The Counterfeit Self

hero image
Counterfeit Bags
10 Sep 2008

Cognitive dissonance hung heavy in the humid air. The people of Maranello, Italy were unsettled. A fire-engine red Ferrari had been driving through town all morning causing quite a racket. Usually, the snarling growl of a Ferrari didn’t bother the people of Maranello, au contraire, it was sweet music to their ears. Ever proud of the Ferrari factory nearby, these Italians loved the sights and sounds of any automobile produced by their proud hands, and often cheered as a Ferrari streaked by – a blur of crimson and a feral whine.

But today something didn’t sound quite right. The car that had been circling Maranello all morning sure looked like a Ferrari 328GTB, but it sounded like a 1979 Ford pickup truck. The old men in the café debated vigorously, the bewildered teenagers simply jacked up the volumes on their iPods and retreated.

Finally, Tony Pinnasti, the local constable, decided to settle the issue. He turned on his lights and siren and gave chase. Rarely do police flag a Ferrari in Maranello, but never does a Ferrari pull over for a cop in Maranello. This morning was no different, and ignoring the siren, the 328GTB pulled away. The townspeople were all paying attention now, and everyone watched as the Ferrari widened the gap between it and the police car. And then the police car pulled out of its parking space. Within 45 seconds Tony Pinnasti was squarely behind the Ferrari. Disgusted that a Ferrari gave so little chase, Tony barked over the loudspeaker, “pull over you spineless American!”

As Tony approached the window, the first thing he noticed was the glare of the obviously fake Gucci sunglasses, firmly ensconced in the over-jelled hair of the thirty-five year old driver grinning back at him with an ingratiating smile. “Your honor, I don’t think I was speeding.” Tony gave him a look that would freeze a dragon’s nostril. “That’s the problem! You bring shame to all true Ferraristi! Get out of the car!”

At this point, the driver pointed at his watch and said “Look, I’m late for an appointment, how about I just give you this beautiful Prada bag, and we call it a day?” This guy was really getting on Tony’s nerves. The big Rolex the driver was wearing looked like it was bought in a subway station in NYC, and the Prada bag he was being offered still had a sticker on it that said “Made in China.” What was wrong with this guy? Driving a Ferrari, but wearing fake designer clothing, and trying to bribe him with a fake Prada bag? He should know Italians better than that!

Tony walked to the front of the car and pulled open the hood. Boy was he surprised! There, under a red metal plate with the Ferrari logo, was a 6 cylinder, 140 HP, Pontiac engine! That day Tony became the first police officer in the world to arrest someone for driving a counterfeit Ferrari.

Reuters recently reported that a ring of counterfeiters has been quietly producing fake Ferraris for a number of years. A police raid on the Rome-based operation, confiscated twenty-one of them, fourteen of which had already been sold to buyers who knew they were buying a fake Ferrari. “They were car fanatics on a budget,” explained the police reporter.

The remaining seven were being worked on in Sicilian garages where body workers were putting together body parts from a variety of cars, a few original parts such as hoods and door panels, and some custom made parts. The cars cost about $30,000, enough to buy a brand new Acura TSX which would definitely perform better and last longer, but would not carry the cachet of a vintage Ferrari which normally costs about ten times that amount.

Ferraris are one of the latest products to be replicated by forgers. Today, the worldwide counterfeit industry is worth billions. Everything from handbags, jeans, sneakers, perfume, ties, Disney toys, and soap is being counterfeited.

Often, people judge those who buy fake designer clothing as cheap, tacky, or shallow. They would look at the driver of the fake Ferrari, with the fake Gucci glasses, fake Rolex watch, and fake Prada handbags with much disdain. But the truth is that a person like that represents a struggle we all contend with, even if we’ve never bought a designer item in our entire life.

People have limited resources. They can’t afford to buy the finest things in life all the time. They need to decide what percent of their resources they will dedicate to the externals and what percent to the internals. Case in point; a guy has $50 dollars and needs a watch. He can use it to buy a nice Timex watch, which may not be high on style, but is well-made and will last him a long time. He can also buy a fake Rolex, (some of the better looking fakes cost as much as $200!) that will look real good, might even impress some people, but it will last him about six months, as it was made by an underage Chinese child, working with antiquated machines in a dimly lit sweatshop somewhere in Guangzhou. Some people will choose the Timex with internal quality, and many will choose the Rolex with external quality (as seen by the billions spent yearly on the counterfeit segment of the market).

In that same way, we have limited resources to invest in ourselves. We need to make the tough choice of what percentage of those resources we utilize to develop our external self, and what percent we use to cultivate our internal self. The more time we spend focusing on the things outside of us, such as our car, house, clothing, appearance, and accessories, the less time we have left to focus on things inside of us, such as our values, integrity, sensitivity toward others, and character building. Developing one end of the spectrum may leave you looking good or successful in the short term, but developing the other will build you into someone of real value with qualities that will last forever.

It’s not the Hermes bag that counts, but the person holding it. It’s not the Ferrari that counts, but the driver. Who are you?

Leiby Burnham, LMSW, is a rabbi, psychotherapist, and writer. He lives in Detroit with his wife, an ICU nurse, who is on strict orders to “leave her patients at work” and their two daughters, Orah and Shifra. Rabbi Burnham works for the Jean and Theodore Weiss Partners in Torah program of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, where he does community outreach, and runs a Jewish educational programs at University of Michigan, Wayne State, and Oakland University. He taught learning-disabled high school students for eight years in NYC, while receiving Rabbinical training at Shor Yoshuv Institute, and obtaining his Masters in Social Work from Yeshiva University.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.