Life stripped of its illusion and its seeming becomes a rather deadly thing to contemplate.Theodore Dreiser - The Genius (1915)
The other day while checking the weather forecast on whatever Ceefax is called these days I stumbled across a TV programme showing clips of people working in a laboratory. Something nefarious was going on in the world outside and lab folk were dutifully proving evidence to show just how horribly nefarious it was. BBC nefarious that is.
At the sight of a working laboratory I came over all nostalgic for a minute or two. I always enjoyed lab work and recall a number of occasions where promotional cameras invaded our domain for a disruptive hour or two. As one might expect, the folk behind the cameras are only interested in things that move, bubble or just look techie. The person at the bench tends to be a senior scientist finding out if their rarely-used lab coat still fits.
I remember one occasion where our laboratory had been chosen to supply some promotional images. To set the scene we were asked to set up a row of bottles containing coloured water just for the camera. As for the science, the PR people had brought along a blonde model to do that. Her job was to wear a pristine lab coat and pretend to do something scientific for the camera. I’m sure she was pleasant enough, but somehow she managed to convey that sense of vacant prettiness models are so good at.
The final result was just as artificial as it usually is. Anyone with any kind of technical background must see the artificiality. Scientist peering at a tube of liquid, heating it up over a Bunsen burner with the flame set incorrectly to make it visible to the camera. A reflux extractor set up to extract lots of nice clean nothing. A robot injector system selecting the next sample vial - it usually runs overnight but just for the camera we’ll make it do something harmless.
One is left wondering why things are done this way, why the artificiality has to be so obvious. Perhaps it has to be so because it is expected, because promotional artifice is normal and realistic is not. Expectations have to be met and we have wandered too far from reality to turn back now.