Real Heroes vs Imaginary OnesApril 6, 2008 | 5 Comments
I was at the gym this morning, on the treadmill. I was listening to my iPod and not the television in front of me, but every once in awhile I glanced up at it. I saw several images of Martin Luther King, commemorating, I imagine, the 40th anniversary of his death. There were shots of him orating. Walking with Coretta. Marching arm in arm with fellow protesters. And, finally, the heartbreaking photo of those who stood with him when he was assassinated, pointing up at the direction from which the shots came. I felt myself well up with tears. It was not hard to touch in immediately with the tragedy of hate and its grievous consequences. Just then the screen shifted to footage of Reverend Al Sharpton and others walking arm in arm in obvious homage to the spirit of Martin Luther King.
I don’t have anything against Rev Sharpton. But there was something about the staginess of the shot that made my heart sink. It just didn’t seem real. The series of thoughts that then cascaded in my mind had nothing to do with Sharpton, King, or racism. They were about how grossly deceived we are about the difference between authenticity and image. I imagined that Sharpton and his friends had, at least in part, staged their walk for the media and for the message it would send about their viewpoint. There’s nothing wrong with that. We live in a marketing-intensive culture. But somehow we’ve collectively forgotten to separate reality from its marketing campaign. The consequences are dire: Not knowing whether you love someone or the idea of them; not knowing how to choose a career that suits you beyond looking successful; not being able to make up your mind on the issues of the day because all you’ve been given to build on are facades and postures.
What I’m trying to say is that the inner connection to self, your very own, very unique inner landscape has been abandoned. Why, I can’t tell you. But I can see evidence of it everywhere: Kids who say that what they want to be when they grow up is famous. Not President. Not an astronaut. Not a doctor or a poet or a father or mother. Famous. For me, music is the most devastating example of the loss of authenticity. Everything I hear sounds posed. I’m not saying there aren’t countless talented, clever people making music today—there are. Pyrotechnics—yes. Technique—yes. Smart, interesting, inventive—yes. But soulful? No. No amount of overwrought emoting or derivative imaging can conjure the soulfulness of listening to a person who is also listening to themselves—as opposed to looking at themselves from the outside in. No matter how many unusual influences you blend together (Cambodian-surf for example), you will never create anything new. The only thing that is new is what arises on the spot.
Another example of this horrible illness that I call image-poisoning (when we believe that the image of a thing is the thing itself) is the idea of a “personal brand.” I actually feel sick to my stomach at when I hear this phrase. I’m not kidding. Actual nausea. But, again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be super conscious and pragmatic about the image we project and the way people perceive us. But the idea that you would brand yourself like a carton of milk or a glossy magazine is just sick. It’s like saying to yourself, who do I want to pretend to be and how can I get others to see me that way? It’s bullshit. If you are yourself instead of trying to project yourself, you will find yourself in possession of personal magnetism and power. My friend Michael says we’re so busy trying to get somewhere that we have forgotten how to be somewhere. We have. We’re so busy trying to brand ourselves that we’ve forgotten how to be ourselves.
Do you know the difference between your image and yourself? Please ask yourself this question. Are you trying to seem like someone or be someone?
Please stop branding yourself, unless you’re very, very clear about the difference between your brand and yourself.
The TV piece on MLK closed with a shot of Obama giving a speech. Although I couldn’t hear it, it was easy to guess that the fact of Obama’s candidacy for President was being touted as an indication of just how far we’ve come. YAY. We have come a ways, although there is a tremendous distance still to go—but this isn’t what made me so sad as I watched the piece wind down. It was that we’re electing a President based not on character, not on values, not on statesmanship, but on the image of these things.
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