Personas Aren’t People

The next chapter of After the Storm is taking a little longer to write than I had anticipated, but it will be posted tomorrow evening. Today I’m responding to a blog post about public personas.

My golden rule when looking at a celebrity is to ask myself whether or not I would like to be friends with them if I knew them in real life. I ask myself, “Would I be proud to call this person my friend if I knew them? Would I add their number to my contacts list?”

From Ellen Degeneres.

This was such a thought-provoking blog post, but I was struck by how differently the author and I think about celebrities.

One of the benefits of growing up a preacher’s kid is that I learned early on that personas aren’t people. The similarities between the expectations average people hold of pastors and of celebrities are actually quite interesting.

People in both professions are held to a higher standard than other families, and their spouses and kids are included in these inflated expectations. The problem with this is that perfection isn’t possible. Everyone makes mistakes eventually, so what families living in this fishbowl must learn to do is keep their public faces on even when they think no one is watching.

Personas can be influenced heavily by your real personality and identity, but at the end of the day your public face isn’t the real you.  By its very nature the range of emotions a persona shows is limited by what others expect of it.

I’m a fan of Ellen’s comedy routines and TV show, and I really appreciate the messages she teaches about kindness, tolerance, and playfulness. I share many of the values Ellen discusses on her show, and in no way am I insinuating anything about who she is when the camera stops rolling. There’s no way for me to know this information because I don’t know her personally.

But how well I think I’d get along with entertainers isn’t something that consciously affects what I watch or listen to. Public personas are simply another tool singers/actors/comedians use to draw in an audience, and I don’t expect famous people who are known for X to actually necessarily be X in their private lives.

Readers, do you form strong opinions about entertainers based on their public personas?

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0 Responses to Personas Aren’t People

  1. Michael Mock

    Honestly, I prefer to know as little about entertainers as possible. To pick an obvious example, I enjoyed reading a lot of Orson Scott Card’s work, but over the last few years he’s used his persona to push some beliefs that I consider fairly despicable… This has made several books rather less enjoyable than they used to be. So, yes, I form strong opinions about entertainers based on their public performers – but it’s often against my will, and usually only when some aspect of their behavior is deliberately brought to my attention.

  2. Hey Lydia,

    I was just speaking about something like this last night.

    I have a new job and am thus surrounded by tons of new colleagues.

    They are all getting to know me and I them.

    But is there a “real them” to get to know — I think not.

    You capture part of my meaning in this counter-intuitive statement by using the dichotomous categories of persona vs person (our public vs private faces). I think it is deeper than that.

    I behave differently with my kids, with my drinking buddies, with my patients, with surgeons, with pediatricians, with theist, with …..

    When I go to family reunions, I surprise myself and jump back into some otherwise sleeping childhood patterns.

    Why? Because our selves flux. And the more fluxes we observe in a person, the more we get to understand that critter, not because we learn about their real self, but because we watch the patterns of their various selves.

    Last night I told a new colleague that I have learned to suspend judgement on new acquaintances (when I have that luxury) and wait for at least a year or two before I start to feel I understand them a bit.

    But here are a few ways I like to think about people as I get to know them:

    — would I like them as a neighbor (even if I disagree with their beliefs or some practices)

    — would I enjoy them at one of my parties , though at work they may be lazy, too loud or careless

    — what did they look like and act like when they were in grade school ? Given that, have they done well in the niche they are now?

    So, Ellen’s thought of viewing folks in terms of being a real-life friend is something I also use, not to judge them negatively, but positively. For like you, I may not like one of the many faces of a person but I don’t feel any of them are the real person — instead, I imagine how I can relate to them.

    So, in Michael Mock’s example, I don’t care what Card’s background is, I love his book. I don’t care about Michael Jackson, I loved some of his music and performances, I don’t care about Wagner’s view of Jews, I love his music. People are not consistent — that is not what people are. (see my recent post)

    Hey — blog idea: can you add a tab to your blog — seeing an “About” tab (instead of your side navigation) may help folks. And then fill out your about section a bit more. Just a thought. It would help me to know your your various selves! 🙂

    Oooops that was a long comment — damn coffee! 🙂

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