Tuesday, December 30, 2008

When reality isn't real enough. Part 2.

Some years ago in California, I took the long, guided version of the Universal Studios tour, and I recall being quite impressed by the presentation on sound-effects and allied tricks of the trade. Among other things that day, I finally learned who or what the "Foley artist" was in a film's closing creditsthis, after a lifetime of wondering. It was fascinating to watch the little ruses these specialists use to get just the right sound, and I was shocked to discover how low-tech so much of this is (or was at the time, anyway. For example, to mimic the clatter produced by a cantering horse, a guy would drop down on all fours and clop around on different surfaces with wooden shoes on his hands till he got it just right). What I remember most specifically is the presentation on gunshots and the noises employed to evoke same. You see, the report of most actual guns, the sound-effects guy explained, "isn't loud enough or dramatic enough for the director's purposes. It's too much like the description you always hear in news stories, when witnesses aren't even sure at first that what they heard was a gunshot. 'The pop of a firecracker.' " He smiled. "The director wants you to be sure. He wants a robust, room-filling, resonant sound, typically with some degree of echo to it." Which explains why just about every gun fired in a movie or on TV, even those sleek, tiny jobs female villains withdraw from their purses, end up sounding like Dirty Harry's .44 magnum.

Think about that for a minute. We can't use the sound of the actual thing to represent itself in a film, because it
's not loud or dramatic enough. The actual sound made by the actual thing is not convincing. We're talking about devices that are capable of ending a human life in an instant, and we need a fake sound to keep us interested.

This also explains, in part,
why The Beautiful People, men and women alike, are never quite beautiful enough. Their photos need retouching...as do their physical faces and bodies. The results of the latter endeavor sometimes are so laughable (if not downright hideous) as to make a mockery of the honest beauty the individuals in question once had; see under Priscilla Presley (top) or Wayne Newton (who today somewhat resembles Schwarzenegger in Terminator, except that Ahnold's eyes came out looking better).

No doubt this same phenomenon helps explain why people making decent money and supporting themselves and their families in perfectly adequate fashion need to buy things that blow the budgetcars, clothes, watches, jewelry, whateverto make themselves look even more successful than they are. It used to be that if and when you attained wealth, you started accoutering yourself with the things that wealth can provide. Credit cards changed all that. Now we want the trappings of wealth even if we don't have the actual "condition" of wealth (which, of course, most of us don't).

I find it both ironic and tragicomic that it's
not enough to own a nice-looking purse to carry the money you don't have; it has to be a certain kind of purse. (Chew on this one a while: Some of us will pay twice the price of a "normal" handbag in order to get a fake version of an expensive handbagat half price. WTF??) Othersthis is typical of young menwill look down their noses at a reliable new car that gets good gas mileage and has a bumper-to-bumper warranty in order to drive, instead, a (very) used "status" car with no warranty that guzzles gas, has a history of breaking down, and incurs prohibitive repair costs when it does. As I explained in last Friday's piece for the New York Daily News, America enjoys the distinction of having one of the lowest saving rates in the free world. Let me amend that: We don't really have a saving rate. Not anymore. As of 2005, we began spending every dime we earned and then some, as each of us pursued our own personal vision of Eckhart Tolle's Now.

We're bankrupting ourselves and driving ourselves crazy in the rabid pursuit of the inauthentic. On last night's episode of Momma's Boys* a young woman tearfully explained to one of the Mommas that she'd put herself $136,000 in debt by trying to "be the best me" she could bea process that apparently included relentless shopping for showy clothes she couldn't afford, a nose job, Botox (the lass is all of 25, I believe), and two breast enhancements. To be clear: I don't simply mean that she had both breasts done, which of course is the usual. I mean that she had both breasts done twice. Once again I was mindful of a question I've posed a number of times on SHAMblog: If, in order to "be the best you that you c
an be," you have to become someone/something else...are you still you?

Which brings us, at long last, to self-help. If you think about it, SHAMland sells unreality packaged as reality. It is forever telling you to inhabit a world that is not the world that palpably surrounds (and characterizes) you. Consider, for example, one of the cornerstones of modern-style Empowerment: affirmations or self-talk. I am rich, I am powerful, I make my own rules. Those things are not—in the present momenttrue. But you're counseled to think and behave as if they are (often, I would argue, to your detriment). Even in Tolle's case, the Now that he famously urges upon his disciples is not the literal Now, but a conjured, idealized one. It's a Now stripped of its negatives, or with its negatives spun so as to deny them or rationalize them into oblivion.

Today's Empowerment sells a faux world of limitless possibility (false, or at best misleading) where you take the leap (dangerous) and the Universe promptly rewards you (as if!).
We'd do well to remember that immersing ourselves in the Now won't prevent consequences Later: little things like, say, bills and babies.


This example just occurred to me, and it's another busy day, so rather than figure out how to integrate it into the post as a whole I'm merely adding it as a postscript. But this abandonment of the true Self in order to embrace some communal, idealized version of "self" is, in the end, pointless and self-defeating. The example that occurred to me is the Movado watch. Once upon a time, maybe a decade or so ago, owning a Movado was considered special; the watch, or "timepiece," was a status symbol. Now, every married woman I know owns (at least) one. So we're back to square one again. It's as if no one owned one. The culture moves on to the next toy/trinket that serves as an artificial index of "worth."

* OK, I admit it, I watched again. But at least partly, I was looking for fodder for this post.


Anonymous said...

Are you telling me my Rolex means nothing?

There seems to be a backlash to all this fakery and consumerism though. There is a movement called "simple living" cropping up. Basically, you get rid of everything and only live on what you need. It is not a new concept, but it is getting traction again. When I was a kid, it was called being poor. Poor is the new black these days.

I have many students now who do not own televisions and just live off their computers. They want to get rid of those too, but computers are in their DNA. They are forever asking me questions about the '70s and if I was raised in a commune. I was just a little girl for most of the '70s and my mother used the television as my babysitter. It was on from dawn until the test pattern came on. I can tell them about the days before cable and rabbit ear antennas, which is of little interest to them. I know more about the '80s and the Reagan era, but they don't care about that.

Most of these kids come from pretty affluent families too. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

Cal said...


Is this backlash a result of the economic crisis we are living in? Because if it is, I don't think it will last. I remember some of these same stories in the early '90s. These views didn't last when the students started working and earning money. (The most recent recession in the earlier part of the decade, for some reason, didn't have similar sentiments. Maybe it was because of 9/11, and our collective goals of getting Osama and Saddam.)

That's why I have my doubts that this will last. Some of these kids may feel a little guilty because they were part of the lucky sperm club, but I'm not sure they will want to totally give up the trappings of wealth. I know I probably wouldn't.

This brings me to what I originally was going to write about. There was an old line years ago that went something similar to -- many women had fake hair, fingernails, breasts and yet they say they want a real man. And this was before the Botox and facial plastic surgery craze. Who knows what anyone looks like...really? I know when I see these actresses, TV anchors, etc., I always wonder what their real hair color is or what they look like without the makeup. I know men just basically color their hair, wear hairpieces or get tans. (Although you have the Wayne Newton's of the world.) And, I almost forgot, get some Viagra.

Science hasn't figured out how to change everything. For instance, if you are a short man you can't take a pill and become 6'3". But women can choose the characteristics of a sperm donor.

My point is the current crisis may cause some of these trends to stop temporarily. But it's like the oil crisis of the '70s. Many people traded in their gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles. But how long did that last?

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, I think you make a number of interesting and provocative comments.

But hey, don't dump on Viagra. You'll be old and limp someday too. ;)

Cal said...

I don't need to be old...I can get it from the college guys...LOL

Elizabeth said...

Steve, another very good post (IMO) -- straight for "The SHAMblog Classics" file.

Even in Tolle's case, the Now that he famously urges upon his disciples is not the literal Now, but a conjured, idealized one. It's a Now stripped of its negatives, or with its negatives spun so as to deny them or rationalize them into oblivion.

An *excellent* point, one that hardly anyone ever brings up. (Actually, I can't recall anyone else doing it.) Something definitely to mull over.

And, BTW, here I have a deja vu moment, for it was almost a year ago when I joined SHAMblog, just when you were discussing Tolle. To think of it, it was your review of Tolle's book on Amazon.com that brought me to your blog. [A coincidence that some regret, no doubt. ;)]

The pics of Presley "before and after" are simply stunning. There is no resemblance "after." She looks like Heath Ledger's Joker in "The Dark Knight" there...

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is a fad, but some of these kids are building cabins out of boxes. Literally. I know I would never do that. Who can really say if it will last? Does anything really last? I think everything is a reaction to something else.

My 20 year old stepson dropped out of college to climb for a living. I said "do it now, because one day your body will fall apart if you try that. There will be colleges when you're done climbing, but you won't have the youth and body to climb later." My stepson wants to sleep under the stars and get rope burns. Why stop him? I'm not one of his parents so my opinion does not count. I admire his chutzpa.

You can't even go green by your car. Did you know hybrid cars are more toxic than gas run ones? Yep, those cars are only good for a couple of years and then the batteries get chucked. The batteries do not turn into flowering flowers, but contaminate the soil. I think I will keep my Honda. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I do not think it is just the economy though. I think this is a reaction to consumer bombardment. Easy credit, easy bake ovens, easy lives, etc. A lot of these kids think life was "simpler" back in my day. I don't think it was simpler, just slower.

I dye my hair, wear Spanx, contacts, had all my body hair removed with laser, and get my fake nails done faithfully. I have been offered Botox, but I fear needles.

My husband does not look bad for 49, but he is short. He went grey early so that's all I have ever seen of him. He still has the same bags under his eyes that he had when I met him. We can't afford to have them removed. We have three young children, because I thought I was too old for birth control. He does not need blue pills yet, but they are covered under his insurance.

He has never seen my natural hair color, except for a picture of me when I was six. We are as "real" as can handle of each other. I think a little "illusion" is good for a marriage. I doubt my husband would want to wake-up to Big Foot's girlfriend every morning. Now that I think about it, that could have been a form of birth control.

Elizabeth said...

P.S. I don't own a Movado. (Gosh, I am so square...)

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Re Presley, what makes it all the sadder: Was there ever a more lovely face, beforehand?

Anon: To show my boundless capacity for seizing upon the most lowbrow aspects of a much more ambitious, well-thought-out comment: Did you know there's a new form of birth control, for teenage boys, that's 100 percent effective? Yes. It's a patch. They wear it on their shirts, and it reads:


RevRon's Rants said...

"Did you know there's a new form of birth control, for teenage boys, that's 100 percent effective?"

Always has been. It's called a hovering, well-armed father. Just ask my daughter. :-)

And speaking of ruined beauty, has anyone else noticed a change in Emily Procter of CSI: Miami? Got her lips pumped, and it's far from an enhancement. Sigh... another masturbatory fantasy dashed. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Ahh, Ron, so many directions we could go here. But your mention of Emily Proctor reminds me of how sweetly adorable was Norma Jean Baker, once, before the Hollywood type-casters got 'hold of her (and, in fairness, before her own blond ambition kicked in). I've also had any number of people of both genders go all incredulous on me when I pointed out that Pam Anderson, pre-Lee (and pre-silicone), was a very pretty girl in the classical sense.

But you know, we guys have our share of gender embarrassments, too. In addition to Wayne, there's Burt Reynolds. And Larry Hagman. And Robert Redford, who seriously-- seriously--needs to get rid of that Sundance Kid hairstyle once and for all. (It's time, Bob, in the unlikely event you're reading this. It was time 20 years ago!)

You wonder: Don't these celebs have any close friends, maybe from the old neighborhood, who are willing to sidle up to them or just call them on the phone, as any good friend would, and say, "Yanno, Burt [or Lonnie or Pam or Wayne or...], just stop it now. OK? Just say no. Before you end up like Michael Jackson."

Anonymous said...

Dustin Hoffman is still hot!!! I don't think he has had anything done either. He sure puts Robert Redford to shame. I say short men rule!

Anonymous said...

What I was trying to get at with my rambling post was the fact, I am being me with fake nails and dyed hair. I am not a grey haired 30 something women who eats granola and does not wear deodorant. I would not be me if I started wearing Birkenstocks and began eating tofu. My family would think it was invasion of the body snatchers! Especially, if they saw body hair where it does not belong.

I think in the cases of the ex-Mrs. Elvis and Playboy Anderson, all those two had were their looks. Neither has much else to work with. Neither one has gone beyond the surface from what I can tell so what do you really expect from them? Some people are just skin deep.

I'm just being me with my Rolex!

Elizabeth said...

Emily Procter, you say -- oh my... Yes, I just checked out her pics with this new pouty-wanna-be mouth. Well, she joins a long and dubiously distinguished line of actresses, including Lara Flynn-Boyle, Melanie Griffith, Meg Ryan, Nicole Kidman and others.

Hm. I recall having a similar look once after a particularly painful dental procedure, which required several numbing shots, gleefully administered by my all-too-obliging, sadistic dentist. And as disturbing as it was, my husband's reaction to this semi-paralyzed puffed up look was distinctly favorable. Go figure.*

Anon 6:16, nice post, especially the conclusion.

P.S. Redford looks good, no matter the haircut, IMO.

*I suppose it helped that I was unable to talk for a while. Yeah, that's probably where the charm was.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Steve and the comments gang, let's hope 2009 brings ever more brilliant posts and discussions.


Steve Salerno said...

Londoner: Hmmm. "More" brilliant posts/comments implies that we've already achieved some brilliance along the way. It's a nice thought.

Elizabeth said...

Londoner, thanks! Happy and healthy New Year to you (and you are some 8 hours closer to it than we are -- you're almost there! :), to Steve, and to all fellow Shambloggers.

Cal said...

Does the Madoff scam have any link to SHAM? It was a Ponzi scheme, but it was the opposite of the previous ones in history. Instead of promising outrageous returns, Madoff promised a slow and steady rate of return. That's why it raised very few flags. Although many of his investors were extremely wealthy, it seems they were just trying to follow the rule of 72; and if Madoff made 7% per year, their money would double in 10 years. Madoff's promises sounded like a version of Warren Buffett's preachings to me.