people, successfully representing false realities as being the truth.

During your study of the Context, you should explore the idea that one's sense of reality is personal and particular, and therefore not always the same for everyone. Understanding the factors that make people view the world differently assists in promoting empathy for others' situations and should prompt us to question judgements that are based on singular, narrow interpretations about people and their behaviour, or events. The Context also invites you to explore how our perceptions of reality can be shaped by others, especially those whose voices are dominant, in ways that are not always healthy. This might apply to the extent that an individual might sometimes be forced to accept, and even adopt, a version of reality advocated by powerful people with whom one does not necessarily agree.

You are encouraged to identify and critique the forces that influence people's beliefs and ideas. Undoubtedly, you will also interrogate the ways that you personally make sense of the world, and begin to identify forces in your own backgrounds that led to those perspectives.

The Context might be approached in a variety of ways: from appreciation and understanding of how versions of what's 'reality' might vary from individual to individual, or culture to culture, as well as the possibility of creating new realities in your imaginative and creative writing. How can people see the world differently from us you might ask? How can different people see the same thing, and explain it in different ways? Why do people think differently from each other? Your study of this context might help you come to answers to many of these tricky questions.

back to top