Today’s post was inspired by a porn star. Now that I have your your attention I should disclose that this piece is NOT about pornography. I apologize to anyone who stumbled here looking for videographic stimulation, titillation, or a prurient sense of moral outrage; I can refer you to some speedier corners of the internet if you would like. Today’s topic is: identities.
I was inspired to write this post after reading an opinion piecein the Sunday New York Times by the adult entertainment star Stoya. Stoya wrote about why she chooses to use a stage name, despite the fact that, in this information age, a pseudonym for privacy protection is about as effective as a pair of groucho Marx glasses.
|They’ll never see through THIS clever disguise|
She makes the point that the pseudonym isn’t so much about hiding her identity, as it is about separating her work life (i.e. performing sex acts on video for other people’s enjoyment) from her personal life (i.e. all of the things she enjoys doing while she isn’t busy being a porn star). It really is a wonderfully written piece: humorous, self-reflective, and poignant. For Stoya, her work is a role she slips into: she is a porn star from 9-5 to pay the bills, but when she’s shopping at Whole Foods, she is Jessica, just another attractive white lady in the produce department. This got me thinking: most of us are NOT porn stars (as far as I know, and if you are, awesome! Marathonsam doesn’t judge anyone their chosen profession); however, we do all play multiple roles in our day-to-day existence. How do we reconcile our identities into one cohesive individual?
For Stoya it seems so simple: she literally has an alter ego, like Clark Kent– although her superpowers are a little more specialized.
|Truth, justice, the American Way! And orgasms.|
For the rest of us it is slightly more complicated. We certainly behave differently at work than we do when we are at home. We are also influenced by the people around us. We tweak our vocabularies and our mannerisms depending on who we are interacting with. Think of how you would react if your computer crashed and took with it a very important document that you had spent hours working on. Think specifically about what words you might use to express your frustration.
Now imagine the same situation, but your dear, sweet, 90 year old aunt Edna is sitting right across the table from you; unless Edna was in the Merchant Marines I bet you would make much more of an effort to leash in your language.
|I don’t know Edna’s life|
Think about your favorite story from college, the one that always gets a laugh at happy hours. Would you tell it to your boss? Does this mean we are all phonies, changing our personality to suit the situation at hand? I’m going to kick Holden Caulfield to the curb and argue that this personality-plasticity is not only normal, but one of the best things about human beings in general. I think that our inconsistencies serve to make us more interesting. I also think that the differences between the distinct identities we slip into in our day-to-day lives can serve as a tool to identify our truest, most consistent selves.
When I was in college I took an introductory sociology course. One of the concepts that resonated with me was the Dramaturgical Theory of Sociology, posited by Erving Goffman. The idea behind this theory is that every single social interaction is a “scene,” and therefore the people within the scene are actors slipping into the necessary roles for that particular scene to move forward. Everyone’s actions should be evaluated based on context. This theory maintains that every person has both a “front-stage” personality, which is malleable (to a point) depending on the requirements of the scene. Everyone also posses a “back-stage” personality. This is fundamentally unchanging. Sometimes the front-stage and back-stage personalities are the same. Sometimes, they are not, but the back-stage is kept hidden so that the scene can move forward. Some people are worse actors than others, and have trouble keeping the back-stage safely behind the curtains– interacting with these people can feel like watching bad community theater: uncomfortable and unconvincing. On the other hand, sometimes you get a rare glimpse into a person’s back-stage persona and it is like a great episode of “Inside the Actors’ Studio,” illuminating, revealing, and emotional.
|James Lipton not required.|
I like the Dramaturgical Theory. There is no value judgement attached to the different roles we play, this is a distinctly human behavior. All of our actions and interactions are in service of moving the scene forward–it isn’t phoniness, it’s the pursuit of social norms. I think that it is fascinating that everybody has a whole cast of charcaters within them, ready to take center stage. For Stoya, with her work alter ego, the identities she adopts may be more drastically different than for the rest of us, but we all wear many hats.
|Sometimes we wear cowboy hats|
Now here’s where it gets really interesting. We are each and every one of us a teeming hive of inconsistencies and contradictions. This is a good thing. Society as we know it would likely grind to a screeching halt if everyone said what was truly on their minds 100% of the times.
If we accept the fact that we all are capable of being different people depending on what is required of us the question is: can we use this as a tool? Can we use our personal paradoxes to identify what within is constant and fundamental? Is back-stage persona the SUM TOTAL, or the AVERAGE of all of our sundry front-stage facades? Do we need some more complex math to answer this question?
|Is the Riemann-Zeta function involved?|
I don’t have an answer. I only took one quarter of Sociology. I’m just a blogger who likes to indulge in some navel-gazing and seriously hopes that he doesn’t end up with his head up his ass. But I have been thinking about my own identities:
I am a scientist.
I am an endurance athlete.
I am an environmentalist.
I am an explorer.
I am an animal lover.
I am an American.
I am a yogi.
I am a reader.
I am a foodie.
I am sarcastic.
I am a feminist.
I am a blogger (I think?)
I am running out of space in this blog post.
The point I am trying to make is that even though we slip into different roles, I believe we can find a common unifying thread. We all wear many hats, but in the end our heads don’t change much.
Sorry for rambling on. I would be delighted to hear if anyone else has any further thoughts. How do you define yourself? What do you think about Dramaturgy Theory? Did anyone else take sociology in college? I thought that it was a completely easy A, and also one of the most interesting classes that I ever took.