(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 at last within reach.
One of the results of the telecoms explosion was an increased focus on looks: how we came across suddenly became super important. 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 said substance.
Then came the digital age and everything got an upgrade. Not only was information disseminated more efficiently and rapidly, it was also 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 combined images from various pictures, creating new visual templates. CGI technology created animations as vibrant as flesh-and-blood reality, 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 the growing 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 its nasty cousin, vanity. Ugly but ambitious, and not taking no for an answer, this tricky vice came out of nowhere, pushing and shoving its way to the forefront. Vanity’s aim was to oust beauty and claim the limelight for itself.
Vanity was successful. Everyone rose to meet and greet this young upstart, dazzled by its power and by the promises of fame and glory it threw around.
Soon beauty was nowhere to be seen. It had been buried under the razzle-dazzle of vanity’s fare.
A naturally shy and elusive virtue, beauty had in fact retreated from the flashlights and into the sanctity of the unobtrusive. It would henceforth be seen only in glimpses, a passing apparition, a fleeting fawn dashing through the woods. On rare occasions one might run into beauty in some quiet, unexpected location, where elegance was prominent, majestic looks, but the slightest noise would erase it, shoo it back into obscurity.
So, on went the chase, and on came the flashlights of the world, eager to capture our long lost beauty. Vanity was among them, hounding them, pestering them, fighting for the attention, entertaining the paparazzi, eager to stay in touch with the world’s eyes and keep a 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 be found 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 of vain minions roamed the land, vying for everyone’s attention. No place was safe from their vulgar fanfare.
So the connoisseurs of the world decided to change tactics. Instead of chasing after beauty in the remotest corners of the world, they turned round and addressed its deranged cousin in earnest.
‘Vanity,’ they said, ‘we’re sick and tired of chasing after a phantom, which was never too alluring to begin with. You are clearly more attractive and appealing. We’ve 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 virtue, vanity obliged. In the spotlight, with its defenses down, it let itself go and put on an insane show.
Things did not fare well. With its guard down, vanity’s true, spastic, neurotic colors showed. Everyone made fun of vanity, pointing fingers and shaking their heads.
At first vanity thought it was all a joke, and continued performing for the cameras, pouting here, frowning there, flaunting its assets. But soon it dawned on her.
Vanity had lost its audience.
In a desperate, last-ditch effort to win the world back, vanity turned on the moves, but it made everyone laugh harder. The show turned into an epic farce. Laughter echoed across the globe, drawing attention to mad vanity. Even beauty emerged from its hiding place for a sneak peek. Smiling, beauty watched on. Its 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.