The Faux Phenomenon by Laura Marello

When I returned home from the grocery store a few weeks ago, in the Boonsboro neighborhood of Lynchburg, I looked up to see that my next-door neighbors’ shutters had been removed from the front façade of their house, leaving the darker green older paint exposed in the shutter area, and the lighter green, newer paint around it, creating a faux shutter phenomenon. It looks good. We don’t really need shutters, I realized. We can have faux shutters, using the old paint behind the shutters to create the illusion.

In the last decade, commerce has exploded with faux products: faux wood furniture, faux fur blankets, faux leather jackets, shoes, purses, luggage, seashells, even faux granite tiles. Of course some faux items, like faux flowers, were always around, but they were called fake: fake flowers or silk flowers or something like that. But the word “fake” cheapens the idea of the product. The French word “faux” for “false” makes the product sound sophisticated, urbane, almost witty, well, French, doesn’t it? Okay, so it makes it sound ridiculous.

In foods, we used to call fake products substitutes. Tofu hot dogs substituted for the real thing. They didn’t really, because if you wanted the taste of a real hot dog, you would be disappointed in the taste of a tofu dog. But a faux fur blanket for example is not unsatisfying. You wouldn’t want it to be real fur, it would make you feel ill (dead animal/ecologically speaking). So the furry fake fur is like a stuffed animal toy in a blanket, adding extra coziness and texture, without any real reference to killing a seal or mink to achieve it.

I had a friend in Palm Springs in the 1980s who made a living refinishing furniture to make it look older. He created faux wormwood, faux layers of faux flaking paint, faux dings and chips. Lately, I hear some people take chains to their furniture to create the dents.

In the 1990s, my sister was interested in faux wall treatments. She wanted to make walls look like faux plaster, or faux frescoes, or something. She had a whole science of sponges and rags, and viscosity of paint she used to create these wall illusions.

Recently my students were interested in the word Naugahyde. I had to write it on the board for them. It’s a 1950s version of fake leather. (In the 1950s, faux was still fake.)

But not all faux phenomena are benign. There is also a dark side. Last week, the electoral college of this country introduced our newest faux product—a faux president: faux man of the people, faux supporter of the white working class.

This dignified title (president) attempts to conceal a much more frightening reality—the campaign has shown him to be a man who incites his supporters to violence against others, who claims to evade paying his taxes, who boasts that he gropes and controls women, who threatens to lock up his opponents. He has no experience at governing and disdains what the country needs most: improved education and environmental safeguards. On the international stage he is viewed as a threat to peace and the global economy.

Our very real country is now reeling from this faux outcome (faux because only half of us voted, and of that half, the majority voted for his opponent, the real (not faux) Hilary Clinton).

Okay, with that in mind I am now going to hide under my faux fur blanket, and rest up for what looks like it will be four years of quite real political activism, fighting for the environment, health care, education, women, the LGBT community, Muslims, people of color, immigrants, and the disabled.

Laura Marello
Laura Marello has written eleven books. Guernica Editions published Laura Marello’s second novel Tenants of the Hotel Biron in 2012, and her first novel Claiming Kin in 2010. Her third novel, Maniac Drifter, is forthcoming with Guernica in 2016. Tailwinds Press published Marello’s The Gender of Inanimate Objects and Other Stories in 2015; it is shorlisted for the Saroyan Prize.

She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and a Fine Arts Work Center Provincetown Fellowship. She has benefited from residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Millay, Montalvo and Djerassi.

Featured image Counterfeit $10 by Eric Skiff. CC license. Image cropped.

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