A fundamental question is: How much of an individual is separate from the persona? To the extent that the persona is the model of the way that one portrays one’s self in public, and to the extent that individuals are, arguably, defined by how they behave or are perceived in a public setting (if a persona was wandering alone in a forest. . .), then the individual is the persona, at least as a practical manner (with “practical” representing social interaction rather than solipsistic activities). To be sure, no one actually knows how one’s self is perceived by others (one might think that he is being cool while others might think he is being a complete ass. . .while another group of people might think he is being cool: everything has to do with context). But one must present him- or herself in a certain way and there are only a certain number of repertoires that one can engage at any point in time (e.g., I don’t think that it would be taken as an acceptable behavior if one was to present one’s self as, say, a French serf from the mid-16th century); Ziggy Bowie clones are seeming more appropriate (although it would seem to me that there is a curious temporal lag here, too).
While an individual’s self-creation of a persona is one thing, the creation of a persona by a third party is something else entirely. The dismissal of or embrace of Britney has more to do, I suggest, to the fact that Spears is a simulacra than with any snobbishness, direct or reversed. What she is is the consequence of someone creating an object, a Gibsonesque idoru, something that goes far beyond the arch artificiality that is fundamental to and of “The Mickey Mouse Club,” from whence she emerged. This has nothing to do with her singing ability. The reference that Jeff makes to Madonna is exceedingly apt, in that among pop performers she is the one who has worn personas like clothing, moving from one outfit to another, changing with time. Note, for example, how Britney’s initial innocence has given way to naughtiness (but one that we can take is being not scandalous because if Bob Dole finds her to be appealing, then one need not worry about inappropriateness, because Bob Dole would be the first to tell you that Bob Dole, if nothing else, is as appropriate as Bob Dole can be. . .or so the Bob Dole persona would lead us to believe). And presumably she will be morphed into a variety of other guises as time goes on. Public stasis is death, as any viewing of “Entertainment Tonight” will prove.
While one would certainly be in favor of authenticity in place of artificiality, the questions that remain are what would those guys in the park kicking ollies be if they weren’t faux Beasties Boys; what would those guys in Einstein’s Bagels be in they weren’t wondering how to buy a single colored contact lens to achieve the two-color effect; who would anyone be if they weren’t something within the context of our understanding? Fooling one’s self too much is pathological, just as too much self-awareness is debilitating (as Eliot’s Prufrock asked “do I dare eat a peach?”—when you get to this state, you’re thinking way too much).
As Bishop Berkeley argued long ago: To be is to be perceived.