THE GREAT “BEFORE AND AFTER” MAN By John Watts (come see the new me!)

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Ever think of the “BEFORE” and “AFTER” syndrome so pervasively trumpeted on our instant media?  It can mean “before” my big triumph and success.  It could even fatalistically mean, “before” my terrible car crash when I became disfigured.  Usually of course, it means the former, optimistic B&A.

Regardless, all of us, deep down in our vastly untapped human psyche landscape, long at one time or another to be some kind of “before and after” person regarding SOMETHING before we die.  And when I say this—I mean something tangibly triumphant.  All of it thanks to some lucky lottery like winning product that we were smart enough to gamble with for our future happiness.  Heck, social media and advertisers are so perversely slick and persuasive that even if we thought we felt completely fulfilled and complete in the first place, some insidious pitchman and product will still boar its way into our minds and make us feel the need to desire something better anyway.

And I have certainly tried.  The problems is, when I finally commit to a certain product that I see pitched on TV, like a diet pill regimen, if it involves actually being inconvenienced to remember to take each of 3 pills a half hour before each meal, than I am likely to just ditch it and give up, unless it is truly user friendly with a much simpler direction like “just take ONE pill after waking.”  One pill once a day.  Yeah I like the sound of that.  Count me in!  But anything more than that, and it is like asking me to do the Insanity Workout program or some other type of sadistic AB crunchy workout as a 50 year plus specimen.  It is as futile as trying to manually roll up an old fashioned, coiled garden hose, or hunt down the correct Tupperware top to match the bottom.

In this day and age we all wait for science to bring the kind of breakthrough that speaks directly to us.  If I can’t spray paint it on me or take just one chewable pill, than the sacrifice is just too great.  Let’s face it—we are all a mess and feeling increasingly helpless and unhappy every day.

Of course, on the TV commercials, and in society in general, the assumption is that the “before and after” success story is static and will stay that way forever.  We want our loved ones to see us triumphantly transformed and happy over some product that we used or some program that we followed.

I recall this concept on a show some years ago called VHI’s “Behind the Music,” whose formula always explored some inevitable, crashing descent of a rock star or band and more recently culminated in some upswing of redemption when they got wiser and kicked the habit—except for those that truly DID die spectacularly young like Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison.  In those cases we can only benefit by spend countless hours contenting ourselves with watching documentaries on their FINAL desperate HOURS; to render us to the level of being salacious voyeurs.

Sadly, for too many others, only a year or so of their last airing, the same rock star or former child actor had in many cases, reverted back to the same old habits, or picked up some new ones as their graph dips disastrously back down to crises mode.  This was no doubt one of the few redeemable lessons derived from the show that is true for all of us—nothing remains locked in place and the litmus test of aging always brings out a crises of faith for us at some point.

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The happy endings rarely stick. If you doubt this, just go to your nearest grocery store checkout line and read the tabloids journalistic delight in skewering some aging actor on their death bed.  Even when a celebrity reaches some relatively “happy ending” state, society guards this jealously, and loves to put a “happiness denied” stamp on a life’s conclusion.

But back to the “Before and After” ad–such evangelizing pitchmen on TV, often look over at a cardboard board cutout or computer driven image of their former selves, and vow to never be THAT person again!  It’s as if that plumper or acne scarred person was a distinctly different person, that in hindsight, had nothing in common with the newly reborn one.

Heck no.  We are not going back to THAT!  Why carry around all that extra baggage around the mid-section when we can be sexy and sought after at the beach?  THIS is the person after all, that God knew we could eventually become.  The more we think about it—we should throw rocks at the inferior, flawed US from before.  We want NOTHING to do with that monstrosity!  That was an aberration after all.

After time goes by, we can become totally convinced that we were NEVER happy with all that weight on, or that lack of muscle definition.  Oddly enough—TV ads would have you believe that when woman lose significant weight and can look good at the beach, they suddenly become giggling, air headed, mentally infantile versions of their plumper selves—“Because I am a choco-holic!” delivers the proud “AFTER” woman–(followed by lots of giggles for no apparent reason)

As rapt TV audience members, we feel for Marie Osmond when she tells us, in a moment of intimate confession, about the low point in her life when she discovered that she was in fact, 50 pounds overweight,  that it was “a really bad day for me” before Nutra System changed her life.

Now, with no time to lose, we capitalize on our “AFTER” selves, and redo our Facebook cover shot so that our completeness will be on display for all to see.  And, just as skillfully as a hostage propaganda video clip, the “before and after” person is bathed in completely different lighting and has a much broader grin on their face, than their paler, hollow cheeked version.

So to all of you desperate consumers and jealous face book combers; to all of you high school fountain of youthers and shameless celebrity ambulance chasers—I just want to say that I am really not that shallow, or maybe not that deep, to really care too much about the before me or after me or in between me either for that matter.  Just to let you in on a little secret—I pretty much see myself as the same content person when I was 185 pounds or up to 255.  No particular program or pill or weight loss formula can add or subtract some former self that you use to be.

And because I get to play myself in real life, on an everyday basis, and gladly can account then for each step along the way, I seem to have some built in self-defense mode that doesn’t allow me to get too perturbed either way about the wrinkles or  baldness or flabby contours I convey in a t-shirt.  It certainly doesn’t account for my smile or how happy I am.

In fact all it does is make my sense of humor that much greater!  I laugh at the man  I am turning into every day as if it were some delightful stranger whose name is right on the tip of my tongue!

Because deep down dear friend, we are never defined by some thinner or tanner or toner, newer self.  We certainly aren’t creating a new hologram version of ourselves.

While Debbie Boone may be selling out her gospel song “You Light Up My Life” for the cause of peddling a face lift product, I think my physical self, will just have to grope along day by day, as nature would intend.

And I will remain right where I am, evolving, but grounded with the same recognizable flaws I started with.

When you think about it, most of the real genuine success we experience in our lifetime, evades the resumes and the vanity letters written at Christmas anyway.  The present is always busier than it looks in the future when calendar months are examined backwards, as we spiritually keep on evolving in invisible ways not detectable by Facebook profiles.  In fact I might just spring the biggest surprise of all on you someday and post my own BEFORE and AFTER set of photos in which I have the nerve to look even happier as the older, balder and puffier AFTER prime time version me.  Now that is really audacious!

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About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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