Because I care

Even though I watch hardly any television, I care -- I care deeply -- about Katie Couric's "First-Night win."

That's because I prefer real phoniness to fake phoniness.

MORE: It occurs to me that readers might think I am being facetious in attempting to distinguish between real and fake phoniness, so I thought I should dig deeper and supply an example. My favorite artist is Salvador Dali, whose surrealism extended even into the provenance of his own art. The man's life as well as his art attempted to blur the distinction between the real and the unreal, and thus, to this day it can be very difficult for experts at authentication to determine whether a Dali is a real or a fake Dali (and whether his signature, which he signed in innumerable ways and delegated others to sign, was in fact his). In this classic if unverifiable example, Dali explained why it was possible that even a real Dali signed by him could nonetheless be a fake:

In Dali's mind, the signature may have been the least important ingredient to determine authenticity. The French art publisher Jean-Paul Delcourt, a signatory to some controversial Dali prints, tells about acquiring a dozen "Dali" lithographs from an American publisher and reselling them to an English dealer. The Englishman complained later than Enrique Sabater had declared them to be fakes, and a customer wanted his money back. The American publisher refused to do so because he had certificates of authenticity. Delcourt says he saw Dali at the Meurice Hotel and showed the prints to Dali and Gala.

"Dali whispered into Gala's ear, and Gala repeated his statement to me: 'Dali says the picture is good, the signature is good, but the work is a fake,' " Delcourt recalls.

"Why is it a fake?" Delcourt asked.

"The answer: 'Dali has not been paid.'

In Dali's defense, it should be pointed out that he was much hated by many in the artistic community, and in his old age was literally besieged with various con artists and cheats. So the above example might just be inaccurate. Or maybe fake but true. Frankly, in the case of Dali I don't care. I love his art, and from a purely opportunist point of view, the forgery scandal so depressed the value of his art that it's still quite a bargain (assuming the buyer is not averse to some risk taking).

Are there lessons from Dali which might be relevant to today's media? Perhaps. Dali was often attacked by the media, for being a phony, but his surrealism spoke for itself, and he came right back at them:

The cherry on the cake was: for every attack the critics launched at Dali the man (they really had no idea who he was), Dali would come back at them with yet another elaborate piece of fiction about himself. It was unfair. The critics were "devoted to the truth." The painter was free to invent himself over and over as many times as he fancied.

At best (and it was not very good), a critic might admit Dali was a complete mystery. But the press does not like that outcome. Exposure of the very entrails of a celebrity is necessary. The press adopts its own pose: it is dedicated to taking things apart and laying them bare. (Of course, that strategy is based on the conniving and secret concept that journalistic probing is, at the end, supposed to leave the status quo intact.)

Dali was holding up a mirror. He was saying, "You people are like me. We're all doing fiction. I'm much better at it. In the process, I get at a much deeper truth."

(I try to dig at these contradictions as deeply as I can, but I could never in my wildest dreams dig as deeply as Dali.)

By the way, legal scholars into the serious study of the fake-but-accurate should by all means check out the leading case of DALI FOUNDATION v. KOSTABI, 168 F.3d 861 (2004).

Highly informative reading!

DISCLOSURE: In the interest of full and complete accuracy, I should probably make it clear that I did not actually watch Katie Couric's debut, but I feel as if it's as if I did.

MORE: Attention Dali experts! I have been unable to authenticate the following, but I am presenting it in the hope that someone can. It does appear to have been signed, and because it is whatever it is, I think it's fair to say that it has at least been content-verified.

posted by Eric on 09.07.06 at 09:14 AM


Meaning, I suppose, that she really is as shallow as all news anchors of the last couple of decades have appeared?

I have never watched Couric on television. I gave up on network news during the Reagan administration.

Kent G. Budge   ·  September 7, 2006 11:21 AM

Your distinction is something like the one in the classic "The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse." The editors distinguish between bad bad poetry, which just stinks, and good bad poetry, which has the indicia of other poetry, such as rhyme and meter. The only bad bad poet therein is Julia Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan.

Bleepless   ·  September 7, 2006 2:50 PM

That image has clearly been photoshopped so as to make her appear slimmer than she really is.

triticale   ·  September 7, 2006 6:14 PM

never have you tickled me more. i think facetiousness suits you very well, eric.

particularly liked the artwork. i didn't know katie had ever sat for him.

meleva   ·  September 7, 2006 9:40 PM

Funny post!
That you like Dali is interesting. Back in the mid '60s I visited the National Gallery in Washington. Dali's "Last Supper" is on display there. It took my breath away.
It just so happened that a relative of Ayn Rand, Judith Rosenwieg was my tour guide. I was just a teenager then and she was given the duty of walking me around the sites in the capitol. The reason for the visit was a conference on the abolition of the Draft sponsored by the Metropolitan Young Republicn Club of Manhattan. Amoung the guest speakers at that conference were Henry Mark Holzer, Erica Holzer, and all the others of Rand's inner circle execpt Brandon & Greenspan.
As to Dali, Judith said that Rand admired Dali's gift, but couldn't stand his irrationalism.
I felt the same way. Christ's hands in the painting seemed to reach out to me in a 3D kind of way. The emotion was intense.
But the juxtaposition of the elements of the painting were not real. He could just have easily made sense, but instead chose purposely to hide his gift in a montage.
What a waste of genius.

Frank   ·  September 8, 2006 12:32 AM

I appreciate the comments. (Meleva, so glad you liked it!) Interesting about Ayn Rand; I wish Dali had painted her. I love his portrait of Picasso....

Eric Scheie   ·  September 9, 2006 12:47 PM

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