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Friday, April 29, 2022

Be All You Can Be, But Photoshop Yourself Before Release–The Art Of Making Fake News Real

Betty Landers had been a very unattractive little girl, frizzy hair, sallow complexion, and a singularly unsymmetrical face.  She had been called all sorts of names – Picasso was the one that stuck, for she did look a bit like his discombobulated, disorienting, deconstructed women.  Not that the girls in her class were so artistically savvy that they could have come up with this sobriquet on their own, but their parents were, and living in a community where the tensile sensitivity of the day had never taken hold, any comparison, no matter how specious or unjust, stuck.

Image result for images picasso women deconstructed

“I hate the name Picasso”, Betty had said to her mother who every day lamented the fact that her genes had gone awry and had produced this rather untoward looking child.  Mrs. Landers had been a model for Harpers in her heyday, had had many calls from Hollywood, but like thousands of beautiful women before her, she never quite made the grade.  There was something off about her screen tests, and while producers could never quite put their fingers on it, their common intuition ruled the day, and Rebecca Prentice as she was then known, remained in New England.

Although Betty did not inherit her mother’s looks, she did come out with her father’s brains.  Franchot Landers had been singled out by a Harvard mathematician for sponsorship to The School of Advanced Theoretical Mathematics in Los Alamos, had interned there under the tutelage of Professor Shmuel Leibowitz, renowned thinker and cellist.  However, despite his obvious talent, Landers could never see himself constantly scribbling equations on a blackboard, and so took his genius to Boston’s Silicon Valley East.

It would have been marvelous, said the Landers parents, if their daughter had inherited both her mother’s beauty and her father’s brains; but never mind since she used her intellectual legacy to fool everyone into thinking she was beautiful.  The art of the fake came naturally to her.

She of course had heard of Diana Vreeland and read her autobiography, and immediately recognized herself.  Vreeland by her own admission had been born ugly and remained ugly for her entire life.  Not only was she unattractive, but given the capriciousness of genetic legacy, she was the younger sister of a stunning beauty, a belle of the ball, her father’s favorite, and the most popular girl in town.  

Diana had had a tough road to hoe, but somehow saw how she could not only compensate for her lack of physical appeal but convince people that they were looking at a beauty.  She began what is now recognized as perhaps the most successful career in fashion ever.  As Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, she was America’s arbiter of fashion, influenced both American and European fashion designers, and was recognized as one of America’s best-dressed women.  When readers saw this perfectly-tailored, chic, sophisticated, classically-dressed woman, they thought she was beautiful. 

Image result for Images Diana Vreeland. Size: 150 x 222. Source: www.huffingtonpost.com

Anyone who looked closely or who had no interest in female fashion saw the equine, misaligned face she never disowned, but most observers’ eyes were diverted to look at hems, dress lines, millinery, jewelry, and scrim.  No one would ever have said, “Oh, that ugly Vreeland woman”.

Betty had also seen the Al Pacino movie, Simone, the story of a fading Hollywood producer looking for a comeback and who creates a virtual beauty, Simone.  With canny PR, great technical dexterity, and a sense of the dramatic, he introduces Simone – all pixels and electronics – to Hollywood as the next Marilyn Monroe.  

Despite increasing calls to see her in person, the Pacino character manages to keep her under wraps and expose her to the public only via live video.  He is her voice, her temperament, and her allure.  He is Simone, and the more he displays her, the more real she becomes.  Of course a willing suspension of disbelief is central to the movie, but no one watching Pacino and the increasingly duped press and fans cares.  The story is one of our times – all media, image, and illusion.

Image result for Images Simone In Pacino Movie. Size: 137 x 206. Source: www.dubman.eu

Betty was fortunate enough to have come of age in the era of Donald Trump.  An apolitical person, Betty was unconcerned about his policies or the accusations leveled at him.   She was only fascinated by his oversized, bigger-than-life persona.  He was a performer, a vaudevillian, a big top impresario, a lion tamer, an absolutely fascinating, riveting character unlike any American president before him.  He was a man of Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the mean streets of New York, skilled not only in the art of the deal, but the art of deception.  He knew that the truth was simply a relative commodity, that everything was subject to interpretation, and that a canny performer can fool most of the people most of the time.

Trump was simply upfront and honest about what other politicians had tried to keep hidden – showmanship, stage virtuosity, ego, and performance will always win the day.  His supporters caught on quickly.  It was not what he said – they loved his hyperbole, outrageous claims, ridicule, and ad hominem attacks – but what he meant.  Despite his public persona, his programs and policies hewed quite closely to classic social, economic, and fiscal conservatism.

Image result for images donald trump on campaign trail

Part of Trump’s image was the idea of ‘fake news’ – news invented or distorted by his enemies to promote their own agendas and to tear down his much more reputable ones.  The term, however, as it went viral morphed into something much more fundamental; and more to Betty’s idea of reality.  In the virtual, socially mediated universe, there could be no actuality; no verifiable reality; no absolute truth.

Image result for images fake news

Philosophers and behavioral psychologists have always been aware of the impossibility of pinning down reality.  Browning, Durrell, and Kurosawa all wrote about or produced works which displayed the subjectivity of the observer – different stories told by different people who had presumably experienced the same event.  Behaviorists who studied the phenomenon of the ‘eye witness’ concluded the same thing – people witnessing an alleged crime will report seeing it differently.  

Despite the religious fundamentalist’s belief that the Bible is the very word of God, most others read it as a witnessed account which, ipso facto, must be subjective.  In fact Biblical studies at Protestant seminaries focus on exegesis – how can one arrive at some semblance of truth by parsing every line of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and comparing them? 

Bishop Berkeley questioned the nature of reality when he asked, “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound”; or even more fantastically, do we exist only in the mind of God or some other superhuman intelligence?

Image result for images The Ring and The Book. Size: 150 x 239. Source: www.abebooks.co.uk

So armed with all this historical, philosophical, social, and above all cinematic evidence of the reality of fake news, Betty remade herself. She created a social media persona that was of her own design, conducted job interviews virtually as expected and required of employers in the age of COVID and manipulated every visual cue to her advantage.  

The technology of which she had become a master became her tool, and she became a Simone.  All her meetings were held on Zoom or Google Meet, and thanks to her assiduity, there was never any inconsistency; and then, a la Diana Vreeland, when she did make forays in public, people saw her as she had presented herself online, not as she actually was.  Of course she went out of her way to disguise as far as possible any Picasso remnants of visage, but it was people’s expectations which ruled their vision.

As she became more well known and political in her own right, she began to sound like Senator Palantine, the fictitious politician running for president in the Scorsese movie,  Taxi Driver.   “We are the people”, he says, repeating the tag line of his campaign over and over again and goes on to say that we the people will finally govern.  We the people will take the right and true road.  We the people are on a path of righteousness; and by the end of the movie he is saying absolutely nothing.  Yet his fans are delirious with support for him, the candidate they had always hoped for.

Betty had learned how understanding the fathomless gullibility and idealistic reach of people was in her favor.  She had only to weave a tapestry of good feelings, appropriate sentiments, and heartfelt nostrums.  The more she appealed to people in these simple ways, the more she was admired.  Her Picasso face was entirely forgotten.  In the magic of subjective gullibility, images are fungible.  Her silver tongue, sweet blandishments, and happy talk became one with her now beautifully perceived face.

Her career was stellar and she was appointed to many Boards of Directors, prominent positions in foundations and advocacy groups, and was persistently approached for a political career.  Let it be said, of course, that Betty Landers was a supremely intelligent person, so her supporters and admirers were not getting an empty suit; but for all intents and purposes she was an intellectual cipher, carried on the winds of popular opinion and all the happier for it.

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