Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

January 28, 2013

Can reality really even compete anymore?

Niagara Gazette — PITTSBURGH — The breathtaking model on your magazine cover: Of course she's not that thin and unblemished. That reality show you never miss? You're shocked — shocked that its real-life drama isn't 100 percent unscripted. And that diva who may or may not have mouthed the words to the national anthem to her own prerecorded voice? Yeah, well, so what? It was a big moment, and she wanted to sound her best.

In America these days, in countless tiny ways, much of what we see and experience isn't exactly what it seems. We know it, too. And often we don't care, because what we're getting just seems to "pop" more than its garden-variety, without-the-special-sauce counterpart.

Whether Beyonce actually sang at last week's presidential inauguration — the jury's still out, and she's kept silent — is, on the surface, the textbook teapot tempest. Dig deeper, though, and the conversation — or lack of it — reveals something important about society at this moment. The big question is no longer whether reality matters. That ship sailed long ago. More to the point is this: Can reality compete?

"It's as if the fakery has become satisfactory," says Jonathan Vankin, co-writer of "Forever Dusty," a musical that takes events from the life of the late soul singer Dusty Springfield and — carefully — dramatizes them.

"I think almost everyone knows that we're constantly being fed unreality. And yet there seems to be very little curiosity about figuring out what's really going on," says Vankin, who has also written extensively about how real historical events are represented in fictional settings.

Many, including some of Beyonce's fans and friends, consider the inauguration debate ridiculous because, after all, even if she was lip-syncing she was doing it to her own powerful voice. Fair enough. That ignores, however, two aspects of live performance.

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