False face must hide what the false heart doth know*

August 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

Quite recently, I’ve begun to become obsessed with the notion of owning a smartphone. I’m not quite sure why; my little dumbphone more than admirably serves my needs, especially when you consider that my feelings for the mobile phone are rather mixed: I appreciate being able to call people whenever I want to, but I greatly dislike being available to others at all times.

But the idea, once planted in my mind, would not dislodge. I looked up reviews of mobile phones online, determined to believe that my choice to NOT choose an iPhone indicated a superiority of character. It is strange how we know it’s ridiculous to think that our choices in consumer products reveals something intrinsic about ourselves, yet we continue to make “choices” that speak to us exactly in this way. So I looked up Android phones because I was convinced this made me different.

The interesting thing about reading phone reviews is the way in which reviewers talk about affordable phones – because the new smartphones are bloody expensive, let’s not forget that – as being somehow “introductory” phones, for the low-end user. It’s not so much a culture of looking down at someone for not having enough money to have a new-fangled smartphone as it is more about looking down on adults who don’t make an effort to upgrade their phones as they move up in life. In this sense, life is presented like a very linear progression, where the cheaper, less-sophisticated phones are “alright for students and those new to smartphones” (and here I paraphrase a random review that stuck in my mind), while people who are serious about their life and/or who have already purchased smartphones before cannot simply revert back into unsophiscation and backwardness. We must march on. Forward. The upgrading of a phone is a sign of progress, and a proper adult would participate in this culture of progress, because not doing so is kind of shameful, like asking for a caramel latte when every other person is ordering a skim or soymilk latte. In fact, it’s almost similar – how can you ask for a caramel latte when you know how many calories it has, how fat it can make you? As a responsible adult who is only going to get better, you have to make the right choice to indicate your commitment to Improving Yourself.

Similarly, how can you simply settle for an ordinary phone when it’s clearly the lazy option? The effort of working on your life includes using the technology that best reflects your continuous need for self-improvement. An ordinary, regular, dumbphone is simply slob-like; it shows a marked disregard for hard work (that is, working hard on acquiring the right symbols to reflect your continuous progress) so that the message to you, dumbphone user, is: Whatever, you slobby person, stop whining about how much smartphones cost, we can’t help you, don’t blame us if you atrophy, etc.

This struck me particularly because a local daily published an article on the increasing rate of cosmetic surgery among men, women, children, and well, EVERYONE. On parents who bring in their children for cosmetic surgery, an “expert” cosmetic surgeon had this to say:

“Parents are more aware of the competition out there. They bring their children for enhancements to put them in same or higher category than their peers.”

Although not stated explicitly, this statement seems to come right out of the school of Doing Better, Wanting More. In an accompanying piece on cosmetic surgery – among children – The Star wrote:

Lim draws a distinction between the child seeking cosmetic surgery “because I hate the way I look” and “because I want to look even better”.

If the child is okay with himself and the way he looks but has the means (or the parents have the means) to make himself look better, then “why not”, he reasons.

If you want to do better – and this means cutting into your face and improving what is already very nice – it’s OKAY, because it signals a very reassuring need for improvement.

In yet ANOTHER accompanying piece on cosmetic surgery (The Star outdid itself, what can I say?), there is a section that bears reprinting at length:

“Like it or not, people judge a book by its cover. Looking good has become a necessity all over the world. It has become a part of life,” says aesthetic physician Dr Alice Prethima.

She says that in the old days, when a person was out of shape and looked bad, people accepted it and merely said “she has aged, she has put on weight”. For a male, they would comment that “he’s prosperous, he ate too much good food”.

But things have changed.

“These days, people think the person is lazy and won’t do anything for himself.”

She believes that just like exercise and supplements, cosmetic surgery and procedures are becoming a way of life as the country becomes more prosperous and people have the means to strive for good health and to look better.

Dr Prethima: ‘More men are coming in to look good and teenagers too are being brought in by their parents.’

“It’s in the subconscious. It is common in any living species that they will be attracted to a better-looking person. The reason is that a better-looking person is supposed to be more fertile and healthier and that will go towards progeny.

“If a person looks good, is fit and takes care of himself, then people would think they can take care of the family, the office or the community. The brain thinks that way. It’s natural,” says Dr Prethima, who has been running an aesthetic clinic for 11 years.

While I do think that our dear Dr. Alice Prethima is a bit harsh, I do also believe that she’s very right and has accurately described our present modern cultural condition. An ugly face or a flabby bum is seen as a very real symbol of one’s presumably inherently degenerative and lazy nature, just as an old phone represents your lack of will. The phone is no big deal, in a sense – people who get annoyed by criticisms of modern capitalism love to shout: “We’ve always wanted new things! The history of mankind is the history of wanting new things!” – but it’s a sign of the times, indeed, when a new face and a new body are also pre-requisites for admirable, sturdy, progressive characters. If you make an effort to fix get a new phone and a new car and a new house and a new face, you’ll make an effort to care for the people in your life, and others will want to marry you.

I’m not sure what slope we’re sliding down here, but the descent seems steep.

*Much thanks to Shakespeare for the title.

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