What is real?
Photoshop. Corruption. Hacked bank sites. Charity scandals. Reality TV. Botox. Do you ever wonder what’s still real? In the States they even use the phrase ‘with real butter flavor’ on packages of fake butter! How long before this plastic fantastic creeps into Dutch lives? My experience tells me it won’t be long. I recently saw an appeal in the ‘Allerhande’, Albert Heijn’s (Hollands biggest retailer) magazine: ‘What annoys you?’ I emailed an example of coffee chains that mention on their paper cups that they are made of recycled paper and therefore save trees, only to stick two cups together for a single cup of coffee! I was invited to participate in the column ‘How stupid, how useful’ and we set an appointment for the photo shoot straight away. I was welcomed with the words: ‘Hi Esther, this is your towel, please stand over there for the picture.’ Towel???’ Turns out they wanted to feature me in the magazine with the following irritation: ‘I regularly buy sets of towels and it annoys me that you first have to wash them a couple of times before you can use them properly.’ Now I have never bought a towel in my life and I am known as a digital nomad without a permanent place to live or stay, so I thought it was entirely unsuitable for me. And anyway, the only reason I was doing this was to get some attention for the environment. ‘Why can’t we do the shoot with my own comment?’ I asked. ‘Albert Heijn wants the column to be real, so we have interviewed real people. But hey, those real irritations were not always approved so we decided to select the stories ourselves,’ was the reply. Right. They wanted things to be real… ?!? In the end I was featured in the magazine with a comment about make-up cloth, but I am ashamed I gave in. Much of what we see in magazines and on TV, is faked. I never watch TV, but I really enjoy watching the auditions for talent shows on the internet. All around the world, people with special talents and frequently wonderful stories are being discovered. Unfortunately, I know from my experience as a participant in ‘Survivor’ that what you see on TV isn’t necessarily real. A shot of someone alone and deserted on the beach? Many people simply don’t know that just out of sight there are always a cameraman, sound engineer and reporter. The talent auditions also seem perfectly planned and filmed. Questions by the jury are mulled over so often that the effect is maximized. They seek out heavy emotions in the contestants and then magnify them. It does elicit emotions in me, but I know at the same time I am being manipulated. The sting is often in the details. In the film ‘Adjustment Bureau‘ a presidential candidate who was massively praised for being so ‘natural’ tells the story of how a great deal of money had been spent on research to show just how ‘unpolished’ his shoes should be. They had to be just polished enough not to lose the well-educated voter, and nonchalant enough to appeal to the average laborer. We have known for years that politics is fake, but the fact that this sort of detail is faked really touched me. The food industry goes the whole hog. Did you know that the wonderful taste of truffle oil doesn’t come from truffles but from a waste product from… oil refineries? And that the cheese on pizzas and in lasagnas doesn’t come from cows but from palm oil plantations? And that fat-free food contains additional sugar and that sugar-free food contains additional fat? Check out the reports by the FDA for more examples of how we, as consumers, are being fooled. While writing my book on ‘Have you found your Mr. Wrong yet’ it became clear that even love is not all that it seems. For the chapter ‘Is your boring bookkeeper as reliable as you think?’ I collected statistics and stories from so-called ‘silent waters that run deep’, which shocked me considerably. I then realized that my life is not all that it seems either. My own relationship with a former (?) playboy is enough food for thought in itself. Is someone a sum of his or her past or can people change? Personally, I generally act quite ‘macho’, independent and ‘in control’ while I also have my doubts and sometimes don’t know whether I am coming or going. That’s why I have been horribly honest with myself in the book. Very scary. The incident with the Albert Heijn magazine opened my eyes. I consider myself a wet towel that I let myself be convinced to take part in the shoot even though it was totally irrelevant for my objective. It was a good lesson. I promised myself that I would not take part in other people’s games anymore. Mr Wrong or boring bookkeeper: I am not going to let myself be misled any longer. However well his shoes are polished, or however good the truffle oil tastes. How real is your world? ‘Reality is that which doesn’t go away, when you stop believing in it‘- Philip K. Dick