Do we make our own reality?
Do we make our own reality? If I was talking to a Bucdhist monk, he might say nothing is real... and he would be right. My question, however, is spurred by two incidents, watching the play Great Britain at the National Theatre last night and walking past a picture of a well-known Hollywood actor promoting women's jewellery. Both these occasions pushed me to think about reality in terms of media portrayal. Do we want it or is it given? The age old 'supply and demand' query.
In Great Britain, the play covers the recent history of a struggling tabloid's rise to success by discovering how to hack phones. Through the conduit of this paper, it marks the ensuing tale of events from hacking royalty, seized documents being hidden, collusions between the Met Police and the tabloid etc... you get the picture. In my opinion, the story is really cleverly written and even more cleverly directed - it is actually political satire at its best. Old school true cabaret. Through the subtle line of narrative and teetering on the brink of knowingness and so nearly moving through the fourth wall, the play poses a question involving the hacking of phones involving two child murders.
Billy Piper's character asks whether the tide of opinion change from villain to hero if the paper had actually caught the perpetrator? The answer for me is a resounding yes. She goes on to say that people don't give a shit about who gets hurt in the collation of news, as long as it is delivered as fresh kill to our doorsteps every day. I concur. Such is our appetite for news, gimme gimme gimme more. We lap it up. I can't walk past a magazine if I spot a 'KARDASHIAN FLIES TO MOON FOR WEDDING' headline. It pulls me in and like junk food it just leaves me craving more.
With this fresh in my mind, I open up my magazine at 6am this morning whilst waiting for a plane and I see a glowing picture of a mid-40s actor. She beams out of the magazine, her face truly angelic. I cannot fault it. The woman looks fantastic. I then have to remind myself... this lady is at least mid-40s. Women do NOT look like this in their mid-40s, they just don't. Every time I watch Kristen Scott Thomas in a film I think she looks great and she looks like her age. It heartens me and yet saddens me that she is such a rarity. I ponder, why are famous women now so polished and buffed to appear on screen or sell a product? Well here is a conundrum - a company wants to market their jewellery at the market that will buy it. The market that will buy it is older because they are more likely to have the money so the brand needs to get a women who is around the expected age to be wearing such creations.
Nothing wrong at this point. The problem is they will need to get a women, famous preferably, who is older yet also 'aspirational'. It is now not enough that a women is deemed successful because she is known to be at the top of her game in a certain field. Now success needs to be tied in with youth and agelessness. These companies want women who are supernatural.
Ageless women who are so aspirational why would you NOT want to buy the product to be like that? The problem with this is that THIS IS NOT REAL. It is no different to genetic engineering of cows to produce bigger, leaner and more amounts of meat. We are playing with creation or at least the concept of what it is to actually live. As always, this is driven by money. Designer labels, fashion magazines and ad agencies have created these surreal, freakish paintings of women. The dangling carrot, always there but never quite obtainable.
Both Great Britain and this Hollywood jewellery campaign bring up questions about reality and more importantly who is driving the fabrication of this. In the case of the print media, I think responsibility can rest equally between news corporations wanting bigger and bigger bucks and the insatiable appetite of the modern Western human condition for news, preferably bad, and certainly instantaneous. Its real life Eastenders and we want to be wholly on top of the plot.
In terms of the aesthetic portrayal of women to be something attainable, responsibility lays at the hands of labels and advertising agencies and fashion magazines. What is promoted as healthy and all encompassing and desirable is actually unobtainable. This isn't adhering to the human condition, this is exploiting and manipulating it for monetary gain. The only reality going on here is a lining of the coffers. Lets not forget however the participants in front of the camera. Do these people hold a social and moral responsibility? If I was a woman and got an offer to be the face of a brand, a whopping great pay cheque and maximum exposure for my career, would I turn that down to appear actually looking my age in an advert for rescuing newts in Bulgaria or selling a new floor mop for these would be the only adverts I would get? Then I think my human condition might take over. If it isn't me it will just be someone else and why should I lose out. It isn't my fault.
A master practitioner in Tai Chi said to me once (funnily enough in an airport) that "the only reality is that there isn't a reality". Well, regarding the portrayal of older woman in fashion, he certainly got that right.