I'm not a fan of Twitter. Correction -- I've not signed up for Twitter, I've never used Twitter, and I am not planning to do so in the near future. Facebook, on the other hand, is a friend of mine. I first started using Facebook shortly before the birth of my daughter, and it proved to be a useful tool to get the word out about her birth. Since then, I've used it to keep in touch with my long-lost friends, answer students' questions about homework, and find out new information about people I haven't seen in ages. A small part of my life "exists" on Facebook. I have pictures from my wedding, from the hospital after my daughter's birth, from my vacations and social outings with good friends. Not everyone can see all of these pictures, especially those images I deem to be very personal.
One day, out of boredom, I Google searched my name and discovered - to my dismay--that a picture of my daughter when she was 12 months old popped up. I thought the private pictures were exactly that: private. But alas, her picture was floating in cyberspace. I worry what consequences this will have for her and for me down the road.
Do celebrities worry about the consequences of publishing their image all over the Internet? How much of their Internet identity is under their control, and how much of it is manipulated by the context (publicists, consumers, hackers, etc.)
When I think of bad-boy rock stars (or bad-girl rock stars too), I wonder how much of their image is manufactured by publicists and agents. Take Amy Winehouse for example. The poor girl is really messed up. She is abusive (and abused); she's an addict and a wild card. But so are her songs. Have you heard her early work? She doesn't pretend to be Mariah Carey; she's a misfit who sings about her woes. So every time I hear that she's in jail, I wonder if I'm hearing about her latest transgression because her publicity team wants me to know about it. Similar to the celebrities whose PR team posts Twitter updates to perpetuate a star's image, Winehouse's bad behavior Winehouse's public persona (Marshall, 2010 p. 44).
We are all guilty of feeding the celebrity gossip frenzy. I don't buy supermarket tabloids, but I glance at them when I am in the check out line. I also watch entertainment television shows, like Entertainment Tonight, when I feel compelled to know how the "other half" lives or when some a celebrity has committed a particularly egregious public faux pas. I must also admit that I was transfixed by Michael Jackson's death and subsequent funeral last summer. As I watched the numerous television shows and news clips devoted to Jackson's last days, I realized that I was compelled to watch these ridiculous shows because I was given a small, inside-glance at Jackson the person, not Jackson the singer. Marshall writes about this idea of the public private self as an identity that "implies some sort of further exposure of the individual's life" (p. 44). I learned about aspects of Michael Jackson's life that had been previously unknown to me: he had a secret closet in the master bedroom of his Neverland Ranch, he loved eating fast food, he had a noted addiction to pain killers, he was afraid of being alone. Indeed, I felt like I knew him better as a person after watching the 24-hour coverage of his death, and I certainly felt more connected to his music after grieving alongside his family and friends in the very public, televised funeral. How much of his life was opened up after his death to ensure that his albums would continue to sell? Was the public exposure of Jackson's private life also a simple publicity stunt undergone to raise more money? The answer to both of these questions is probably yes. But having the opportunity to remember what made Jackson so great and inspirational to me as a kid in the early 80s by watching the coverage of his death was also important to me. It's as if I'm willing to forgive the insincerity of his funeral because I got something real out of the experience.
So have various opportunities to construct and present our identity served or hinder our lives? President Obama's advice to graduating seniors is well taken: beware what you put out there, because it just might come back to haunt you (Marshall 45). Veteran political reporter Helen Thomas recently learned this the hard way; her comments to an interviewer about Israel and Palestine have been deemed inappropriate, and she's suffered the consequences because of uttering them. Granted, her thoughts were shared the good old-fashioned way - through an interview - but the point is well taken. Using and abusing social networking sites - or misspeaking in an interview -- can have dire consequences.
Teachers don't earn the same income as celebrities, but they too have to think about their public personal identity because they are held to a higher moral standard than many other people in society. They may not have a microphone shoved in their faces or television cameras documenting their every moment like celebrities do, but one misstep in conversation with a parent, community member or colleague could land them in hot water. Teachers are seen and judged in public based on their physical appearance too. Like celebrities, teachers who drop into a local Target store on the weekend wearing less than socially acceptable clothing or with substandard grooming can become the target of harsh criticism. By now, you may be thinking, "give teachers a break. They are humans like the rest of us!" Or, perhaps I just hope that is what you are thinking. But the real world is not so forgiving of educators. We all know that female teachers can't dress too provocatively lest they woo their high school students; educators shouldn't socialize at public watering holes or engage in otherwise public "risky" behavior (like going dancing at a club). Yep, teachers are considered moral agents, and unlike celebrities who make a gazillion dollars, teacher salaries are modest, at best. One would think that since teachers are expected to be upstanding citizens, the field of education would only recruit well-behaving individuals. We all know that isn't true either.
How different the world would be if teachers, like celebrities, had PR assistance and ghost Twitter writers to manage the very public, private side of their lives.
"Presentation of Self" Assignments
#1: For Advanced Modern Dance Technique
All quarter long, you've been journaling about your experiences in this dance class. You've been asked to reflect upon your technique, your weaknesses as a dancer and the goals you'd like to achieve by the end of the class. Now I'd like you to take a moment to think about yourself as a performer and not as a student.
Every time you dance a combination in class, you are also performing - for the teacher, for your classmates, and for yourself. In fact, I bet one of the reasons you like to dance is because you like to perform. Take a moment to think about yourself as a performer. What things do you do to get ready to perform? How is your identity as a dance performer different from your identity as a teenager, a girl/boy or a regular high school student?
Once you've discovered your performance identity (and you all have one), write about ways in which you can consciously enhance that identity. In other words, what can you do to maximize your dance performance identity in this dance class?
Finally, take a moment to think about how your life or your dancing would change if the performance element suddenly disappeared. We could spend years debating whether this is actually possible, and that's not the point. Rather, I want you to think about how you present yourself in class and what you would do or what things you would change if you knew you didn't have to present a certain aspect of yourself through your dancing.
Your journal response should be 1-2 pages at a minimum. As always, I won't read your entries, but I will ask you to share a thought or two in class when we begin a whole class discussion about "performance self" tomorrow.
#2: Dance Careers Job Searching and Resume Writing
This assignment has several steps to it; make sure you do each step before proceeding with the assignment.
Choose your favorite contemporary celebrity. Using images in newspapers, magazines or online, create a collage that best depicts his/her public persona. For example, if you think Beyonce is seen as a fierce and sexy rock star, create a visual collage that represents this. Try to find images from both their public and private life (just pick up a supermarket tabloid to find "private" images).
Next, analyze your collage based on the public and private images you gathered. What can you tell about this celebrity based on his/her public life? What can you tell based on his/her private life? Are the private life images flattering or not? Write a brief paragraph outlining your conclusions.
Next, create a collage of yourself using public and private images. Gathering private images shouldn't be too hard... just ask your parents. But to gather public images, you will need to use an online search engine. I recommend using Google, but you are welcome to use the search engine site of your choice.
Once you've completed a search of yourself and created a collage of images, briefly responds in writing to the following questions:
1. What sort of information was available to the public about you via the Internet?
2. Did you find any information about yourself on the Internet that you didn't know was there, or that you would rather had not been publicly available? If so, what?
3. Based on the information you found in your research online, what do you think is your public image? Good? Bad?
4. Do you want employers to know about your online identity?
5. What steps can you take to rectify your public identity?
Finally, take a look at the fictitious want ads for dance positions I posted on the classroom wall. You will need to choose one job to apply for, but before doing so, look at your collage about yourself. Determine if your public image, as accessed through the Internet, will be a good fit for the job or if it will eliminate you from the candidate pool. Write a one-page resume for the job, using elements of your private/public persona to highlight your qualifications.