By Jack Sparacino
There’s a famous old expression that’s usually, though apparently falsely, attributed to legendary showman P.T. Barnum that “there’s a sucker born every minute.” (More likely it was uttered by Barnum’s rival, David Hannum.) The statement itself may or may not be true, but there are certainly lots of us who are fairly discerning and can recognize baloney when we see it. Some interesting examples of this come to mind.
1. Some of my favorites involve food commercials on TV where the actors are clearly fake eating the product (yogurt, cereal, etc.). You see the item on their spoon, the spoon going near their mouth, and then the actor “enjoying” a wonderful bite of air. Related to this are cafeteria scenes from medical shows where several doctors and nurses are seated at a table. Everyone has food on their plate (or maybe fake food). It’s fun to try to catch anyone actually putting a bite of it in their mouth, chewing and swallowing it. Now if they weren’t hungry in the first place, that’s fine, maybe they could simply hold cups of coffee, tea or soda or just wave the food around for emphasis.
2. Another favorite of mine happens frequently in movies. One of the stars is supposed to be a musician. Often he or she portrays a pianist. Notice how often we “hear” them, or someone, playing but we never see their hands and certainly not their hands and face at the same time. When we do see someone’s hands, the motions bear no resemblance to the sequence of notes and chords. Even more amusing are “clarinetists” who look like they never before held such an instrument in their lives and who pathetically wiggle their fingers in desperation (I can say that after having played the clarinet for many years, but it is pretty blatant). And, of course, how many times have we been asked to absolutely suspend reality long enough to watch someone move their lips to someone else’s singing? When Jeff Bridges did his own singing in “Crazy Heart” we got a real treat. And he won an academy award for best actor!
3. And don’t get me started on the world of “faux.” Fake brick, butter, cheese, fruit, fur, leather, snow, gems, you name it. Even fake TV news shows! Not to mention knockoffs or counterfeit merchandise like watches, clothing and pharmaceuticals. One wonders if and when it ever ends, or was Barnum/Hannum really right?
So why does any of this matter? As one of my former bosses might have said, “hey, it’s show business!” Well, it matters for several reasons. For one thing, widespread fakery helps to create a culture where illusion is marketed as reality. The problem is, the line between fakery and reality gets blurred for some. Before long, people may wind up doubting much of what they hear or see, turning unnecessarily skeptical, even when it IS the real deal. Something like the boy who cried wolf on a larger scale.
For another thing, most of us like to be entertained by magic tricks and enjoy the experience. Other kinds of tricks? Not so much. And no one really likes to be manipulated to someone else’s advantage.
Now in the spirit of giving equal time, some fakes are actually a good thing. False teeth as opposed to no teeth. Fake violence in movies as opposed to the real thing. A good head fake in basketball. Not to mention scientific simulations, artificial hearts and limbs, and one of my personal favorites, artificial fishing lures. And how about fake Santas!
So maybe Sir Walter Scott had it right when he wrote, “oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” It’s good to know where the lines are drawn and why. So wouldn’t we all benefit just a little from a master directory of what’s fake and what’s not? A guide that distinguishes fake and bake from shake and bake? Hey, how about a phone app!
I’d hate to disappoint Sir Walter by not heeding his warning. Or Mr. Barnum. Er, Hannum.
By Jack Sparacino