Really Living in an Artificial World

by Azreel | August 18th, 2003

Reality TV, the bane of many television watchers, has hooked millions more on watching “real” people interact in “real life”. Our world is a world dependent on plastics and all the wonderful derivatives of this amazing material. Clothes, furniture, fake wood, vinyl leather, PVC “pleather”, and a variety of fake “natural” products have been replaced by this multi-purpose material. Foods too have been replaced with their better than real counterparts. Genetically modified corn, cloned bananas, artificially colored apples, artificially scented strawberries, and foods with artificial fat substitutes fill the shelves of our grocery stores.
Day after day we are sold products to enhance our looks. We are sold items giving us super white teeth, sunless tans, hair weaves, hair removal, flawless skin, larger breasts, flat abs, and perfectly shaped buttocks. The media has also helped to create a hyperreal world. We are shown the extremes day after day. World’s most dangerous animals. World’s most dangerous police chases. World’s biggest disasters. All presented for our prime time viewing pleasure. Even local news outlets focus on the biggest news stories – murders, disasters, scandals and the like make up the average newscast.
We are fed a constant barrage of reality enhancinng products. Every day, we create a more and more artificial world. But what IS real? What we call “artificial” is still real – it still exists in what we call reality. You can touch it, hold it, taste it if you like. By all definitions, such things are real. Even the disasters paraded across our TV and computer screens by the media are real – if not distant to most of us.

Philosophers have argued for millennia over what reality IS. Parmenides, Heraclitus, Plato, Leibniz, Socrates, Descartes, Kierkegaard, Sartre and Heidegger all pontificated on the concept of reality. Author David Boyle feels that what we call “real” is changing, and he comments in his book New Realism that “Everywhere we look, there is a barely recorded struggle happening between real and artificial” that “…may be a clue to the way the future is going to be.” And many believe he may be right.

Bass pounds out of the door of a club, luring in the party crowd. Women in vinyl pants stretched tight over surgically enhanced buttocks coax the doorman to let them pass the line. They flutter fake eyelashes and tap acrylic nails. That well tanned blonde over there with the bulging D cup and her waist length hair? She’s not. She’s actually a brunette, her real hair is actually about six inches shorter, and the breasts are all silicone. Three sessions a week at a tanning salon help her maintain her bronzed body. And if you look closely above the waistling of her pants and below her faux fur halter top, you can see the tiny scars from liposuction. A flock of other women, all trying to look like the latest heavily airbrushed glamour magazine cover, haunt bars, offices, clubs, and restraunts on a nightly basis.
Walking up to one I ask, “Are those real?”
“Oh no,” she assures me, “They’re better than real.”

Such has become the mantra of the 21st century. Better than real. Cleaned up. Perfect. Jean Baudrillard is credited with the introduction of such concepts as ‘hyperreal’ and ‘simulacra’. He helped to develop the idea that things can be better than reality.

Movies and TV media tell us how dramatic life always is, portraying action, disaster, passion, betrayal, and dram in a non stop montage of ever flowing images. But we seem unwilling to accept this extreme portrayal of reality, tending back towards Reality TV, where things still may not be natural, but ARE real in so much as they portray real people working without scripts. We also react harshly when the film screen presents itself in real life. When the real disasters strike, we are stunned, seeming unable to accept the hyperreal cum real situation. Slavov Zizek commenting on the psychological effects of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 people said of americans, “Its citizens were introduced to the “desert of the real” — to us, corrupted by Hollywood, the landscape and the shots we saw of the collapsing towers could not but remind us of the most breathtaking scenes in the catastrophe big productions.”

But why the transition from unmodified and natural to hyperreal? Aldous Huxley may have hit on the answer in his book Brave New World.

“Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes; to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport. For, of course, it was essential that they should keep on going to the country, even though they hated it…

We ARE a society of consumers, taught to always want things bigger, better, and more perfect. Nature no longer provides us with products that meet out ever increasing demands. We want clothes that are warm, yet loose and breathable. We want bronze skin without ever seeing the sun. We want to stay forever young, wrinkle free, with hair that never falls out or goes gray. So, we are forced to improve on nature. We change our reality, and then when we long for that touch of the natural and wild, we bottle it up and keep it safe in parks, zoos, and indoor malls with plastic plants, painted concrete lagoons, flourescent and artificial UV lighting, machine generated waves, pump powered streams and rivers, perfectly clear filtered water, and tamed animals that have never roamed free in their natural habitat – if such a place has not already been clear cut or industrialized.

Cultures too have been jeapordized by our rush for the hyperreal. Since the beginning of civilization, cultures have risen and fallen. Some to be recorded and remembered, others falling into oblivion – swallowed up by time and change. The industrial age brought about an era of the most rapid technological change in all of recorded history. With the rise of travel, telecommunications and the internet, cultural barriers have been brought down. We are increasingly homogenizing the myriad of cultures on our planet into a single global culture.
Indigineous people the world over have been assimilated into the global melting pot, and been replaced with fake plastic recreations found only in tourist traps, museums, and in rare cases on tiny reservations and parks. In some cases, it has been a necessity of their survival – if giving up your centuries old way of life can be called survival.

All these things ARE real however; in as much as they exist in the same way to anyone who percieves them. Simply because something is not naturally created, but was instead modified by human hands, does not immediately make it fake or not real. In creating more and more of our world out of artificial products, we are not getting farther away from reality, we are simply changing reality. In fact, the process of humans modifying the world can be described as natural. We are doing what comes naturally to us. Plastic, after all, comes from the earth, as does every other material we label as artificial. Artificial flavorings used to create the fake banana taste in candy come from wood extracts. And wood is a natural substance. So is the flavor created from it really artificial? Moreover, is it “not real”?

Disney World is still real, in so much that it is real packaged simulacra

The Guardian has an article on David Boyles book New Realism mirrored below.

Saturday August 16, 2003 The Guardian

Friday night, midsummer, and the air is thick with the smell of fake tan. The honey-limbed lovelies are out on the razzle in a blur of high heels, faux-Vuitton handbags, and hoicked-up bosoms. They flick their highlighted hair hither, thither, and rat-a-tat-tat their false nails on the counter, trying to catch the barman’s eye.

They are, of course, faking it, like latter-day sirens, bewitching the unwitting, when underneath the layers of St Tropez and Sun-In they are pale-skinned brunettes, 5ft 5in in their bare feet, flat-chested and stubby-nailed. Our infatuation with the fake is a puzzling thing. Turn left out of London’s Baker Street station, and you’ll see the long, snaking queue for Madame Tussaud’s. This is Britain’s most popular tourist attraction. Each year, some 2 million people shell out £20 to stroll about the staggering array of waxworks. On a hot Monday afternoon it is swimming with French schoolchildren. They hover, slightly nonplussed, before Ant and Dec, and pace around Kylie Minogue, who is paused, mid-prowl across a grand piano, her neat little derrière upturned towards the ceiling. And as they stand, stock still, enraptured, it is hard to tell who are the real people and who are the waxworks.

Unravelling the real from the fake is an activity that is also occupying the thoughts of David Boyle. In his new book, Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin And The Lust For Real Life, Boyle embarks upon an appraisal of the battle between the two. “Everywhere we look, there is a barely recorded struggle happening between real and artificial,” he writes. “[But] far from experiencing the last twitches of the real world, I believe this struggle may be a clue to the way the future is going to be.”

Accordingly, he treks to Ocean Dome in Japan, where, within spitting distance of the Pacific ocean, a company named Phoenix Resorts has spent $1bn constructing an enclosed artificial resort, complete with 13,500 tonnes of water, a white-pebbled beach, and the strains of Swing Low (Sweet Chariot) piped through a speaker system. After a good hour spent writing postcards and wandering around the replica volcano and the artificial palm trees in garish orange swimming shorts, Boyle folds his towel and heads back to the “real sunshine” outside. He has been somewhat bolstered by his experience. “If you look around today,” he tells us, “despite Ocean Dome and McDonald’s and Microsoft, the real world has been fighting back.”

I picture Boyle, smiling brilliantly, triumphant in the face of all this fakery, and I feel a little sad. I don’t know that we are fighting back at all; I fear our connection to the real has, like some great umbilical cord, been cut. In the foreword to Authenticity, Boyle heaves out a quote from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: “Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes; to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport. For, of course, it was essential that they should keep on going to the country, even though they hated it… ”

Boyle quotes the passage exultantly, as an example of a world that will only ever exist within the confines of literary fantasy; after all, who could ever conceive that we might abolish the love of nature?

Dr Alan Hirsch phones me from the airport. He has one of those deliciously twangy American accents you recognise from the movies, and it carries across the crackling phone line and over the hum of distant travellers milling about behind him. Hirsch is the managing director of the Smell And Taste Treatment And Research Foundation in Chicago. In September 1991, he interviewed nearly 1,000 men and women chosen at random in Chicago, asking which odours they found inspired feelings of nostalgia. Hirsch discovered that those interviewees born before 1930 cited mainly natural smells, such as pine, hay, horses and meadows. Meanwhile, those born after 1930 were more likely to mention artificial smells, such as marker pens, Play Dough and baby powder. Hirsch also found that while those born before 1960 liked the smell of freshly cut grass, those born between 1960 and 1979 actively disliked it, associating it with the “unpleasant necessity of mowing the lawn”.

In a separate investigation, Hirsch tested 20,000 people to see whether they preferred the smell of real or artificial leather. “An overwhelming proportion preferred the smell of the artificial,” he says. “So, in the US now, leather seats in cars are impregnated with the smell of artificial leather.” I laugh at the preposterousness of the idea, but Hirsch has hardly begun: “Grape juice doesn’t smell of grapes, and people prefer that. Flower shops are scented to smell of flowers. Even scent-free soap is scented.”

The list goes on: Hirsch tells me how perfumiers often add a smell akin to baby powder to their scents, to evoke a sense of nostalgia in potential buyers. How supermarkets bump up the sales of their bakery goods by releasing the smell of newly baked bread into the store, how cinema foyers are scented with the smell of fresh popcorn, and cookie stalls ensure that the air around them is perpetually laced with the sweet scent of chocolate chip cookies. In the US, he says, the lingerie chain Victoria’s Secret employs a special kind of floral pot pourri throughout all its stores to give a uniform, instantly recognisable scent to the brand. Even artificial plants are being put in parks, because it is too costly to maintain real ones. “Artificial,” Hirsch concludes, “is now the norm and is the expected.

“I would predict that we are only at the start of it,” he says, a mixture of trepidation and excitement in his voice. “It will increase as we develop the capacity to produce certain aromas and non-real foods. We’re just on the threshold of all these things happening. The artificial will replace the real, because we as a culture have grown to endorse it.”

But we will lose something in the process. As we continue to endorse the artificial over the real, those primroses and landscapes of Huxley’s Brave New World will grow increasingly gratuitous. “We lose this connection with nature,” concedes Hirsch, “which may perhaps affect the environmental movement. Who cares about the natural world when people are nostalgic for the synthetic?”

What is this “real” we will be so unceremoniously ditching? Is it “real” free-range eggs and organic cauliflower, proper ale and the smell of manure? Is it dirt under your nails, the great outdoors and life without the constant blinking distraction of the television screen? As professor of media and culture at Syracuse University and former president of the National Popular Culture Association, Robert Thompson is perhaps better placed than most to define what we mean when we describe something as real.

“When the 20th-century naturalist novelists and playwrights had this idea of wanting to be more ‘real’ they included dirty cups and saucers on stage to communicate that texture of daily life,” Thompson says. “In 1971, when US TV decided it wanted to ‘get real’ with the series All In The Family, the character of Archie Bunker would go to the bathroom and you’d hear the flush. People had never seen that on television before.”

Even on our screens today, EastEnders is credited for its “gritty realism”, though one could easily speculate that plotlines such as a notorious crim falling head-over-heels with an undercover policewoman, and someone tumbling into a canal while looking for a condom, are a far cry from most of our own humdrum experiences of reality. The real reason we believe EastEnders to be more realistic than, say, Neighbours, is because EastEnders is miserable as sin: an endless procession of squally-mouthed characters trudging through their sludge-coloured lives in the dog-eared environs of Albert Square.

“To many people, ‘real’ means the street and dirty dishes,” says Thompson. “But these things are no more real than a tidy house and sparkling plates. It’s because for so long we associated those things with the superficial world of novels and how things were portrayed on TV in the 1950s. We view the gritty, heartbreaking scenes as real because they are so different from the utopian ideal.”

In theory, reality TV, with its fly-on-the-wall cameras and its bona fide actual people, ought to grant us an unfettered view of real life. But, of course, its execution is a little more calculated than the name implies. “Reality TV is really a terrible name for it,” agrees Thompson. “On one level, it’s every bit as artificial as everything else – the whole thing is contrived. But,” and here his voice grows a little hopeful, “what you pour in is people without scripts, and what results then is something closer to reality. You’ve left these cracks into which reality can seep. In the case of reality dating shows, you get to see all the ugly, stupid, inarticulate behaviour you never get to see Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan do, except in the most charming of ways.” I can hear him, smiling down the line at the thought, presumably, of Sleepless In Seattle.

Ah, Meg Ryan. Ryan, as anyone who has ever seen When Harry Met Sally will assure you, is the queen of faking it. As you read this, thousands of women are making like Meg, emitting a sound like a hurdy-gurdy because that’s how we feel orgasming should be done. It’s like a form of sexual karaoke, with a tune more popular, even, than I Will Survive.

When Cosmopolitan magazine was launched in 1972, in a flurry of relentless chatter about fabulous sex and sure-fire tips to earth-shattering orgasms, it was seen as an example of women’s new sexual liberation. However, 31 years later, a survey commissioned by Ann Summers found that 80% of women regularly fake orgasm. Previously, one has to wonder whether women would have even bothered faking it. Now we fake it for the benefit of our feckless sexual partners, and, crucially, we fake it for ourselves, because we feel that it’s what we should be doing. If all else fails, the Worst Case Scenario Handbook even offers a series of foolproof steps to faking an orgasm, including such sage advice as, “You may say your partner’s name over and over. Many people, in the thralls of ecstasy, will blurt out sentences or requests that are utterly incomprehensible: try this occasionally.”

When multimillion-selling rap artists, resplendent in floor-length chinchilla, umpteen gold medallions and diamonds on every finger, claim to be “keeping it real” what, precisely, do they mean? “What they are saying,” explains Thompson, “is that ‘here you are going to get the raw truth, sex, bad language, violence. This is where the rubber soles of your Nikes hit the street.’ Because rap lyrics and videos have a documentary quality, they’re ‘real’. But of course,” he admits, “it is no more real than a Britney Spears record.”

“I’m Real,” purred Jennifer Lopez, recently. Jenny presumably retains her “real” credentials because she is (a) from “the block” and (b) in possession of a proudly large posterior. Yet there are some things about Jenny that aren’t so real: I know, for reasons that disturb me, precisely which fake tan she uses, which foot cream, which styling products smooth those treacle-coloured locks. I’ve seen pictures of her, back in the early days, when she was a pallid brunette with unkempt brows.

Of course, the cosmetic industry was never about reality. Over the years, we have performed the most ridiculous rituals in the name of beauty – powdering our faces with lead, for example, crayoning on fake beauty spots, and lacquering toenails startling shades of scarlet. But there was a time when one at least used to pretend that the collar and cuffs were matching. Nowadays, most women wear their blatantly dyed locks as a sign of status. We are caramel one season, mahogany the next, anxiously inspecting our roots to check whether our natural colour is creeping back, like mould. “Hair colour has become an essential part of a woman’s beauty routine, to the extent that hair without colour is like a face without make-up,” declares hair colour doyen Daniel Galvin.

And in truth, I am always vaguely surprised when I meet a woman who doesn’t colour her hair. The ridiculousness of this does not escape me, nor does the stupidity of the fact that I myself have brown hair, which I dye brown. It is, of course, my firm belief that I am dyeing it a superior shade of brown. Galvin explains, “We colour hair to make it even more beautiful than nature intended.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, hair dye was limited to henna, with the resulting colour an unapologetic shade of red. Consequently, dyeing one’s hair was deemed to be the behaviour of a harlot. When Galvin began working in salons in the 1960s, he found that only about 10% of women would have their hair coloured, and even then it was largely with the intention of covering grey hair. “I realised then,” he says, “that there was a lot of potential for hair colour.” He began by using solid blocks of tint, but by the 1970s had progressed to highlights and outlandish, unnatural shades. Today, Galvin says, hair colouring is the number one request in salons.

We are almost as averse to seeing our skin in its natural shade. For all the much-touted pale skin pioneers, such as Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Erin O’Connor, the majority of white women still crave the Californian sunkissed look. Given that we live in the UK, and that our national skin colour appears to be an unappealing shade of porridge, faking tans is the logical answer. Tanning salons consequently remain popular, despite continued health warnings that suggest usage might be linked to skin cancer. In a recent study commissioned by Au Courant fake tan, 2,000 women aged 16-65 were asked about their attitudes to tanned skin. More than three-quarters felt a tan was important, making them feel more attractive and more confident. A little less than half admitted using fake tan products. Around the globe, meanwhile, a bottle of St Tropez fake tan sells every 10 seconds.

We still want the effect to be real. Few of us wish to look as if we have been a regular at the tanning salon, have had our teeth whitened, or had nips and tucks. Take Mary Archer, for example, who wanted her cosmetic surgery to look as though she hadn’t had surgery at all. Even Cate Blanchett is said to use a product called SK-II Deep Whitening Clarifying Radiance Emulsion, which makes skin paler. All of us are faking it, to some extent, and as a result there exists between women an unspoken contract of fakeness.

One fake beauty trend which has slipped furtively across the Atlantic is false nails. Once deemed unfailingly naff, they have now acquired a curious respectability. The longer and more talon-like one wears them, the more kudos one can expect to receive (although, admittedly, the less one can be expected physically to achieve with one’s hands). Over the past decade, the number of nail salons across the US has increased by 374%. The industry now represents $6.4bn and employs 300,000 people.

Likewise, between 1997 and 2002, the number of cosmetic procedures carried out in the US more than doubled, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. In 2002 alone, almost 6.9m procedures were performed, the top five being liposuction (372,831), breast augmentation (249,641), eyelid surgery (229,092), nose reshaping (156,973) and breast reduction (125,614). On top of these came non-surgical procedures such as Botox, collagen injection and chemical peels.

Apostolos Gaitanas, a specialist cosmetic plastic surgeon based in London, has also noticed a steady increase in demand for cosmetic surgery on these shores, estimating a rise of 10%-20% each year. One of his most popular procedures remains breast augmentation, which costs between £3,700 and £4,200, depending on the size. “Most girls are wanting a large C to a small D,” he says. “It takes about an hour, and they spend the night in hospital.”

We are, says Thompson, “churning out fake repros of the human body, just like we did with the model T Ford.” He recalls the advent of mass production, the cars flowing off assembly lines, and the introduction of the Levitt-town suburbs, where, “one model house was produced many times over, in contrast to former notions of architecture, which was all about building a single building with a name. Now you had this notion that this stuff was totally anonymous.” Thompson’s comparison rings eerily true. It seems the cosmetic assembly lines of the west are manufacturing batch after newly pressed batch of identical blond, buxom, snake-hipped and trout-pouted women.

“Plato would have absolutely loved it,” Thompson laughs. “He had the idea that out there in the heavens there was the perfect example of, say, the apple, and that every apple on earth was an imperfect copy of that apple. But now technology is allowing us to enter Plato’s heaven.”

The antithesis of cosmetic surgery is arguably self-harm. Figures from the Mental Health Foundation show rates of self-harm admissions have increased dramatically in the UK over the past 20 years. As many as one in 10 young people deliberately self-harm, and the number of admissions of young men harming themselves has almost doubled since the 1980s. In Welcome To The Desert Of The Real, Slavoj Zizek argues that self-harm, or cutting, “represents a desperate strategy to return to the real of the body… Far from being suicidal, far from indicating a desire for self-annihilation, cutting is a radical attempt to (re)gain a hold on reality.” Certainly, the most potent image of self-harm is the photograph of Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers, who had, into the flesh of his own forearm, carved the words “4 Real”.

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the cosmetically enhanced individual from the real McCoy – after all, not all women with boob jobs look like Jordan; not all women with the genuine article are kind enough, like Jodie Marsh, to provide the relevant signage. A similar problem faces the grocery shopper. “Most processed foods contain flavourings, they’re a ubiquitous ingredient,” says Ian Tokelove, a spokesman for the Food Commission, “but people often don’t realise how widely they are used, because they’re not listed on the packaging.”

In fact, there are 5,000 different types of flavour compound, falling into a variety of different categories: if your strawberry yogurt is labelled “natural strawberry flavour”, it means it came from an actual strawberry. If it is labelled “natural flavouring”, it means it came from a natural source – quite feasibly wood, which is a popular source of flavourings, and far cheaper than strawberries. Anything labelled “artificial flavouring” is obviously synthetic, and anything labelled “nature identical” is also synthetic, but even under a microscope you couldn’t differentiate between that and the natural flavouring it mimics.

“Our big argument [against this] is that they’re replacing real food with nutrition-free chemicals,” says Tokelove. “Kids today are exposed to artificial ingredients from the start. A real banana tastes nothing like an artificial banana taste. But the artificial taste is stronger.” And if, perhaps, you have been exposed to artificial banana for the majority of your young life, when you finally eat an actual banana it may come as something of a disappointment. It’s less sweet, for starters, and secondly, it doesn’t taste so intensely banana-y. Artificial flavours just taste louder, and more powerful.

“This whole era of fake has taken away the power of the original,” says Thompson, in the tone of a man who doesn’t believe this to be an altogether bad thing. “You could take the Mona Lisa and, relatively cheaply, reproduce it so the only people who would know the difference would be art experts. Why not,” he suggests excitedly, “have a museum of fake art in every city?”

Earlier this summer, Tom Morton co-curated Bootleg, an art show at London’s Spitalfields market. It showcased works by artists such as Cerith Wyn Evans, who displayed a pencil portrait of himself, drawn by a Leicester Square street artist, and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who showed a bootleg of a bootleg – a recreation of the early 1980s Cramps psychiatric hospital gig that has been circulating as a bootleg for years.

“The show’s title was chosen for a number of reasons,” says Morton. “I wanted it to speak of devalued things, like fake Louis Vuitton handbags, or the dodgy ‘Rembrandts’ in the dark halls of every minor English stately home, and things that are special precisely because they are bootlegs, like the illegal recordings of Smiths concerts available at Camden market. I also wanted to speak of the action of faking something – bootlegging. It seems to me that this action of faking has a political content.” Morton is taking a swipe at that ol’ bugbear, global capitalism. “At a time when western companies are aggressively pursuing consumers in developing nations, while taking advantage of these countries’ cheap workforces, the production and purchase of fakes can be seen as a political act,” he concludes, with a flourish.

Another jubilant faker is Eddy Temple-Morris who, along with fellow DJ James Hyman, presents The Remix on London’s Xfm radio station. The show specialises in bootlegs, the fusing of two seemingly unrelated records to create a glorious hybrid. Perhaps the most well-known example was the bootleg that married Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head with New Order’s Blue Monday. Kylie herself performed this genetic mutation at last year’s Brit Awards.

“If you buy a fake handbag or a fake CD or DVD, it’s clear and obvious that the original is going to be better,” says Temple-Morris, who, incidentally, has a voice like an exuberant golden retriever. “But if you listen to our show, that’s not the case – a record can be much better than the sum of its parts.” He cites Freelance Hellraiser’s A Stroke Of Genius – Christina Aguilera vs The Strokes, as a prime example. “The fact is it’s loads better than Aguilera who provides the vocals, and even loads better than those New York trustafarians The Strokes.” The next one to listen out for, he advises, is Ray Of God, which melds Madonna and the Sex Pistols. “It’s only two minutes, and it totally captures the energy of punk. It’s actually had the thumbs up from both Madonna and John Lydon.” The big record companies are irked by this behaviour but Temple-Morris is unrepentant. “It’s outshining stuff that record companies are spending thousands of pounds on,” he says gleefully. “It’s power to the people!”

They started the show three years ago. Now, they are inundated, receiving nigh-on 200 bootlegs a week. They delight in their non-hierarchical attitude to the mixes they play. “We’ll play something a 15-year-old called Podgemaster, who’s been listening to the show since he was 12, has made in his bedroom, followed by something Fatboy Slim has made in his slightly bigger bedroom in Brighton,” he chirrups.

Does he think of the records as fakes? “No,” he says instinctively, and then pauses. “It’s like a kid is just a genetic mix of two parents. And in many cases, the child outshines the parents.” Perhaps the only way to accomplish the real is to unapologetically fake it.

“One could argue that US popular culture plays an important role in popular culture around the world,” says Thompson. “One could also argue that US culture is characterised by its artificiality… that the entire New World settlement was, from the beginning, a blurred copy of the world it left behind. From the beginning the New World revelled in the invented, the fake, the synthetic. The urge to annihilate history and reinvent self has given rise to a society of the simulacrum.”

Arguably, this “society of the simulacrum” has been forged largely by capitalism’s agenda to increase our desire to consume. The more these fakeries are marketed as necessary to our lives, the more we will spend to acquire and uphold them. So one might envisage that there might be, entwined with the surge of anticapitalist and indeed anti-American feeling, a movement against the fake; a resurgence of the real.

Certainly Boyle would argue that this is the case, citing as evidence the thirst for “natural” and ethically sound products, our increased desire to experience “authentic” tourism and the growth of the organic food movement. In 2001/02, UK organic food sales reached £920m – a 15% increase on the previous year. In the same period, the area of fully organic land in the UK increased by 91% from 240,000 hectares to 458,600 hectares. The real will rise again, shouts Boyle and, as a rallying call to arms against the artificial regime, he quotes John Betjeman’s 1937 poem, Slough:

Come, bombs, and blow to smithereens Those air-conditioned, bright canteens, Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans

Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Zizek, the social and philosophical commentator, would perhaps find this an apt quotation. He argues that, like self-harmers, a desire for reality manifests through a violent action. “Is not so-called fundamentalist terror also an expression of the passion for the real?” he asks. “Is not its goal also to awaken us, western citizens, from our numbness, from immersion in our everyday ideological universe?” He cites the attack on the World Trade Centre as the obvious example. He also suggests, however, that such a dramatic, violent action results in something of a paradox – the action is not in itself reality, so much as providing a spectacle to draw attention to the real, or to quote Karlheinz Stockhausen, “the greatest work of art ever”.

One could even argue that the seeming return to the real in the increased passion for organic produce and natural foods is itself mere artifice. Perhaps it is just another way of making us buy things, the latest trick up the sleeve of capitalism, the words “organic” and “natural” placed, like dirty saucers, to make us feel as if we are getting the real.

With the majority of us born after 1930, we are of a generation weened on a diet of synthetic smells, tastes and colours. We have a dwindling connection with nature. The seasons pass us by in one long centrally heated, air-conditioned, unseasonally stocked blur. Even our experience of war is not guts and gore, but viewed on the small screen, with fancy graphics and fuzzy-edged news reports.

We expect to view life permanently in Technicolor and, when faced with the murky hues of reality, we cushion our disappointment with Prozac, psychoanalysis, talkshows. We have grown accustomed to the bountiful factory assembly lines, to the advertising hoardings and magazine spreads showing airbrushed fantasy homes, holidays, women. Our expectations of how life should be are bigger, brighter, bolder than reality could ever hope to be.

But is this necessarily such a bad thing? We’ve got strawberries that taste more strawberryish than the real thing; we’ve got bosoms that don’t jiggle when we run for buses; we’ve got hair like Rapunzel, tans like Barbie, and records that supersede the songs they bastardise. Perhaps this is just a new era, a bootleg of the real, outshining its parents; perhaps, after all, this is a brave new world.

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