Monday, September 17, 2012

On Facebook You Are Who You Are

Previously I’ve established what movies, television, novels, and other fictional media convey to American audiences. But how do such messages affect our everyday lives? We don't see people running around in spandex, using their massive amounts of money to save a dying city (that's government work). Nor do we see women blatantly transform themselves into queen b's just to prove a point. We do see individuals striving to better humanity through academics, public service, or just being nice, and we do see people change aspects of their lives to better fit in or stand out- whichever is perceived as the way to success.
Cosplay: Not just for Adults

To understand how New American Mythology affects individuals we have to survey how people present themselves to world where they present themselves. Now, you may think, oh, obviously people walking around on the street. No. When was the last time you presented all of your true self to the street corner? You don't walk around (I assume) declaring Harry Potter as the best book series, congressmen talking about rape are idiots, Shock Top is your new favorite beer, or Fantasy Football is the same as Dungeons and Dragon

These proud, albeit random, disclosures of person's personalities occur on Facebook. We present ourselves to the (Facebook) world as we truly see ourselves- unapologeticly (unless you are) redefining ourselves with each status update, 'Like,' wall post, friend request, and defriending. Despite earlier thoughts, people don't use Facebook to create idealized personas. They may censor themselves or refrain from revealing too much, but they want to create an accurate depiction of their true personality.

As opposed to The Sims, Second-Life, chatrooms, and the other anonymous corners of the world wide web, Facebook users see the website as a representation of who they are. It's the one stop shop where others can browse your traits and decide if you are worth 'Friending' and to what extent. (Should we just be FB friends or should I try to hang out with you at school?) Additionally, because Americans tend to only 'friend' people they've met in real life, their actions are accountable. For example, someone posts that they really hate Twilight. Her friends may comment and say that she does like Twilight but really doesn't like Kristin Stewart because she's jealous. Or, people won't want to be the Twilight hater's friend, because she just lied about hating Twilight because it's 'cool'. Typical drama things.

My point is, Facebook is not an avatar creator. If you're familiar with the Jungian Archetypes, Facebook is where "From the Self -the totality of the psyche- the individualized ego consciousness emerges as the individual grows up" (Jung, Man and his Symbols). That is, individuals assemble their 'whole' selves on Facebook, marrying her Shadow, Anima/Animus, and Persona to create a Self that her ego accepts as true, even as each archetype changes. Adapting and abandoning likes, thoughts, and friends allows people to in some sense physically change their Self archetype and better understand who they are as a person. What's more, other people can understand who they are as a person.

Our understanding of a person goes beyond the text: Female Interested in Males and is Married, and instead reads 'Female Interested in [really nice] Males [who enjoy the Southern lifestyle] [but there are none around so she] is ["]Married["] [to Best Friend Katie]. People post their discoveries. They post their triumphs. They post their worries. They post how they fit in. They post how they stand out. They post things they think people want to know- about themselves, factoids, politics, rants, coupons, family. The combination of these posts describe the individual, not the single elements.

We still haven't gotten to the Mythology part of this. Where are the Astronauts, Cowboys, and Zombies on Facebook? They're there, just in a more subtle way. Facebook users display what interests them. The following are fictionalized portraits sewn together from my various friends. You have to keep in mind these are personas because I'm making them up. I've tried to make them as believable/accurate as possible.

The Cowboy:

Perhaps he likes hunting, the TV show Weeds, he quotes Boondock Saints, and the last book he read was The Watchmen.  Him and his bros pose for their pictures with calculated aloofness. He brags about all the girls he met at the club tonight. His photo albums are full of all the 'edgy' things he does- going to house parties, jumping off cliffs, graffiti he saw, and him chillaxin'. His comments skirt towards offensive, but it just shows how witty and free from conformity he is. The profile picture- him and his mutt chillin' with a beer in his dirty backyard.

The Astronaut:

On the Astronaut's profile page is all the beneficial and exciting things the Astronaut does. Her 'job' may be Volunteer at the food bank. She quotes Ghandi, Planet Earth is is favorite TV show, and he reads books like Lost Horizon. Her photos are of exotic places,  on a service trip, or running a marathon. Her Wall is covered with links to interesting facts, news clips, and exciting internet finds. She comments on controversial topics, but in an enlightened way that shows her intelligence. She and her pound puppy snuggle in his apartment to make a cute profile picture.

The Zombie:

Likes The Office, True Blood, Adventuretime, Glee, The Hangover II, Brave, 300, Gone With the Wind, 50 Shades of Grey, The Black Eyed Peas, The Beatles, the Clash, and a plethora of other media. Her photos are of the latest product she bought, dinner she ate, or hairstyle. She updates her page with comments on the latest episode of Jersey Shore or complaint going around town. Her photo shows the cute new sweater she purchased for her cute white dog.

Not Mine.

Again, these are not real profiles. In fact someone who likes to chillax with his buds may also like The Hangover II. Someone who runs marathons may also  like to show off her hairstyle. Someone who has a cute white dog might also go to house parties. How the person presents these aspects of their life determines which archetype they subscribe too. Focusing on products and material possessions is a trait of Zombies, whereas the Astronaut focuses on actions and effects, and the Cowboy on whatever is on the mind.

Another way of putting it:
Astronaut strives to better the 'collective consciousness' using their ego
Cowboy considers the 'collective consciousness' but follows their ego
Zombie mimics the 'collective consciousness' in their ego.

Also, I want to state that the Zombie profiles are not necessarily bad things, as it may come off as in the post. As mentioned earlier, Profiles reflect the individual's changing Self, and going through a phase where one relies on the Persona (of the collective consciousness) is common. If it wasn't, there would be far fewer psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and happy pills.

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