The Real Fake
In her 1999 book The Unreal America, Ada Louise Huxtable made a critical distinction between categories of the “real fake” (which she applied to Las Vegas), and the “fake fake” of nondescript shopping malls. In many ways, she echoed Baudrillard, who described simulacra as a defining characteristic of all America, excepting Las Vegas and Disneyland, which he saw as uniquely authentic places; for him, the simulacra was “anywhere but here”. Both of these opinions seem to recognize that when qualities of pastiche and excess are presented openly, consistently, and “honestly”, without pretend shame or aesthetic hypocrisy, they create a sense of place as memorable and striking as any “real” historical environment. Authenticity is created by exorbitant excess.
Ever since I moved to Doha, I was trying to determine whether this place is real fake, or fake fake. There is certainly an excess of borrowed imagery here, and a sheer audacity of making the impossible happen. There are also fragile fragments of history, and traces of traditional Arabic culture. What is authentic Doha – these disappearing traces of the old, or the new Villagio Mall, complete with Venetian-style canals with gondolas, frescoed ceilings, and polished marble floors?
These thoughts were triggered again this weekend, when, walking at the local trade fair, I saw an object that defied a name. It could best be described as a “coat hanger masterpiece”: a series of generic coat hooks mounted inside an ornate gilded picture frame. It was a staggering example of kitsch – but a kind of kitsch that could be easily “borrowed” by the likes of Philippe Stark or Marcel Wanders, and placed in a trendy boutique hotel. In such new setting, the object will become a “real fake”, something that might generate attention, a smile, or an ironic wink of a design buff who’d appreciate the transgression.
What are we to do with objects like this? Should we continue a Quixotic fight to eliminate them from the face of the Earth, or try to embrace and interpret them? I did see people buying these frames. They will likely go well with their home décor. Perhaps, in absence of any acceptable universal truth, the real fake is the next best thing.