Contrived Nation!

By Kurt Borne

January 16, 2014

“We are what we pretend to be.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Doesn’t anyone live for the sake of living anymore?

ContrivedNationOr do we live our lives through the prism of, “How can I get some momentary ‘fame’ on Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram?”

How do you live your life? Is yours a real life, or a contrived life?

I fear that between television and Internet media our mindset is changing toward the latter…particularly among our younger generations.

This sad phenomenon touched my last nerve recently when Fox News anchors, who were discussing dangerous tornadoes that had hit somewhere in the Midwest, showed one man’s home video. In the video, the man was filming the tornado that was bearing down on him. On the audio you could hear the man praying the Our Father out loud. Fox News anchors apparently thought it was just…so…wonderful that this man had the “courage” and the “faith” to pray the Our Father in the face of the tornado.

And of course, Fox just happened to have the man on standby to interview him about his “extraordinary faith and courage” just the day before.

I’m thinking, “Is anyone seeing this for what it really is? Or is it just me?” Here is what I saw and heard:

  • Desperately lonely man sees tornado approaching.
  • Instead of thinking like a “real” person and heading for shelter, he thinks to act in a contrived way, saying to himself, “Hey, I’ll do something to get myself on TV!”
  • Man videos himself emotionally praying to the Almighty while the tornado approaches.
  • Man (somehow) survives said tornado.
  • Man sends video to Fox News, the Weather Channel, and probably a number of other TV outlets hoping to garner his 15 milliseconds of fame.
  • Fox News producer gets ahold of the video and decides, “Awe, how special.”
  • And the rest is history.

Another example of our contrived nation happened just a couple of weeks later, when a New York City police officer’s “random act of kindness” was somehow (mysteriously) picked up by, once again, Fox News. The anchors had the very officer in the studio to talk about how he gave his sweatshirt in a random act of kindness to a homeless man on a bitterly cold day.

The only problem? The officer and his partner had about a dozen photos of the “random” act. During the interview, Fox showed nearly a dozen photographs of the homeless man from different angles and poses (pre-sweatshirt, post-sweatshirt, with one officer, then the other…).

Now granted, this may have started out as random, but it soon became a contrived production. I wonder at what point (the 5th or the 12th photo?) the officer and his partner started thinking about sending in their photos to various newsrooms.

Please don’t get me wrong. My point is not to pick on Fox News, nor to bash religion or charitable acts. Anyone who knows me will understand that that’s not where I’m taking this. These just happen to be the two most recent examples that broke this camel’s back.

There isn’t enough space on the Internet for me to write out all of the examples I’ve witnessed over the past few years.

Let’s try this out. Raise your hand if you have seen – or perhaps even been guilty of – at least one of the following in just the past month:

  • Embellished vacation experiences on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
  • Embellished “Night on the Town” on FaceTwitterStagram
  • Fake or at least exaggerated outrage over some social injustice (that the person probably, if they were being honest, couldn’t care one wit about), and again, on FaTwitterGram
  • Taken waaaaay too many Selfies in only “Happy Places,” and of course, plastered all over FTG

I think for too many of us, we are hoping that our contrived behavior will fill our emptiness. But in fact it only displays it.

Don’t get me started on the reunions of military men and women with their kids/spouse/dog/goldfish. (And before you slam me with your faux outrage, let me say that I’m a veteran, and my son sets sail himself later this year. So stow your contrived outrage about me being anti-military.)

So back to my point…

Yes…YES! We get it. These military videos are cute and feel-good, but only the first 1,137 times. Come on people! Enjoy your reunions authentically…together…as a family. WHY DO YOU NEED THE REST OF US TO GIVE YOU KUDOS? You don’t even know us. Why do you need our approval?

And let’s not forget the endless number of contrived marriage proposals and wedding party choreographed dance routines, all for the slobbering YouTube masses and a moment of faux fame. (I wonder how many of those marriages last longer than the choreography took.)

Here’s an idea. Upload a YouTube video of your 25th, or 50th, wedding anniversary. Now that would be impressive! Try to fake your way through 50 years of loyalty and union.

BucketListAnother recent straw that broke my back was a Yahoo! article entitled, “Incredible Ideas for your Bucket List.” Really? Here’s a clue. If you need an unknown Yahoo! reporter to give you ideas for YOUR OWN BUCKET LIST, well, you’re doing life wrong. Even something that should be supremely personal – a list of things we want to do before we die – we are now faking. Are we that void of original thought and feeling that we need others to create our bucket list? Lord help us.

You get the point. These examples of “contrived living” are as endless as the number of YouTube videos + Instagram pics + Facebook posts combined.

I once attempted to put a stop to this nonsense in my own little Facebook world. I dared to bring up a genuinely heartfelt, but admittedly prejudiced, belief of my own that I was struggling with in my REAL personal life. You should have heard the outrage. The general suggestion was, “Kurt, Kurt, real thoughts, feelings, and experiences have no place here. You silly man.”

So it was back to rainbows, lollipops, and unicorns.

I guess this phenomenon is older than Facebook and YouTube. I first wanted to blame the infamous 1980s “lip synching” duo Milli Vanilli for being the first to pass off fake lives as authentic. But I realize that it goes much, much further back than this.

My favorite story is a novella by Leo Tolstoy called The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I love it because it revealed to me in stunning fashion that as far back as late 19th century Russia, mankind has been obsessed with “putting on appearances” for his neighbors, friends, and anyone else he feels the need to impress.

But even that is relatively recent compared to biblical times. Ever heard of the Pharisees? “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long.” Matthew 23: 5.

So I don’t know where to go from here. How do we make it stop?

Maybe with recent examples – like “video tornado praying” – we are reaching a level of ridiculousness that will wake us up.

Our modern marvels of media, unfortunately, have only served to accelerate this phenomenon that is as old as mankind. And I suppose the impetus for it is our insatiable attempt to “keep up with the Joneses” or to fill our otherwise empty lives.

I can’t decide which of these reasons is more “authentically” sad.

“What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself.”

~ Roland Barthes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s