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Selling Impossible Dreams

Selling Impossible Dreams

Issue 68 May 2010

Is our politics airbrushed like the front covers of a glossy magazine?

 

Yes, it’s true, you too can be perfect. L’Oreal can give you the perfect hair, Oil of Olay can give you perfect skin, and Ralph Lauren can dress you in the coolest clothes.
You too can be like the perfect models in their adverts. You just need to believe in the dream, and oh yes, cough up a few pennies to buy the products.
Thick glossy hair created by L’Oreal products, demonstrated by Cheryl Cole; smooth wrinkle free skin under your eyes courtesy of Oil of Olay, as seen on model Twiggy, and a hip outfit demo’d on skinny models at Ralph Lauren.
Cole spends up to £200,000 per year to achieve her beauty, of which hair extensions are a regular cost. L’Oreal don’t feel it is misleading for her to promote their products even though their shampoo could never give the look of Cole’s extension-enhanced hair. The Advertising Standards authority said this level of deception was acceptable because for two out of the thirty seconds of the TV advert, in small writing, it indicates that ‘some’ extensions may have been used.
Similarly, Twiggy’s advert for wrinkle-reducing eye-cream had all her under-eye wrinkles airbrushed out in post production. And Ralph Lauren’s model had been photoshopped so that her head was bigger than her pelvis. When criticism of the adverts was posted online, their lawyers sent around threatening letters to silence the critics.
The beauty industry justifies airbrushing because it claims it is selling a dream. But their products are sold based on a deception and are incapable of delivering the advertised airbrushed perfection.
These are con artists – people who set out to sell a product to meet a state that has been manufactured to be unattainable. And con artists have always existed. Yet we are deceived today into believing this perfection is attainable through a number of modern tools. We have a more visual culture now, where images visualise on giant billboards the perfection that our lives ought to be. Of course, those lives are airbrushed and carefully staged, impossible for the products to deliver against. However, because we can now actually see the utopia that the products will turn our lives into, the impossible dream reaches a new dimension – suggesting to the believing innocent eye that the impossible is in fact possible.
But the bigger problem is this: selling dreams that can never be realised is now sanctioned. Corporations have now established as legitimate ‘right’ to sell impossible-to-achieve dreams.
The financial sector sold things that were never real, products that were derivatives of products and not real, actual things. We were told this was good for us and for our economy. But what was sold was so vapid and intangible that it took but a blink of an eye for it to disappear. No wonder ordinary people with general common sense were left baffled as to where all the money suddenly went. The boom was built on fluff that never existed and as soon as one part of the manufactured dream was exposed as an ephemera, the whole thing vanished in an instant.
Political parties are doing the same - they create a brand like “Broken Britain” and then ‘solve’ it with their own branding and puff. The Conservative party will solve Broken Britain with Big Society.  It’s all just so much upper case branding, and so little real product.
Even extreme religious leaders sell the ‘dream’ of paradise to persuade innocents into killing themselves and others. They say, “it’s us or them” and then offer a solution of violence and criminality, where the death of innocent people is airbrushed out of the equation, and utopia is created from an act of violence.
We’ve institutionalised the legitimacy of selling a dream that can never become reality. In fact, selling dreams has been made to seem to be a good thing because shopping for a dream life is supposedly in the interests of consumers. We’ve been told that what consumers want most is to buy into a dream. No matter the hollow feeling that’s left when failing to achieve perfection from oversold products.
We’ve been told that the fluff and stuff is important in creating our dream lives. Fluff is not fulfilling. And aspiring to something impossible simply results in heartache.
Our institutions are condoning selling ephemeral intangible fluff, rather than real things that will make things better in real terms. But it is to producing and selling real things, that can achieve real outcomes, based in reality, that we must return.


Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf, You can read her blog at www.spirit21.co.uk


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