We were out to lunch with our most well travelled, urbane friends.
“Have you seen those buildings in London?” asked one. “They pull down the entire building, all of it, except the façade. Then rebuild behind it.”
“I think that’s what they are doing with the Royal College of Surgeons,” said I.
“ I was up close to one of those buildings,” continued our friend, “And the new windows weren’t aligned with the old. It looked a mess.”
“Façadism!” I pronounced with glee. “It’s a metaphor for the state of our society.”
There was a micro pause and all around the table laughed, albeit hollowly.
Looking good on the outside, and falling down on the inside. In the era of selfies, and photoshopping, fancy cars and identikit houses, fake nails, fake eyelashes, fake boobs, fake tan, fake Rolexes, fake Gucci, aren’t we all living behind a façade?
“Fur coat and no knickers,” my Scottish friend calls it.
And what about at work? Is façadism at play there too? You bet.
Shiny new hospitals with departments too small to house their intake on completion of build. State of the art entrances with Marks & Spencer shops covering up the shortages of staff – 40,000 nurses, 10,000 doctors. Trolley waits multiplied like bacteria from 6,000 in September 2010 to 65,000 in September 2019. Façadism usually hides behind numbers, which can be manipulated to say anything and nothing but these numbers are incontrovertible. Yet they are hidden in the damp cellar of the building, because the façade looks nice, so what else matters? Façadism worships at the altar of data, technology and smoke and mirrors management techniques. Plaster a smile on your face and carry on, robot like. As long as it looks good all will be well.
Façadism in higher education. Now universities are doing their best to entice students in to their courses. Courses which offer no hope of a job at the end of them, cost nearly £30,000 for little more than a day a week’s tuition, and which could be studied at night school or in a year. University lecturers on annual, hourly contracts, flitting here and there from one institution to another in a desperate attempt to piece together a jigsaw job, to make ends meet to pay the bills.
Façadism has never been as evident in politics. Fake news. We’re surrounded with fake promises, men in not even sharp suits any more, with double and triple bluffs going on, smear campaigns about smear campaigns, and diversionary tactics by most news outlets to hide the real stories, the ones that matter. Façadism. Visits to hospitals and schools, places the Prime Minister has never previously set foot – no wonder he looks so uncomfortable.
Façade is a French word meaning “face.” The façade of a building is the face of it. Façades – and façadism – are not new – in previous eras buildings were sometimes updated with a new, more modern frontage, leaving the old building in existence and some disrepair, behind it. Even then people wanted to “keep up with the Joneses,” to save face, to look good. To present an outward image that was not representative of what was at heart.
The façade sets the tone for rest of building, in architectural terms. But it doesn’t in life. What you see is what you get? Hardly. These days what you see is likely to be a huge, manufactured, fake cover up for something that needs hiding because it is not fit for purpose.
Facades are dangerous. They don’t just mislead people, they can kill. The cladding on cheap, government owned buildings or cheap student accommodation, rapidly thrown up by investors looking to make as much money as possible from those who earn the least. Exploitation at its finest.
As election fever grips us in the run in to the festive season, let’s take a moment to look behind the façade. All those fake promises, all the shiny tinsel and cheap decorations. What do they mean? What does anything mean beyond its exterior gloss?
We need to ask ourselves, what is being hidden from us? What piece of evidence of national security is being omitted by the latest piece of trashy, gossippy news story? Whose racism is being shrouded by the smear campaign against his opponent? When “I’m a celebrity” rakes in more attention than the “I’m a national travesty” that should be exhibited every night on national TV, what are we doing to get to the truth?
Absolutely nothing. We are too busy marvelling at our neighbours’ new car or planning our next makeover. Is this really what we believe in or have we too been sucked into the pretence, the subterfuge, the lies and deceit?
I say we call façadism out. Now. Blow down the cardboard walls, stride over the plastic adornments, and demand to see what is really behind the image. Just as the residents of Oz were taken in with their big, scary Wizard and the townspeople marvelled at the Emperor’s new clothes, so we believe the hype, we worship style over substance. It took a little dog to draw back the curtain on the Wizard and a small boy to point out that the Emperor was naked. So should we, young and old, large and small, push beyond the obvious, demand to know what’s really going on and question anything that looks too good to be true?
You bet we should. Because otherwise we are as shallow as they are.
If it looks too good to be true, it will be. That’s just façadism.