Phoniness.. embrace it.

Embracing phoniness was the biggest adjustment in adulthood for me.  In a new place with people I hadn’t spoken to before, beyond the language and the color and the customs, the true culture shock was accepting the layers and layers of hypocrisy and phoniness that I was never used to or at least hadn’t been exposed to before.  This is not to say it didn’t exist in India, Lord knows there’s plenty of it, most of it in the name of truth and authenticity, but I didn’t have to deal with it in my high school world.  I could say what I mean and mean what I say and didn’t have to think about it twice.

As I was maneuvering my way in a new world, I was initially jolted by a few disdainful “Have a nice day” farewells from fast food girls at the counter expressing their working class rebellion at being forced to say those words by those establishments.  Instead, they could’ve said “Fuck off now” and it would’ve felt the same to my ears.

When fellow students asked “How are you doing,” I stopped explaining how I was really doing after realizing quickly that it was a rhetorical question, only meant to be a friendly greeting such as “Hello.” No one actually cared about how you’re doing.  They had their own shit to deal with.  So, I started responding with a “Hi” for a while, even though it seemed like an odd response.  I saw no point in extending that rhetoric with “Fine, how are you doing?” The subsequent response is almost always “Fine.  Thanks for asking.” And I couldn’t stand to bear such politeness.  With time, I realized I could get away with a nod or a shake of a head without being called impolite.  Now-a-days, I just raise half an eyebrow in acknowledgement, bordering on rudeness, but combating it with half a smile, fake and lasting just half a second.

Job interviews.. fertile grounds

When the prospective employer said “We’ll keep your resume and get back to you when the opportunity arises,” I realized that a snowball had a better chance in hell than my chance of getting a job there.

When the interviewers finished the interview early and said, “Thank you for taking the time for the interview.  We will get back to you after discussing internally,” I realized what they were really saying were “We think you truly suck at this and we don’t want to waste anymore of our time by talking to you.”

When my boss smiled at me and said “This is an area of opportunity for personal growth for you,” it immediately translated in my mind into “I am going to ding you in this area on your performance review, so don’t complain to me when you don’t get that raise or promotion.”

So it took a while to get the hang of it… but I am now assimilated.  Now I can bullshit with the best of them.  In fact, I am reaching new creative heights of bullshitting that I didn’t know I could.

The other day I was able to cut an interview I was conducting short by half-an-hour, look straight in the eye of the terrible interviewee, and say “I think you have great skills and they might be a better fit in Department XYZ of our company.  If you prefer, I can hand this resume over there and ask them to give you a call if they have any open opportunities.” It wasn’t even a prepared response.  In a moment of inspiration, those words came flowing through my mouth without a trace of regret or guilt inside.  I knew then and there that I had arrived.  I can now call myself a productive member of the society.

BP - an inspiration

From those days of ignorance when I was full of contempt for such obvious hypocrisy and phoniness, I am now a transformed man who marvels at the beauty of those that execute it with great skill and ease, and pick up great life’s lessons to live by.

Take the BP response to the oil spill for example.  Can there be a better advocate for phoniness than BP, all along selling the idea of their green energy with green logos and green boards, while drilling away merrily deep water without even a cheap emergency valve to account for a situation like this?  Far from assuming neglect and incompetence at handling damages, I now believe in living life by ignoring any worst case scenarios, just as BP did.

Moral: Live life and enjoy, consequences be damned.

Tom Cruise.. king of phony smiles

How about Tom Cruise!  How can you not marvel at this guy with a perennial fake smile plastered on his face?  Can you imagine the effort it takes to put on that façade?  I once tried that for half a minute and needed to massage my face to overcome the resulting pain.  Doing the day and night talk show rounds for a promotional pitch for his movie, Knight and Day, Cruise has had the best phony smile firmly entrenched on his face.  He smiles and laughs at anything anyone asks.  You can call him a phony bastard to his face and I bet he will turn to the camera, smile and toss his hair back to showcase his handsomeness.  That’s dedication and commitment to the movie, the career and that smile.

Moral: Practice makes perfect.

Its good to be the Queen

I heard the Queen is going to attend the next Andy Murray Wimbledon game.  What better representative for phoniness than someone who exemplifies the wonderful concept of inheritance, of not having  to work for a living, and still live a life of luxury and adoration just because you happened to be born in a certain family.

Moral: Make sure you pick parents with deep pockets.

Yuvraj Singh.. Gods gift to Indian Cricket

Speaking of feeling privileged and entitled, Yuvraj Singh was dropped from the One day team recently, allegedly as a wakeup call since he seemed to lack commitment to fitness.  Apparently, BCCI didn’t get the memo that Yuvi is God’s gift to Indian Cricket, but I can definitely admire his phony bravado when he was living on his past glories while not paying attention to his waistline and the incoming doosras.

Moral: Always pick style over substance


Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

One of the many appeals of the “Catcher in the Rye“, J.D Salinger’s all-time classic is how you can relate to different aspects of Holden Caulfield, the 17-year old narrator of the novel.

Everyone in the world is a phony to him.  In fact, all adults are phonies to him.  He is unable to come to grips with adulthood because he is scared of what he is bound to represent.  Consequently, he is running against the world, and in many ways running against himself.  For all his rebellion against the perceived phoniness all around him, he is insecure and immature and no better than the rest as he lies and deceives through the resulting troubles of not coping with the ways of the world.

Still, Holden is right.  Adulthood is phoniness. But if you have that acute disdain for it, you have to be aware of it and find ways to deal with it.  Whether you merely tolerate it, choose to embrace it, or practice it with a vengeance is up to you.  Phony images and fake relationships are the ways of the world.


One of my favorite movies and considering its almost non-existent critical recognition, or just maybe because it is my kind of humor, one of the most under-rated movies in my book, is a 1999 movie called Hero.  Dustin Hoffman plays the lead role of Bernie Laplante, a cranky, cynical character who is rude and broke and doesn’t give a shit about society in general.  Not surprisingly, his ex-wife and separated son are resigned to the fact he is a bum.  One day he falls into circumstances that force him to save the passengers of a plane following an air crash that happens right in front of him.  True to his character, after rescuing the passengers, he walks away from the incident without thinking of possible fame or glory only to realize someone else has been billed a hero perceived to have saved those people that he rescued.  The movie is a comedy, a satire that juxtaposes the truth from perception with the actual hero, the perceived hero, the TV coverage, its reception, audience expectations and the desire for everyone to please the society irrespective of what really happened.  It highlights the phoniness all around us even during these acts of selflessness.  At the very end, Bernie is talking to his son about life’s wisdoms

“You remember when I said how I was gonna explain about life, buddy? Well the thing about life is, it gets weird. People are always talking ya about truth. Everybody always knows what the truth is, like it was toilet paper or somethin’, and they got a supply in the closet. But what you learn, as you get older, is there ain’t no truth. All there is is bullshit, pardon my vulgarity here. Layers of it. One layer of bullshit on top of another. And what you do in life like when you get older is, you pick the layer of bullshit that you prefer and that’s your bullshit, so to speak.”

Truer words were never spoken.  Pick your bullshit and live with it.