Thursday, April 25, 2013

"I sure hope folks don't
think I'm gilding the lily."

“What can you tell me about the video?”

“Well, I didn’t completely understand what I was watching at first, but all my Facebook friends told me that I just had to watch it till the end because it would … it would…”

“It would what, ma’am?”

“It would make me … cry.”

“And did you? Cry, I mean.”

“Yes, I did. But not in a bad way. It was a good cry because the message was so real. So … uplifting.”

“I’m not here to judge, ma’am.  Now, please give me a little more detail about this video.”
“Well, there were four or five women in it and they were asked to describe themselves to a forensic artist—a lot like what we’re doing here, in fact! But the artist in the video couldn’t see the women. After he drew their pictures, he asked other people—people who had spent some time with these women—to describe what they thought the women looked like. And … well, you’re just not going to believe this … the portraits that were based on how other people described these women were far more beautiful than the ones based on the women’s self-descriptions. It was so amazing. I’m getting verklempt just thinking about it.”

“Why’s that, ma’am?”

“Can’t you see? Our beauty-based culture has forced women to think they are less beautiful than they really are. You could see that these women had natural, physical beauty. But they just couldn’t see it themselves. There is just no wonder that this video has gotten a virus.”


“You know, been seen by millions of people. It is so powerful.”

“Thanks, ma’am. We’ll be in touch. Next!”

“This video was the biggest crock of sh— the biggest load of malarkey I’ve seen since Kony 2012.”

“How’s that, sir?”

“People think they’re watching a video that celebrates a woman’s inner beauty. But the real message of the video is ‘you’re not as physically unattractive as you think you are, so just go on out there and keep being as physically beautiful as you can be.’”

“I’m going to need some more details.”

“Cool, I took notes. Take this one gal. When she’s looking at the two portraits of herself, she says ‘Chloe’s perception was so, so clearly different. Her picture looked like somebody I thought I would want to talk to and be friends with … like a happy, light, much younger, much brighter person.’

“So if I follow her logic, she is more inclined to ‘talk to’ and ‘be friends with’ someone who appears ‘much younger, much brighter.’ Wow. She’s not just judging the book by its cover. She’s taking age into account, too.

“Now, I’m the first to admit that it’s possible that I twisted the meaning of her words in my typically cynical way. So I watched the video again and took more notes. The blond in the turtle neck says, and I quote: ‘I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children. It impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.’

“Your ‘natural beauty’ affects ‘how we treat our children’? Paging Steve Buscemi, Child Protective Services on line one.

“Look, this thing was a setup from the start. All of the women in it were physically attractive. The artist was in on the joke, and the piece was produced and edited explicitly to tweak our tear glands. What amazes me is that millions of people fell for it.”

“So what lessons can we learn from this experience?”

“Good question. First, gimmicks sell. As manipulative as it was, the premise of the ‘unbiased’ forensic artist was brilliant. Second, amateur-looking video is hot—even slick, expensive ‘amateur’ videos like this one. It makes the viewer feel closer to the action. And third … perception is reality.”

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