The Fake Smile

Alexandra, Miss Pre-Teen Michigan Galaxy 2009. Photograph by David Defoe.

Alexandra, Miss Pre-Teen Michigan Galaxy 2009. Photograph by David Defoe.

A sign of strength, or a mark of sadness? A quick check of popular quotes about fake smiles shows that opinions are divided.

Head up, stay strong
Fake a smile, move on
It’s much easier to fake a smile than to explain what you really feel inside.
Fake friends believe your fake smile
True friends see the tears you’re hiding inside

Psychologist Paul Ekman has become famous for his systematic way of analyzing micro-expressions: involuntary marks of emotions in the face that give away how a person really feels. His analysis on smiles is presented in the classic article "Smiles When Lying", co-authored with Wallace Friessen and Maureen O'Sullivan. 

Based on Ekman's work, advice on how to distinguish a real smile from a fake one is plentiful on the internet, and there's even a test you can do to check how good you are at it.

Others are more interested in how the fake smile feels inside - and what incessant fake smiling does to a person. The fake smile is an essential element of the face service workers have to put on for their customers. Arlie Hochschild in her book "The Managed Heart" argued that this can lead them to become alienated from their true feelings.

More recent psychological studies alternately recommend the fake smile as an aid to happiness or, following Hochschild, warn that it has a detrimental effect.

Doubting the Moon Landings

How is it that some people believe the historic manned missions to the moon between 1969 and 1972 to have been faked? 

The video above is a 2001 Fox television programme titled "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?". It and its aftermath (a flood of moon landing hoax claims on the Internet, NASA's reaction) are discussed by Andrew Gumbel in a 2002 piece for the British newspaper The Independent

James Oberg was at one point commissioned by NASA to write a book-length response to accusations that the moon landings were faked - the book would also address "why such stories seemed so attractive to so many people". His contract was later cancelled when NASA thought it better not to dignify the accusations. 

An update on the state of disbelief in the moon landings, with some additional points and perspectives, is provided in this 2009 New York Times article by John Schwartz. The comments are also worth a quick look.

Two question will be central in our discussion of these materials:

  • What's the relationship between evidence and suspicion?
  • How do suspicions about fakery impact human lives and relations - especially in how they shape dialogue and debate?