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In the late 1950’s into the 1960’s, a TV program eventually called “Who Do You Trust?” was popular. Today, we have no choice but to attempt to answer the question daily. Deception has become an skill that provides an admirable living to those who wield it best. Although we’re tempted to conclude that it’s modern life that has encouraged so much lying, we’re occasionally reminded that human behavior has never been totally above reproach.
An example of twisted truths lies behind the film THE LAST VERMEER, loosely based on fact. After WWII, a frustrated artist Van Meegeren is accused of being a sympathizer for selling Dutch treasures (newly discovered Vermeer paintings) to the Nazis. Van Meegeren claims he was gleefully defrauding them since he himself had created the believable forgeries for which Nazi generals paid exorbitant prices. His champion is Joseph Piller who trusts Van Meegeren’s word that he was not merely mercenary enough to cooperate with the Fascists. Van Meegeren takes advantage of the desperate need Dutch citizens have to reclaim their national dignity in the face of destruction. The value of the paintings, of course, lies not in the images that admittedly demonstrate the glory of Vermeer’s technique, but in whether Vermeer himself painted them. So the value is the name, not simply the beauty—a fact that leaves the art world ripe for exploitation.
Daily, I receive fraudulent texts: “Your account has been used to purchase a thousand dollar computer.” The crooks have learned to be more sophisticated than the old “You have won one million dollars! All you need to do is verify your identity to claim your prize.” Apparently, these ruses work well enough to inspire a constant stream of copycats. I trust official websites to suggest remedies for problems such as my current headache: my wireless printer stopped connecting with my laptop. I was instructed to uninstall the printer and then reinstall to correct the problem. Now I can’t reinstall and my printer no longer serves my laptop but has become no more than a copy machine. Would I have enjoyed a happier result if I hadn’t heeded the advice to uninstall it? Who knows? Not me. I’m told printers are cheaply manufactured and, therefore, primed to fail. I bought a new printer.
Ripping people off once flourished as people bought and sold bad horses or mules or snake oil concocted then distributed in medicine shows. In the fact-based film THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, Louis, a British gentleman artist whose brain processing doesn’t match the majority, has a tenuous grip on practicality until he marries a woman who helps him celebrate the beauty around him. Once she’s gone, he’s fodder for those who find ways to take advantage of his ability to engage the delight of children and adults alike with his portrayals of cats living like humans—a novel idea for Victorian times. But he doesn’t ask to be awarded royalties, so his internationally popular works don’t bring financial security. He simply wants to bring joy to others. He doesn’t meet expectations. His family belittles him for not providing more while they live off his dwindling monies until his mind loses much of its tether. Only his fans can rescue him.
While we can’t prevent others from prevarication, we are left to decide how we react once we realize we’ve been conned. Do we have the courage and self-respect to admit our error and forgive ourselves for being human or do we bluster on, pretending that we were never at fault, as Louis Wain does. Which course serves us best? More lies may mask our weakness, but we know the truth.