The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 25, 2013

Marta Mossburg, columnist: Americans care more about image than reality

By Marta Mossburg
Globe Columnist

— It’s passed the deadline, but Time magazine should have made Manti Te’o the man of the year. In case you have been living in a hole lately, Te’o is the star Notre Dame linebacker whose heartbreaking story of his grandmother and girlfriend dying within hours of each other in September made national headlines.

As it turns out, the girlfriend was not real, nor was her death. Te’o, a Heisman finalist, only knew “Lennay Kekua” online and through phone calls. Multiple media outlets amplified Te’o’s wrenching story without checking her validity until Deadspin.com broke the story of her non-existence last week.

The story is tantalizing for its embarrassing revelations about a revered college football player, but most importantly it encapsulates how fake is the new real in American life.

Like Te’o, millions of Americans spend hours online each day communicating with “friends” they never meet, investing months and sometimes years with those who not uncommonly turn out to be impersonators. The frauds and their victims even have a TV show, “Catfish.”

Those under 30 do not talk to one another. Their phones are merely vehicles for texting and social media, which they use for everything high and low, including breaking up with “girlfriends” and “boyfriends” — with acronyms. INYIM, OK?

As noted in a recent column, college freshman rank themselves very high for their leadership ability, intelligence and drive, but are no smarter than previous generations according to objective measurements. They also study a lot less.

Lest people attribute this to the immaturity and narcissism of youth, it is not.

Our whole culture is phony. We call a cocktail of poor health indicators in men “ED” and label the declining energy of men as they age “Low T.” Ads for drugs to cure these “sicknesses” dominate primetime television.

Parents rush to diagnose rambunctious children with “ADD” and “ADHD” to get prescription drugs that make them easier to handle and the “free” personalized help from school systems to launch their children ahead of others.

We espouse hard work and resilience but are more dependent than ever on food stamps and disability insurance.

Even our heroes are frauds. World renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong denied for over a decade that he used performance enhancing drugs to help him win seven Tour de France titles, among other major victories. Last week he admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he lied — and may even have obfuscated the full extent of his behavior in the interview, according to reports. To those for whom climate change is their animating cause, their leader, former Vice President Al Gore, also the writer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” did the impossible: He sold his cable channel Current TV to Al-Jazeera, owned by what people of Gore’s persuasion would call “Big Oil.”

We yearn for the “authentic” but buy fake handbags made in China. We drink “craft” beers made by mega corporations and eat “heirloom grains,” whose prices have been driven so high by western demand that the indigenous people growing them can’t afford to eat them.

Even the president is in on the game. During his second inaugural address he said, “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

What a beautifully rendered falsehood about three programs that virtually no economist of any political persuasion can deny are bankrupting the U.S. and jeopardizing both our economic health and national security.

To top it all off, pop star Beyonce lip-synched the national anthem at the inauguration. How fitting a performance for a nation that cares more about image than reality.