We live in a simulacra culture. Everything is fake, a fraud, a sham. There is absolutely nothing to believe in anymore. That was just reinforced last night when Lance Armstrong, a national hero who fought through cancer to repeatedly win the Tour de France, decided to stop fighting the doping charges against him. In the eyes of many (including the USADA), that is an admission of guilt. Stopping the fight against the allegations he took steroids is saying that his seemingly superhuman accomplishments were just that — that a real human could not possibly overachieve.
And that's the problem with any sort of accomplishment today. When anyone achieves anything of note, we can't believe it actually happened. We're a culture of skeptics, raised on cynicism and disappointment — even the man who inspired us to live strong is peered at with millions of side-eyes.
But our skepticism is understandable. This is the age of Photoshop, during which the bodies and faces of celebrities are morphed into something different, something unattainable. This is the age of AutoTune, where every single is so massaged with computers, we don't know if we're hearing Britney Spears or some robot interpreting her. This is the age of digital effects, when the images we see in movies are sculpted into magic. Nothing is real anymore. When we see an amazing photograph or scene in a movie, we aren't filled with wonder, but with curiosity as to which program digital engineers used to make it out of thin air. The very fabric of our reality is torn. When we see something that is supposedly documented in real life on a reality show, most times people don't believe that it happened. When everyone watches The Hills knowing it's a sham, how are we supposed to believe that even the crabs at the bottom of the Bering Sea are real on The Deadliest Catch? Just how does that show fake nature? (I like to think it doesn't, but you never know.) Even a show as beloved and mundane as House Huntershas been proven to be completely concocted for the cameras.
But our skepticism has bled beyond on-screen action. Not only do we believe celebrity relationships are a stunt for ratings or a pre-planned PR effort — hey, Taylor Swift does need more material for her songs — but we're becoming skeptical of nearly every star athlete in sports, an arena in which we esteemed people for their actual accomplishments, for their dedication, discipline, training, and God-given talent. The days in which we compared athletes like Michael Jordan to mythical gods are over — Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco made sure of that. (As did eventual tabloid reports that Jordan participated in illicit affairs.) And Lance Armstrong's scandal, which involves one of the most inspiring and beloved sports figure of the early 2000s, could prove to be the nail in that coffin. If the rampant steroid use doesn't destroy all the heroes in professional sports, than the increasted media attention certainly will. It's hard to stomach the prowess of Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, or Ben Roethlisbergerwhen you know that there is serial cheating, animal cruelty, or alleged rape off the field.
We simply can't believe anything we see anymore. Even when we find a hero (or think we do), we can't hold on to him (or her) for long. The only thing that's real anymore is our longing for something that is authentic – and that's because no one is giving it to us.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo credit: Wenn.com]