How I feel about fake things has been changing. Initially I began to notice that artificial flowers and costume jewelry began to appeal to me genuinely sometimes, and an historic disdain for these fake things was dissipating. Such disdain in me hasn’t been anomalous- it is the usual mental subordination of something fake versus something real, especially when it comes to beauty or valuables. For example, picture a wedding ceremony bestrewn with all fake flowers or an engagement ring presented that is knowingly fake.
Flowers. I was in the office of the new Governor of the Emam Sahib District in Afghanistan in 2008 and we were having a substantive conversation about how the Americans were going to help him. He was a very intelligent man, college-educated in the United States, and he also had that unique warm hospitality trait so prevalent in Afghanistan that makes a guest feel comfortable and respected. Over his shoulder I noticed a vase of artificial white roses that popped surprisingly against the drear of this landscape and this mission. I must have commented on them at some point.
We shared a big joke early during that first meeting when I suggested that we Americans build a tall HESCO barrier wall around his whole municipal district. (These are collapsible wire mesh containers with a heavy duty fabric liner, filled with dirt and topped with barbed wire, and are used as a blast wall against explosions or small-arms.) He looked at me thoughtfully and asked “Why?” I was surprised he had asked this and said, of course, “To make everyone who comes here feel safe!” He then, -elaborately pretending he had just now understood the purpose,- said carefully ” Then, why don’t you just build a pretty little stone wall about waist high?” I laughed immediately and genuinely at the unexpected and profound wisdom of this response and we knew we were going to be good friends. Indeed we were, and we eventually did many great things together to help his District and his people.
At the end of my tour, this Governor presented me with that vase of white roses from his office, probably because he knew I liked them. Sadly, this was one of the few things that didn’t make it back with me, lost in transit somehow, somewhere. I’ve had artificial flowers in the places I’ve lived ever since and I can’t think of a good reason why they aren’t quite beautiful and worthy of as much appreciation as anything beautiful. More importantly, I can’t feel a good reason why they aren’t quite beautiful and I do feel that they are.
Jewelry. When my Mom died, the girls in the family inherited her jewelry and divided it up and I eventually became aware of a large amount of costume jewelry left over from dividing up the real stuff. My sisters let me have about all of the costume jewelry so that I could give it to my little girl, bit by bit as a game, and also as a real remembrance to her of my mother- her grandmother. Much of the jewelry was of a fun nature as my mother was quite festive and therefore had lots of Holiday-themed costume jewelry among other odd things. Now, this was a real trove of treasure to my little girl, as it was, bedecked with gold, silver, sparkly jewels, feathers, and all manner of bangle. Soon, I also thought the jewelry was as nice as any, and soon after that, I felt it. Just like the flowers. The only depreciation of this costume jewelry will have to come from an internal subordination of this jewelry to real jewelry, and the innocence of my little girl prevents it for her, and a new realization prevents it for me.
A couple of caveats: First, I know that these two initial realizations each came within dramatic context and one might reasonably guess that the circumstances created the realizations. But I don’t think so; I think the circumstances uncovered the realizations that were within me. My appreciation for fake things has bled out from these initial ink-spots of revelation onto the other pages of my day-to-day life and I find myself seeing things at first color without reservation as to how they came to be. Secondly, I’m talking about fake things that are nicely made, that are of some quality, and not something so cheaply made as to detract from what thing it purports to represent. For example, the spectrum of artificial flower quality is very wide; some are visibly fake from a distance and some are breathtakingly real from an inch away. And likewise, though some gumball-machine jewelry lacks a certain charm, I find that most costume jewelry is nicely made, though artificial.
Artificial: 1: humanly contrived (see contrive sense 1b) often on a natural model: man-made
Contrive: . . . 1:b: to form or create in an artistic or ingenious manner
So, in light of these definitions, I should find and replace all the words ‘real’ above and replace them with ‘natural’. We have to also now acknowledge the contradiction in “most costume jewelry is nicely made, though artificial.”
So, if something is artificial it was ‘humanly contrived or formed or created in an artistic or ingenious manner, often on a natural model.’ This was the original meaning at least, but something happened. Beauty and its consort Valuable hitched it’s wagon to Real.
Well, I unhitch that wagon.