Week 30: Illusions



The world you see around you is an illusion. This illusion surrounds all of us, in movies and magazines, storefronts and sermons. It walks by you on the street and it’s told to you in stories. You can’t escape it. 

Let me let you in on a little secret. No one looks like the girl in the Calvin Klein ad.  Even the girl in the picture does look like that. She’s a product of a team of art directors, makeup artists, wardrobe and lighting designers, the photographer, and others. The shot they choose is most certainly the best one out of hundreds they shot. And even the best is put through the Photoshop wringer.  The relationship is manufactured, the setting is manufactured, the emotion is manufactured.  All of which is to get you to think you need something you don’t. And that something is almost certainly manufactured as well.  I work in advertising, I know all about it.  And more and more I see right through it, and hate myself for being part of the lie.

At a Yankee game a few weeks ago with my cousin, there was a middle aged woman sitting a few seats to the right.  She was wearing a Yankees hat, eating peanuts, and even keeping a full scorecard of the game.  I true fan I’d imagine.  And even though we were 250 feet away from home plate, she’d yell things to the players such as, “You can do it Jerry!!  Just one more strike!” and so on.  Why?  Jerry can’t hear you.  Even in an empty stadium, he couldn’t hear you from this far away.

There she is, buying the memorabilia and tickets, and yelling support to the players and all I can think is that she’s gotten taken for a ride.  The players don’t care about this lady.  They don’t care what she’s saying.  They’re trying to play baseball well enough to ensure their 5 million dollar a year salary. Which is paid by the business that is the Yankees organization, whose revenue comes from people like this lady who are fed the illusion that they’re part of something bigger than they are.

I was in Milan last week, surrounded by smatterings of good-looking, well-dressed people, to which my mother commented that they looked nice and that I should dress like that.  Her comments got me thinking about why people go through all that trouble. I mean, I clean up nicely, if I have to at big meetings, weddings, funerals.  But spending the time and money to look really sharp just doesn’t mean that much to me. I mean, what are the benefits? 

Number 1 on the list would have to be to attract other people. This one is pretty obvious. Everyone knows that pretty people get pretty people.  However, I don’t primp for more than 30 seconds a day and I seem to do ok with the ladies. Plus, if someone liked me for my made-up persona, isn’t that false advertising for when they see you fat and naked coming out of the bathroom the next morning?  I’d rather a woman be sold on me without any extra layers of preparation.

I say that number 2 is status.  “Hey look, Diane is wearing Prada shoes, she’s so cool!”.  Not sure what to say about this one, except that people who are impressed by such things should go find a tall cliff to walk off of.  This extends to people who get further in business because they look better, and not because they produce better.

Or number 3,  maybe it’s just so that people say what my mother said. “He/she looks so nice”. But what is the real meaning of that?  Do I want someone to stand in front of my dead body at my funeral and say, “Ya, but he sure did look good in those suits.”?  To each his own, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not spend the time I’ve got left on such things.

And it’s not just ‘things’ which are an illusion, because in many ways, that suit or that car is selling a lifestyle.  And lifestyles are almost certainly illusions. Do you want to be a rock star? Or a princess? Or a supermodel? Or just one sexy bastard? Want to be Brad Pitt in Oceans 11, or Sarah Jessica Parker on Sex and the City? I guess the bigger question is whether the lifestyle was created to sell the products, or the other way around.

But look at the people around you and you'll hear all kinds of amazing stories about them. Tom and Nancy seem so happy in there big house, and Tom has such a great job.  Next thing you know Tom and Nancy are getting a divorce and it turns out that Toms cheating because Nancy is an alcoholic.  All you ever hear are the good things until the bad things successfully bubble up to the surface.  The illusion’s always better on the other side.  So don’t take yourself too seriously or worry too much about your problems in relation to others, because they most certainly have their own, and they’re probably worse.

Another place is current events. Compare the stories on CNN in America with CNN International and you'll see that they paint a very different picture. A lot more stories about the results of American actions, and other stories about places around the world we rarely hear about. The difference is stark and it's all very Orwellian. For a taste of the other side, take a look at http://news.bbc.co.uk/ every once in a while.

Now you’re probably reading this and saying, “We know all this Bill, stop preaching like we’re idiots”  And you’d be right, I’m pretty sure everyone realizes this stuff, and yet there are multi-billion dollar a year industries that are proving me wrong.  You might not buy the illusion, but someone is certainly buying the stuff the illusion is selling.

Look. A diamond does not last forever, that’s just what DeBeers who controls 90% of the world diamond market wants you to think. Living in Woodbury, CT doesn’t guarantee you a happy home life. And being from Maine has nothing to do with the water of Poland Springs. These are just the made up gospels of the modern religion of consumerism. And has about as little to do with reality as stories about a man parting a sea in Egypt 3000 years ago.

Don't take my word for it, look around you, and do take everything you see or read with a grain of salt. And then after some objective thinking, make up your own mind.