Emptiness of the Deceptive Experience

What is the point of fake tea lights in restaurants? For those who have not yet noticed, fake tea lights are battery-powered lights with cylindrical bases and flame-shaped tops. They are cleverly designed to flicker, seemingly randomly, just as if they were flame-based candles. Restaurants, even expensive ones, often drop them into ordinary candle holders and most guests are none the wiser.

Fake tea light

Without a doubt, warm mood lighting is pleasant at dinner, and a well-designed battery-powered light can provide just that. Even so, there is clearly an effort to conceal the electronic nature of the light – a considerable effort went into designing the randomish flickering of the fake flame. The whole candle is disingenuous. Using these candles may make sense from the restaurant’s point of view (there is no messy wax to clean up, the candles last longer, no smoke to offend a sensitive patron, and there is less risk of fire), but why pass off mood lighting as if it were a candle? Why not just use beautiful, pleasant lights without a fake flame? The disagreeable nature of these candles is the same as in perfectly green plastic lawns, gas-powered fireplaces with fake logs, artificial flowers, and silicone breasts: an intent to deceive.

Not everything artificial or new is disagreeable; the world changes in radical ways and we are best advised to adjust to change. Think, for example, back to a time before recorded music, when all music required a live person to produce it. Imagine how fake recorded music must have seemed to somebody from that time. Still, while being as artificial as the candle, recorded music is not nearly as disagreeable. The difference is that nobody believes that they can pass off a recording as an actual performance by live people. There is no intent to deceive in recorded music. Although radically different from live music, it is an authentic experience, to be enjoyed for its own sake. Back to the candle, it is not its lack of a burning flame that offends, but the presence of an electronic flame, whose only function is to deceptively mimic the burning flame.

This author unable to express clearly why a deceptive experience should be so disagreeable. One suspicion is that its only value is the pleasure it brings when the deception is successful. Those of us who wish for the world to be more than just a stream of pleasurable experiences find ourselves wishing for something more and feel cheated from it when we feel deceived (and wonder how many attempts have been successful without our knowing).

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