Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Innocence Lost

One of the great things about children is how innocent they are. As a young child, I would have believed just about anything an adult told me. This is why parents get such a kick out of telling a young child about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus - they know that children will believe them. Children have no reason to believe that something might not really be what it seems.
As I got older, I began to stop believing in the fantasy and start seeing the reality. Growing up is all about absorbing new experiences and new information about how the world really works. The downside of understanding how things really work is that the magic is gone.

Sometimes, I think I was happier before I learned the truth about some things. Each time I learn the truth about something, it's like a little bit of my childlike innocence about the world disappears. The older I get, the more I learn that nothing truly is what it seems.

It wasn't long before I learned that the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus were my parents all along. I was sad to learn that the cartoon characters at Disneyland were really just people in costumes. At some point during my childhood, I learned what pitifully small salaries teachers are paid compared to other professions.

As time went on, I learned that many fast food restaurants do not make food when you order it, but in fact use frozen beef or heat lamps to keep food hot and ready. I learned that almost every pre-packaged or instant food is loaded with preservatives, artificial flavors, and colors to make it brighter or sweeter than it should be. I learned that many of the baked goods for sale at the grocery store are not baked fresh, but are in fact delivered from another bakery in the middle of the night.

Upon entering the workforce, I learned a great deal about how the world of business really works. I learned that many "American" vehicles from Chevrolet and other car makers are actually produced in Mexico or South Korea. I learned that many recalled products such as contaminated toothpaste and pet food not only come from overseas, but that many different brands all come from the same factory. I learned about sweatshops and cheap foreign labor.

The truth is that warranties are always limited and that satisfaction is never guaranteed. I learned that when products on "sale," the MSRP was marked up to give the illusion of savings. I learned about market researchers and focus groups and how they target products and services to specific demographic groups. I learned about greeting card companies, diamond rings, and the greedy origins of their industries.

I learned about the stock market and people who make money on trades while contributing nothing to society. It was shocking to learn that there are people in the world who are actively trying to rip you off through investment schemes, multi-level marketing scams, phishing, identity theft, insurance fraud, telephone solicitation, spamming, and worse. Learning about the despicable things that some people will do for money robs you of more of that childhood innocence.

I lose a little bit of that childhood innocence every time I hear a news story about a respected public figure such as a minister or corporate CEO who gets caught embezzling money. It saddens me when public officials such as judges, politicians, and police officers are found guilty of bribery, or when celebrities are arrested on severe criminal charges. I lose a little bit of innocence every time I hear about a professional athlete or Olympic star who gets caught using performance enhancing drugs or steroids.

There was a day in my life when I discovered that many politicians do not write their own speeches, and that many popular singers and entertainers do not write their own songs. I learned that a singers and bands will alter their image to meet the favor of the public eye.

I learned that some musicians will change their style and their sound in order to land a record deal, fame, and fortune. I learned that many bands sound the way they do because of auto-tuned vocals and some very clever engineering in the studio. I learned that everything on the radio is pre-recorded and edited to sound real (including breathing).

More of my innocence about the world was lost when I learned that TV news anchors aren't actually reading those papers on their desk, but that they read a huge teleprompter off-camera. I learned that actors and actresses look the way they do on camera because they spend hours having makeup applied to alter their appearance. The same applies to almost every modern magazine cover, where models benefit from excessive amounts of airbrushing and photo-manipulation.

I learned that some celebrities are so shallow and vain that they will resort to extreme dieting, liposuction, makeup, plastic surgery, colored contact lenses, teeth whitening, implants, hair dye, and other tricks to appear more attractive than they really are. I learned that these role models create a false image of beauty that their fans aspire to but cannot ever achieve.

The little child I once was has grown up into a skeptical adult, having learned that so many, many things in this world are completely fake. Everything from consumer products to news headlines to television commercials and movies can be manufactured in a laboratory, factory, or studio for the purposes of deceiving me into seeing or believing something that's not real, not possible, or not genuinely there.

When you're young and innocent, you never think that what you're seeing is something artificial and made to deceive you. It just never occurs to children that magazine cover pictures have been altered, that store-bought juice is loaded with coloring, and that there is someone behind the scenes writing today's hit songs.

But the reality of life is that nothing is what it seems. The modern world is so full of replicas, imitations, and synthetics that it's getting harder and harder to tell truth from untruth. Growing up is more than just getting older, it is what happens when you lose your innocence about the world we live in.