The years from 2000 to 2009 were unified by fakeness — high-profile charlatans penetrated virtually every area of life (as Frank Rich also pointed out). From fake celebrities to fake journalists, here's a top ten of our favourite* frauds.
[*Ed. note: Ravi's currently writing from London, so we'll let that slide.]
Fake journalism: on May 11, 2003, the New York Times published a 7,239 word article on the frauds that Jayson Blair, a staff reporter, perpetrated while under their banner. Here's how they summed up his misdeeds:
He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.
Those fabrications encompassed the DC sniper story, and the saga of private Jessica Lynch among 600 other pieces he wrote or contributed to. The scandal went to the top — it led to the resignation of executive editor Howell Raines. Blair is now a life coach. Which leads nicely on to:
Fake jobs: 'Life coach' is a job that can exist only in a decade with not one but two economic bubbles, and the frantic prosperity they led to. The job — which is basically therapy given by those with no qualifications — garners over 42 million results on Google. Creative coach gets almost 27 million. Accountant, to put that in perspective, gets 31 million. Even those at the top of their fields, like Tony Robbins, who's even given a TED talk, have wound up in court for misrepresenting the impact of their nice words and quizzes. This year three people died when self-help 'guru' James Arthur Ray forced them to sit in a sweltering hot tent as a 'spiritual ceremony'. Also: The Secret is bullshit. If you want something, go out and work for it. Thinking about it doesn't affect the universe. Thanks.
Fake religion: It is a small step from there to a full-blown fake religion. A fact illustrated by the rise, in column inches at least, of Scientology in the last decade — fuelled by celebrity followers like Tom Cruise, Will Smith and John Travolta. The religion (or cult, or fraudulent pyramid scheme, depending on your point of view) is like a satire on a religion. Sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard made up a bunch of tenets and a lot of jargon and now vulnerable people like Tom Cruise spend millions on upholding and promoting his ideas. Here's the religion in a nutshell: an evil galactic overlord named Xenu flew his followers to earth in DC-8 aircraft, trapped them in volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their spirits now stick to us and are the cause of human problems. Thus psychology and psychiatry are evil, and the only way to happiness is to spend hundreds of thousands to 'clear' yourself of these spirits. Fake.
Fake prosperity: what's almost more interesting than the multi-billion dollar fraud Bernie Madoff perpetrated are the many other alleged Ponzi-schemers coming out of the woodwork in Indiana (Tim Durham, pictured above with friend Ludacris) or Florida or wherever else. It seems that the idea of living a lifestyle based on nothing but plausibility — nice literature, offices full of Eames chairs and a convincing tone of voice — was a pervasive one. It's too easy to use this as a metaphor for the wider economy. Which is why I'm going to. It goes hand in hand with:
Fake celebrity: We are now so inured to pointless celebrities that this barely seems like a category — it's more like the definition of celebrity has just been widened. But a look at some of the biggest figures of the last ten years is a sobering one. Will we really tell our grandchildren that we were there when Paris Hilton got done for drink driving? How will we define her role? Heiress? Singer? Celebrity is the only word that covers it. And it's become fake.
Fake television: reality TV is not real. But the people who are desperate to get on it are, and they perpetrated their own fakeness in an attempt to become fake celebrities in a giant loop of fakeness. The Heene family captivated the media (us very much included) when they pretended their son had been swept aloft in a giant balloon. The Salahis captivated the media (us very much included) when it was revealed that their gatecrashing the White House was the last in a long line of frauds and switches they'd pulled. Both sets of people were involved with the murky world of reality TV — and producers vowed to vet their 'characters' more carefully in future. We bet they won't.
Fake faces: the desire to look young is not new. But this decade had Botox — its own unique version of the creams, lotions and surgeries that have been around since ancient Man looked at his or her reflection in a still pool and thought 'fuck! crow's feet!'. Directors like Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann, as well as many casting directors, went as far as to publicly say they were sick of actors who could not move their faces. While there is no evidence that high profile stars like Nicole Kidman have had botox, we have used our (still expressive) eyes and come to the following conclusion — Nicole Kidman, a talented actor, can no longer move her face. She is not alone.
Fake athletes: injections of a different kind plagued sports. Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez succumbed to steroids in baseball. And persistent rumours of less-detectable HGH use plagued countless more athletes. Even Tiger Woods' doctor was found to be involved.
Fake political outrage: do we really care if our politicians sleep around? No, we just find their hypocrisy funny. Is Sarah Palin really mortally wounded every time someone criticizes her? Almost certainly not. Is Fox News actually incensed every time something they don't like happens? No. (Glenn Beck is, we think being serious, which is worrying in a different way.) How about, for 2010—2020, we accept that people are flawed and horny, and stop the outrage-fest. That is not to say that we won't continue to laugh at dumb things politicians do. But to pretend that there's some higher moral reason for covering these stories, and call for resignations every five minutes, is immoral. Um, not immoral. Bad. Wrong. Fuck. It's hard to stop condemning things.
Fake top tens: Because no-one reads top nines. And we like to be meta.