I just got an email from the President of the United States. For real. OK, well, probably more like faux real. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a clue I exist, but there his name sits in my inbox: President Barack Obama.
Don’t get me wrong—I like the president and want him to lead our country successfully. I just struggle these days with the unreality of my world, the faux nature of so much of our culture.
When I first gave up my email address to presidential candidate Obama’s campaign website, it seemed exciting to track the ups and down of a historic election. Now, however, the missives seem hollow, not unlike the pleas Macy’s dumped in my inbox regularly during the holiday season, claiming to have the biggest, best one-day sale with the lowest prices ever recorded in the history of department stores, even when tracing their origin back to medieval markets of yore, and begging me to please buy something, anything— immediately, today, before midnight!
The best sale I found at Macy’s was quite by accident two weeks after Christmas when my teenage daughter and I searched in the eleventh hour—without coupons or email encouragement—for a dress for her to wear to a wedding the next day and located not one, but two at 80% off! Ah, yes, the joys of pounding the faux pavement of a mall in a faux fashion emergency.
Television is, of course, rife with reality shows that are as unrealistic as, well, real life. Newscasters cast not news at the camera but faux feelings through slightly pained glances and a downward head tilt. Bad news brings on the unconvincing winces while the feel-good stories garner their best fake giggles.
I’d give my eye teeth to see an anchor, local or national, bust a gut laughing at something genuninely funny or even at the absurdity of what they are doing. But what constitutes funny in a world gone glib, I’m not sure.
I’m good with some faux, though. I have faux wood blinds adorning my windows. They look the part and were half the price. I can think of lots of products from leather-look purses and fake fur coats to silicon countertops that spare the expense, save the environment, and prove just as functional or fun to the consumer.
Maybe faux is a safety valve, a way of protecting ourselves from the harsh reality we face, especially when we elect not to face it. At my house, we call artifical sweetener “fake sugar” because when my son was a preschooler, I didn’t have the guts to admit that I was adding by choice some toxic powder to my cereal and coffee. Once he hit high school chemistry and noticed its conspicuous absence from the periodic table, I’m pretty sure he was on to me.
But I guess I draw some line around communication, desperately wanting it to be authentic and to somehow mark a real exchange between human beings. Even when I toss off a “You, too,” when the cashier at the grocery store says, “Have a nice day,” we are both present in that moment, and the exchange, while not necessarily very deep or meaningful, is a way of acknowledging that: we’re here together in this transaction, we’ve crossed paths as human beings, we can express some measure of civility if only by wishing each other well.
I understand fully the importance of context, which is why I could listen to the State of the Union address and understand that the president is speaking to the entire nation, not just me. But when his email begins, “Dear Mary,” I feel let down; it seems disingenuous, like I’m getting junk mail from the president.
Should the president really need my input or help, I am at the ready, though I certainly hope there are scores of experts he’d consult before he tried me.