FAKING IT

13 November 2010

It’s sad when you see folks losing their jobs, and it always brings it home to me that many concepts still held dear by many, are in fact outdated and no longer valid.

For example, you cannot declare that you have graduated and therefore finished with learning, there is no such thing as a job-for-life (nor even job security). People are worried still about having a “proper” rational or logical career path! In this modern world, they key word is adaptability and variety — the ability to adjust, change, adapt and keep-up.

Way back in 2001, I came across Channel Four’s “Faking It”; this is superb TV, and unlike so many other shows, no-one is exploited,  ridiculed or victimised in the name of entertainment; everyone’s a winner. Here’s the “blurb”:

Entertaining transformational battles against the odds. Intrepid volunteers are plucked from their natural habitat and given just four weeks to master a skill well enough to fool a panel of expert judges.

I remember a fast-food van burger flip cook faked being a proper restaurant chef. A painter-and-decorator was shown how to fake it as a conceptual artist — that was fantastic TV! There was a chap called Spence who was a man’s man; he was a big, strong, hairy chap with a homophobic navy sea-going background, and he learned to be a Drag Queen!   A male ballet dancer became a wrestler, a vicar started selling cars, and a waitress from a ferry became a woman yachtsman.  There were loads like this, and not one was bad.

  • The show actually changed people forever; they even had a “Faking It Changed My Life” programme.

There are many lessons to be gleaned about tolerance, open-mindedness, the benefit of hard work and applying oneself, learning and teaching methods, bonding, microcosmic societies and cultural mores.  It shows what we, each of us, are capable of, what we can do with our lives when we “think outside of the box”.  You leave each episode filled with joy, hope and a sense of opportunity and possibilities.

Of course, they are “Faking It” — the clue is in the title, but while they are not actually suggesting that you can have a complete career change after 4 weeks’ training (although it can happen), it does show how much of everyone’s daily life is maintained at 10 per cent skill level — people work well under their capability.

I remember seeing a movie years ago about a man who pretended to be a doctor in a hospital, and as I couldn’t recall the name of this film, I tried to look it up — and although I couldn’t find anything on-line to jog my memory, I was struck by the amount of real (and recent) instances of men faking it as a hospital doctor.

In May 2008, Eric Perteet fooled his own wife pretending to be a doctor at Piedmont Hospital’s ER in Atlanta USA, a year before that — at Tampa General Hospital (also in the USA), Anthony James David gave up being a landscape gardener to pretend to be a hospital doctor.  He was arrested wearing blue scrubs on his way to work!

Eric and Anthony may have been loonies, but they were harmless as they didn’t actually try to do anything medical.  That would be really crazy — like Scott E. Hanson, a 22-year-old from a town called Crooked River Ranch in the USA, who in April just last year (2009), actually performed surgery on at least three people, according to the police. Scott had no medical training, and operated in his victims homes for an eight month period!  Now, not only is Scott seriously loony-toons, but so is the system that allowed this to happen and to take so long to detect and stop.

The thing about Scott is that he wasn’t clever enough, unlike the infamous Frank Abagnale Jr — the fraudster played by Leonardo di Caprio in Speilberg’sCatch me If You Can” — Abagnale pretended to be a pilot and actually flew people around for years.  He pulled this off by being very clever and talented. He applied himself and worked hard.

Abagnale also pretended to be a hospital doctor for nearly a year! He invented a character called Dr Frank Conners to get an apartment where he became friends with a  neighbour who was a doctor at a hospital in Georgia. Dr Conners became the chief resident paediatrician, supervising interns as a favour to this neighbour — just until they found someone who could take the job full-time. Abagnale/ Conners did not find the job difficult because supervisors do not have to do any actual medical work. He was able to fake his way through most of his duties by letting the interns handle most of the cases that came in during his late night shift, for example setting broken bones and other such tasks. When the hospital finally found a proper replacement, Abagnale left undiscovered, and returned to his life of crime and fraud.

I have met a great many people who “Fake it” in the sense that they are given a task that they are not qualified for, and they get on with it — and learn along the way.  Who is to say that the end result is “bad”.  Can a person who has acquired skills through being self-taught or informally coached be considered as less than a qualified but inept person? Is there a congruence — where what a qualified person has forgotten equals what a “Faker” has never known, that the two share the same practical, everyday, knowledge and skills base?

My whole life is like that; I don’t use my qualifications at all — never have!  Instead, I have always earned my living by doing things on a self-taught, get-it-done basis.  I pick things up quickly, and know that everyone around me is doing the same.  It must be really hard to leave a line of work for a while; on returning, everything would have moved on. New software and equipment is coming out all the time, nothing stays the same for very long, life is continuous development. So it is mainly all about positive attitude, confidence, applying yourself and getting immersed and totally involved.  Just like the TV show.

Maybe “Faking It” is a bad term; it carries with it connotations of fraud, deceit and not-being-true, honest or right and proper. Although we all have to do it these days, it doesn’t mean that we are deranged like Eric or  Anthony, deranged and dangerous like Scott, or clever and fraudulent like Frank. Someone needs to come up with a better description than “Faking It”.

It has always been the case that graduates arrive in the workplace filled with qualifications, and have to start learning their job and career from scratch.  It’s about experience and learning procedures and shortcuts, being effective, and making money. You go from being immersed in academia, to being immersed in the real world. That takes some adjustment, but immersion is key.

The applying and the immersion also seem to apply to learning a foreign language; it is easier and better to give up your mother tongue for a while and live and breathe the other language in that country.

Some actors immerse themselves in a character, and this amounts to an episode of “Faking It” for they get coached by experts.  One has to imagine that this also has the potential to change them forever.  If I had a chat show, that is something I definitely would pursue with celebrity interviews. In fact, the process would make an excellent “Faking It” show in its own right.

The first time I saw Gwyneth Paltrow was in “Shakspeare in Love”, and I thought she was English born and bred; her accent was spot on. I must say, however, that I dismissed her as yet another starlet, possibly because she was engaged to Brad Pitt for years and then dated Ben Affleck for years as well.

I started to revise my opinion a little when I found out that she was not English, then I found out that she was fluent in Spanish as a result of spending a year in Spain as a 15 year-old exchange student.  Personally, I reckon that this application and immersion has affected her in her approach to work.

Mind you, I always revise my opinions when I discover that a person is fluent in another language, or that they play an instrument or sing. Sandra Bullock is fluent in German. Cate Blanchett was superb in the Italian movie, “Heaven“, and Jodie Foster was a surprise French-speaker in “A very Long Engagement“. Juliette Binoche was amazing in “Certified Copy” — acting her socks off in French, English and Italian!

Kevin Spacey sings and is a great impersonator, and I liked the guitar-playing, country-singing River Pheonix in “Thing Called Love”.

[Embedded video clip of River Phoenix singing in “Thing Called Love” on Youtube]

Tonight, I’ve just seen Paltrow sing country to promote her film that is coming out next year. She had the guts to sing live at the Annual Country Music Awards in front of all the established Country Music performers.  Sounds like “Faking It” again!

[Embedded videoclip of Paltrow at CMA singing Live “Country Strong” YouTube]

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtnnOoxw9yo&]

I think she has the country twang to a tee, and did a good job.  Of course some people will say that she’s an actress and not a country singer — but what is that all about?  There’s no qualifications for either, really, certainly, if she sells tickets or CDs, then that’s what she does and is — just the same as everybody else!

[Embedded Trailer for “Country Strong” clip from YouTube]

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOLzfxrgvKM&]

So if no-one can invent a better term, I hope that “Faking It” loses some of its negativity, because that’s what we do — that’s what we all do all day every day; we have to — and that’s how we survive.  We learn by immersion and applying ourselves, then the world changes — no sooner have you learned all the features on your phone than it gets upgraded, you got used to XP and out comes Windows 7, you learned to fax, now you e-mail. There’re no qualifications, no courses for all this stuff we have to do, it’s just so sad to see folks being sad about losing their jobs, and worrying about what to put in their CVs, if only the attitudes and systems could catch-up with the Faking It environment in which we all live, the world would be a happier place.

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