(First published on Urban Times on 11th Jan 2012)
When the mass media came on the scene, they transformed the world with the way they disseminated information. Every corner of the globe was now within reach.
One of the results of the telecoms explosion was an increased focus on looks: how we came across suddenly became very relevant in our lives. How we dressed and behaved and spoke to others turned into a matter of scrutiny and debate, research and development. The modern person was as much about substance as the appearances that carried it.
Then came the digital age and everything got an upgrade. Not only was information being disseminated more efficiently and rapidly, it was also being generated out of thin air. Computer programs, such as Photoshop, could alter images in any number of ways, from color to tone to grain and shape. Editing programs could combine images from various pictures, creating new visual templates. CGI technology created animations that were as vibrant as the real deal, if not more. This was an artist’s world, given over to wild imagination.
With art, of course, came the obsession for beauty. Powered by people’s impulse to look good, and fed by the fashion and movie industries, which had a stake in selling good looks – or any looks for that matter, so long as they branded them properly – society gravitated toward a life of spectacular appearances that would make the hedonists of Ancient Egypt blush with embarrassment.
There was no limit to how stunning one could look. This was an artiste’s world, a model’s paradise, a performer’s dream and a producer’s fantasy.
There were plenty of them to fill the stage. Star after star paraded on the appearance catwalk in an effort to catch the light and make a good impression.
With beauty of course came her nasty cousin, vanity. Ugly but ambitious, and not taking no for an answer, this tricky vice came out of nowhere, pushing and shoving her way to the forefront. Her aim was to oust beauty and claim the limelight for herself.
She was successful. Everyone rose to meet and greet this young upstart, dazzled by her power and by the promises of fame and glory she threw around.
Soon beauty was nowhere to be seen. She had been buried under the razzle-dazzle of vanity’s fare.
A naturally shy and elusive virtue, beauty had in fact retreated away from the flashlights and into the sanctity of the unobtrusive. She would henceforth be seen only in glimpses, a passing apparition, a fleeting fawn dashing through the woods. On rare occasions one might run into her in some quiet, unexpected location, where she would be standing elegantly, looking majestic, but the slightest noise would scare her away, back into obscurity. So on went the chase, and on came the flashlights of the world, looking to capture the long lost beauty. Vanity was among them, hounding them, pestering them, entertaining the paparazzi, eager to stay in touch with the world’s eyes and keep her grip on her fan base.
Gradually, the hunt for beauty turned into a vain endeavor.
At first it was manageable. All one had to do was locate the clamor and steer in the opposite direction. Beauty would most likely lie somewhere quiet and pristine. But soon the whole place was inundated with noise, fueled by the continuing growth of the mass media, people’s obsession with beauty, and vanity’s grip on the world. Thousands and thousands of vain minions were roaming the land, vying for attention. There was no place safe from their vulgar fanfare.
So the beauty lovers of the world decided to change tactics. Instead of chasing after her in the remotest corners of the world, they turned round and addressed her deranged cousin in earnest.
‘Vanity,’ they said to her, ‘we are tired of chasing after a phantom, which was never too alluring to begin with. You are clearly more attractive and appealing. We have been fools not to recognize this from the beginning. Let us make up for lost opportunities and carry out an extended, worldwide shoot that will reveal your unique angles and capture your spectacular looks for the world to see and revel in.’
Ecstatic to be finally recognized as the new queen, vanity obliged. In the spotlight, with her defenses down, she let herself go and put on an insane show.
It did not fare well. Being herself only served to reveal her true, spastic, neurotic colors. Everyone saw her for what she was and made fun of her, in her face.
At first she thought it was a joke and continued performing for the cameras, pouting here, frowning there, flaunting her assets around. But soon she realized what was going on.
She had lost her audience.
The result was that she went mad. In a desperate attempt to win them back she turned her moves on even more, making everyone laugh harder. The show turned into an epic farce. Laughter echoed across the land, drawing attention to mad vanity. Even beauty emerged from her hiding place for a sneak peek. Smiling, she watched on. Her ugly cousin’s time was at an end. The world was once more ready to focus on substance, where true appeal resided.
Eyes open, mind sharp.