MAD DOG: Taking the Real Out of Reality

It's hard to know what to believe anymore. Krushchev's son applied for American citizenship. Margarine has become a cholesterol-lowering drug. And some people think Dan Quayle would make a good president. With a straight face, no less.Now it turns out that even official British royal wedding photos can't be believed. Recently, when Prince Edward ("The Other White Prince") got married, they corralled the family and took the usually battery of photographs. If you thought this was a lot of trouble at your wedding, imagine having to make sure everyone gets handed the right crown.Lo and behold, when they got the film back from Royal One-Hour Photo Processing (Motto: "Our photos rule") they discovered that Prince William, second in line to the throne, wasn't smiling. Well tut-tut, cheerio, and all that rot. Everyone -- but everyone! -- knows this isn't acceptable behavior for a King-to-be, even if he was just emulating dad.According to the official photographer, "Prince Edward said he didn't think Prince William looked absolutely his best." So, in the great tradition of Charles I, Lady Jane Grey, and Ann Boleyn, William had his head lopped off and digitally replaced with a smiling version they kept on hand for just such an emergency.Let's get real for a moment. Prince William is 17. Seventeen-year-olds don't smile. Hell, they should have been happy he even bothered to show up! And wasn't packing a gun. Or a can of spray paint so he could cover the bathroom walls with graffiti like "Viva primogeniture". But no, that wasn't good enough for them. After all, what fun is it being royalty if you don't get to make decrees every once in a while?This isn't just an English thing. Well, the primogeniture is, though if George Bush becomes president even that may change. American royalty, I mean politicians, also change reality. A couple of years ago in Virginia, Senator John Warner ran a political commercial which showed opponent Mark Warner shaking hands with former Governor Douglas Wilder and President Bill Clinton. The only problem was, that wasn't Mark Warner in the original photograph. It turned out that someone lifted Warner's head from another photo and placed it on the body of Chuck Robb, which not only caused a political stink but aroused Robb's wife, Lynda Byrd, for the first time since she discovered Robb wasn't, in fact Al Gore. The official explanation was, "Chuck didn't look absolutely his best." Good enough for me.Head-switching must be quid pro quo (Latin for "huh?") in Virginia. Around that same time, a state agency there published a photograph of then-governor George Allen rafting down the James River sitting next to Jimmy "Wanna see my sausage?" Dean. It's true that in this case Dean had actually been in the raft, but it's also true that he didn't sit next to the governor. Someone thought the photo op could be improved upon and digitally grafted Dean's head onto someone else's body. Probably Lynda Byrd's. Which got Chuck Robb aroused for the first time since….well, you get the idea.Even war, one of the most real things I can think of next to a ride on a public bus, is getting suspect. During the recent Kosovo Unpleasantness, as the State Department prefers to call it, NATO accused the Serbs of manufacturing photos of civilians who were bombed. They said the tractors looked like they were parked, there was a marked lack of blast craters, bodies appeared to have been shot rather than bombed, and then there was that cameo appearance by Prince William's smiling face.Not wanting to be outdone, the Yugoslav government countered that the Kosovo refugees streaming out of the country were actually ethnic Albanians who were paid $5.50 each to walk in a big circle through Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro, re-entering Kosovo and doing the circuit again so it would look like there were a lot more refugees than there actually were. I'm not making this up. The tip-off was when one guy was seen leaving the country holding the end of a rope and -- hang onto your clown nose! -- was later seen entering the opposite side of the country pulling the other end of the rope! What does NATO think, Milosevic has never seen a circus before?Altering reality is nothing new, it's just so much easier now. All the people I know who went to Woodstock left early because it was a muddy, cold, messy hellhole. But once the media got a hold of it, and especially when the movie came out, it became Paradise. At this point there are at least 4 million people claiming to have been there, many of them who weren't even born at the time. The images have long ago co-opted the reality. But at least it took a lot of newspapers, magazines, TV footage, and an expensive movie to change that reality. Today, thanks to technology, anyone with a computer, a bootlegged copy of PhotoShop, and a craving to change history can do it. Don't like the fact that you looked like Howdy Doody when you were a kid? Drop young Macauley Culkin's head on your body. Embarrassed that the only girl who would agree to go to your high school prom with you looked like Ernest Borgnine on steroids? Put Cameron Diaz in the photo. It's almost the new millennium, there's no reason we all can't all look absolutely our best.

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