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The eyelash has it

As an American I refuse to allow anything about America to shock or surprise me, even though I haven't lived there for 20 years and I haven't visited in two, writes Tim Dowling.

india Updated: Aug 03, 2010 22:45 IST

Last week President Barack Obama appeared on The View, a daytime talk show. Finding myself in the right place at the right time — in the US, at my Dad's house, jet-lagged and sprawled in front of a television — I was happy to monitor this quasi-historical event while wearing an expression that betrayed no hint of emotion. As an American I refuse to allow anything about America to shock or surprise me, even though I haven't lived there for 20 years and I haven't visited in two. When, for example, my son starts reading me bits from an article in The Economist about the ridiculously harsh prison sentences routinely handed down in the US, I feel a need to affect a certain world-weary nonchalance. "This guy did 17 months in jail for selling orchids without the right paperwork," he says, aghast. "Yes," I say. "Some get more." It's a terrible pose, but it's important to me, a small shard of self I am keen to retain.

Settling down in front of the TV, my face betrays no hint of alarm when I discover that Whoopi Goldberg is one of the hosts of The View, a programme I have never seen. Before Barack Obama makes his appearance, there is an ad break. I don't wince during the Playtex commercial, when a woman looks down at her bra and says, "If the girls are happy, I'm happy." I bite my tongue during the whole of the next ad for Kraft cheese. "Only one nation could create it," says the voiceover, "and that is America." To the outsider, there may be some comic mileage in unironic patriotic pride being expressed over the invention of processed cheese-food formed into yellow sheets and stacked like Post-it notes, but not to me. I'm unmoved.

At the start of the next ad my brow furrows imperceptibly. It's for something called Latisse, a product that appears to enhance the fullness of one's eyelashes. It is a prescription medication that, when applied on the base of your eyelids, will make your eyelashes grow longer. In a breathless voice, a female announcer then goes on to run through some potential side effects for users of Latisse. Among them is "the potential for increased brown-eye pigmentation which is likely to be permanent".

"Since when do normal people risk irritation, possible infection and changing the colour of their eyeballs for ever, just so they might possibly end up with slightly longer lashes?" I find that I am standing up. "Who goes to a doctor and presents with short eyelashes? Who asks for a prescription for eyelash medicine?"

"If you got it without a prescription, you'd go to jail for 50 years," says my son. "Like this guy who . . ."