So I’m watching this Ben Affleck movie “The Town” and the main character is a bank robber who engages in armed robbery and he ends up dating the victim of one of his crimes. The strange thing is that he doesn’t tell her what he does (of course, it’s probably not strange), but instead works hard to show her he’s a really great guy. During the movie my mind is whirling. Is he a great guy because he can tell a joke and laugh with her, because he can garden with her and take nice walks? Or is he a bad guy because he steals money using guns and people can get hurt?
Obviously I’m being a bit reductionist in analyzing his persona assuming a dualistic model, but I was rather bothered that he was painting a particular version of himself to this woman. In other words, he was showing her the story he tells about himself to himself. But in my mind I kept thinking, is this the real person? And don’t we do this—don’t I do this every day on Facebook? In fact, Facebook may not be a projection of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves as much as it is just another realm or arena where we project the story we want people to know about us.
Let me give you an example from the November 1938 edition of Homes and Gardens which I read about in the book “Insurrection.” In this edition, the magazine did an interview of a particular man with a large home but unpretentious in every way. The gentleman of the house delights in the company of foreigners, especially painters and other artists. He is quite kind and cordial with all of his staff, from waiters to gardeners. He allows the many pets to run about the house (where other rich men would have them restrained) and he loves children. In fact he holds amazing “Fun Fairs” where are the local children are invited to the house. This is a lovely and warm, loving man as pictured in the article.
This featured article had as its subject the nice and quiet home and life of Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany. The article implicitly begs the question “Who is Herr Hitler?” I mean, is he the nice and quiet, loving man we see in this article? Or is he the brutal, bigoted, murderous leader who incites hatred of others in people? Which is it?
The amazing thing is that the article is accurate. So it’s not the article itself or the home or the “Fun Fairs” themselves that are the tension. No, the tension lies in the lived images we construct about ourselves that avoids the crux or truth of our existence. Just as the Homes and Gardens article functioned as a mechanism to construct an image for Hitler, so we construct images and stories of ourselves in many ways, a major one being Facebook. So then the truth of my story or Hitler’s story or the lead character’s story in The Town is not really found in the story we each tell about ourselves. Rather it lies in the lived existence we fashion, in the internal drives and desire that manifest in actual practices and actions.
Most people would agree that the truth about Hitler is not in the story we see in Homes and Gardens but in the monstrous evils he did. However, do you not find it interesting that we can actually serve an ideology that we intellectually reject through our beliefs? Is that not what happens in the story of Hitler in which he intellectual rejects evil, unkindness, and hatred in one context but continually lives it out in a much wider context?
Normally people say that our practices fall short of our beliefs. And when I am talking with someone who is at that stage of consciousness, I talk at that level. In reality, however, our practices do not fall short of our beliefs. Our practices are concrete and material representations of them. And this horrifies me when I look at my life. However, it does give me hope that in the various tensions and anxieties in my life between created self-perceptions and lived realities I can work to change that . . . if it’s possible.
Go check out the movie “The Town.”