Bigger And Deffer
I’ll admit this straight out: I’m an exaggerator. It comes from being a storyteller and a bit of a clown. That’s part of who I am. So, of course, my version of the truth, my retelling of events, even my perspective on the world, tends to be a bit fabricated. Call it artistic or poetic license. (Though my friend Pat is the only one I know who actually holds the latter.) Fortunately, I am not a liar and don’t just make things up for the sake of appearances. I try to make my version of things more enjoyable for my audience (be it readers, my homies, or even my mom) but I think I keep the basic facts consistent and intact. History is just a set of lies agreed upon, right?
But lately, I’ve been struggling with the difference between exaggeration and outright lying and where you draw the line. When does exaggeration go too far? And why does it appear that we are a society of liars? What affect does this have on people and the way they behave?
A year or so ago, a coach in one of the pro sports league got fired because of the stretching of the truth: He had claimed to be a decorated soldier in Vietnam but wasn’t. He used this story to motivate his players, and it worked until they found out that he had come about as close to gunfire as I might get to, say, soy milk. But hey, he was creating a persona—one that was, in fact, true. The guy was a damn good coach and a damn good motivator. . . to a point. Was what he did right? If he was a good coach—everyone concerned seems to agree he was—why did he have to resort to doing this?
I don’t really know the answers here, but in thinking about it, I see the key to be persona. Yes, that must-have of the 21st Century, even more important than the Right Car, Right Clothes, or Right End Table. The Right Persona is something that people cultivate, groom, baby, tease, and generally construct their every waking moment around. And not just sports stars, rock stars, movie stars and political stars, but you, me and the girl next door. Marketing thrives on the whole idea of persona; psychiatry wouldn’t exist without it; and most people would be a whole lot happier if they understood it, but they don’t so they’re not.
Consider why we make most judgments. For instance, why do we dismiss a pop icon like Britney Spears as something akin to calorie-less Diet Pepsi? Is it because we are cultivating the persona of haughty music snobs, or is it because she’s really vapid? Or why do we, on the contrary, go around trying to tell music snobs that ‘lil Brit is the Second Coming of Madonna? Is it because she’s a brilliant artist and performer, or is it because we want to prove that we’re even smarter music snobs? How much of what we do or think is really us and how much is just feeding the persona?
Here’s another thought: How many rock stars do you know? Probably very few. But how many people do you see every day that walk around thinking that they are rock stars? Last time I was at a nightclub, I saw about six Ziggy Bowies. Must be the thing these days. Strange that I see these same people taking my order at the local coffeehouse and, other than their dirty apron, they tend to be wearing the same clothes, hair, makeup, etc. (Disturbing enough to bump into the Thin White Duke at the bar, but even more strange to have him toast you a bagel.) And what about the guy who always wears the slick vintage clothing and the porkpie hat? Or the nation of Beastie Boys I see in every city park skateboarding? It’s all feeding the persona.
Why do we care so much about persona? We as a people have become so obsessed with outward appearances because of the pervasiveness of political correctness and the same personality-less corporate genericity that afflicts everything from music and movies to hotels and restaurants. People are afraid to be cast as anything other than a type—types get cast and reinforced in everything, from the IBM culture to the black-dude-who-dies-first in the summer action thriller. Call it a lack of imagination or a lack of anyone ever really getting to know anyone in our decentralized suburban culture of mind- your-own-business and sequester yourself in a gated community, interacting only via the Internet. So people pick the type they think will get them where and what they want and stick to it at all costs, even the cost of subverting their own thoughts. Those that deviate from type (i.e. a pro choice Republican, an openly gay teen pop idol, a workaholic CEO who likes to wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts to the office, etc.) become outcasts, untrusted, and definitely not rewarded by our “the buck stops there” society. The converse is rebellion for the sake of rebellion (something that I’ve been guilty of for most of my life) the Rebel Without A Clue syndrome that causes all the piercings, tattoos, and other aspects of persona that say little other than, “I’m going to do the opposite of what you say.”
Perhaps the saddest part of all this is that we as a people have lost our ability to look at ourselves and laugh. We can’t see anything outside our persona and our constant attempt to live up to the aggrandized vision we have of ourselves. The exaggeration doesn’t permit it. We surely can’t look up at the sky and recognize the insignificance of the trivial little world we construct in our minds and the few cubic feet of space that we occupy as we move about the atmosphere.
And sadly enough, when we exaggerate for persona’s sake, we’re bound to be found out sooner or later. My friends know I’m not quite as funny as I pretend to be. My ex-girlfriend knows I’m not quite as tough as I think I am. All those athletes on that team know that their coach was really just a regular guy who happened to be their coach.