Are you honest enough to say what you’re not good at?
My identity has always been a source of amusement to me. I can’t seem to get the slick, groomed, model type of appearance right. I am so not a man of action that I can’t even confidently hammer a nail into a wall to hang a picture. Nor does the money effortlessly flow my way.
What am I good at? I am very good at reading and writing. Given the choice, I would read and write all day. I am very good at walking on beaches at sunset with a serenely blank look. I am also good at quaffing beers. I can make half a liter of beer vanish in less than fifteen seconds. It’s a trick with the muscles of the throat. I am also good at letting my mind wander. From the above, it seems that I should be a drunken critic with a beach house.
On the other hand, I am also a good parent and provider, so all the gratuitous beer and beaches will have to wait a long, long time until I can begin to explore the pleasures of a disreputable, financially independent old age. Being decrepit has suddenly become attractive!
The parenting angle is not an identity problem: it fits me like a glove. The real problem with my identity is the fact that it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere outside of my front garden, and even then I suspect the neighbours are repulsed by the sight of my shorts.
According to a bunch of thinkers called the modernists, an identity is akin to a blank piece of paper and a pen. You sit down and begin creating your own identity from scratch, or scribble, or even doodle I suppose, on that piece of paper. No, I’m not joking. This really is what they think. Count yourself fortunate if you can produce a halfway decent anatomical drawing.
Another bunch of thinkers, the postmodernists, see identity as a blank piece of paper, a pile of magazines, some scissors and a stick of glue. In order to define your identity, leaf through the magazines, cut out the pictures that you like and use the glue to make a collage. I’m not joking here either.
No doubt you have seen people walking into plastic surgeons offices with mismatched ears, eyes, lips and noses stuck to the bit of paper saying saying, “I want to look like that.” Fortunately, though the patient may have been influenced by Picasso on some deep, subconscious level, the plastic surgeons never take them literally.
If you really want to see it in action, give a teenager a pinning board and come back in a week. It’s not just the pinning board that will have changed. And for a really scary experience, give a bored housewife a stack of home and décor magazines.
It may read like wit and sound like comedy, but postmodernism is a reality. Wherever you go, in all the financial strata, in every country, no matter how civilized or benighted, people are defining and developing identities using images garnered from the media. An image that particularly springs to mind is of a combatant in Sudan carrying an rifle that was archaic in World War One and wearing a Tupac Shakur T-shirt.
The interesting thing about postmodernism is that as images pass through multiple incarnations, they evolve according to perceptions of what they represent, rather than what they are. This is known as a ‘copying error’.
Imagine taking an original picture of Marilyn Monroe, making a Photostat of it, then Photostatting the copy and repeating the process twenty or thirty times. What would someone look like who used the final image to reproduce Marilyn Monroe’s image? Probably not like Marilyn Monroe. And was that T-shirt with the photo of Tupac really associated with West Coast Gangsta Rap by the Sudanese warrior who wore it?
There is hope for originality yet, even if it is only produced in error.
Unfortunately, or probably fortunately, pictures of badly dressed, unkempt people walking on the beach at sunset with a beer in one hand and a book in the other just don’t make the grade with the media, much less make money for the next book and the next beer.
I’m the square peg in a round hole. Strangely enough though, I’m quite happy with the status quo.