Elster's World

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Image Is Everything

Back when Andre Agassi was a teenage punk with long hair and no Grand Slam victories, he came out with a commercial for the Rebel Eos (I think) camera. “Image is everything,” he said, as he rocketed forehands all over the court. My dad always hated that commercial. Image is not everything, he’d argue. It’s more important for a tennis player to win his matches than to look cool. While as a kid I loved Agassi’s denim jean shorts and orange sneakers (I even bought a pair of the orange and light blue kicks for camp one summer, even though I played much more basketball than tennis), turns out dad was right.

I mention this because a friend of mine (A) just told me something very shocking about someone else I sort of know (or think I know), (B). This really threw me for a loop. B is a very presentable, seemingly good person. If I didn’t know A so well, I’d be apt to disbelieve what I was told.

Which leads me to today’s point. Joe will often grouse about J-bloggers who keep their identities hidden. When you hide behind a wall, it’s much easier to say whatever you want with no fear of repercussions. In many ways this is entirely correct. The J-blogverse (obviously, this is not limited to J-bloggers) allows people to invent themselves any way they please and say anything they want. After all, if you are careful enough about covering your tracks (or even slipping in just enough misinformation to throw people really off) then it’s entirely possible that no one will ever figure out who you are.

There are a couple of really good examples of this. Last year, there was a J-blogger who gave himself the name of a popular actor and he would enforce that name by using a picture of that actor as his image. He would never post more than once a week and his posts tended to be pretty good mussar-type discussions. The thing with him was that he always managed to make himself look really good. Super good. And he developed quite a following of people who would literally hang onto his every post or comment. And I always wondered to myself how much of his fan base was due to his posts (which in all fairness were pretty good – though nothing earth-shatteringly brilliant) and how much had to do with his slick packaging concept. It all became moot later when he dropped off the map about four or five months ago.

I suspected then, and continue to suspect now, that this person’s disappearance from the blogverse was due to the fact that he had given away too much information about himself. That he was on the verge of being “discovered”. Not that, heaven forbid, his reality was so far off from his blog image, but rather when people know who you are, sometimes it’s harder to be as preachy.

Then there are those who decide to use their new found freedom (and anonymity) to say whatever foolishness pops into their heads. We all can name these sites off the tops of our heads so I will only give one example (see here)

I know one blogger personally. Joe and I went to school together. I met him for dinner and a hockey game a few months ago. I can tell you with certainty that he is the man he comes across as on his blog. He vehemently loves Israel and New York Jets football. The Mets do often disappoint him, but he pulls for them hard. He has little patience for silly errors and he will strongly disagree with people who oppose him. And just like his blog makes it appear, he is a good guy and very, very smart. I know these things are all true because I know him.

But that’s it. I have never met another blogger. I have no idea what they are really like. Jameel certainly seems to love Israel, but for all I know, he can be a member of Fatah’s radical, militant arm. Jack reminds me a little of me, but it’s possible he’s really a computer, trained to spit out random posts every 15 minutes. I wouldn’t know.

I’ve spoken via email or instant messenger with Tomboy. I have read about her very interesting life in these places and on her blog. But do I really know her? Of course not. The list is endless.

Sometimes being able to re-invent yourself is a good thing. For example, there’s always that one person in the group who is the joker, the one no one takes seriously. But that person may have serious thoughts getting tossed by the wayside. What better place to come than the blogverse, where you can reinvent yourself as The Serious Jew and start posting morbidly depressing posts on everything from cancer to hunger to mass murder. The world can be your serious oyster here if no one knows who you are.

But there is a flip side to the case above. He’s the blogger who posts with an impressive piety which draws many people to him. He also has concerns about immodest dress? Me too. He also has issues with the way people speak nowadays? He also calls for a return to a better, more simple time? Wow we are so on the same page.

But every once in a while, the blogger slips. His post carries an undercurrent of something more than just his studied piety. It might be a post on dating that goes a little too far, he’s single after all – of course he’s looking for that certain someone. But there is something there. Something out of place. Something which makes you go “hmmm”. Then he posts his controversial position on topic X. Gets a lot of comments. Backs off. Returns to his normal stream of “perfection”. Then he slips again down the road.

It makes you wonder. Who are these faceless bloggers after all? I have a natural suspicion of anyone who comes on here anonymously and tries to put themselves in too good a light. If you are anonymous anyway, just be real. No one is ever that perfect. We all make mistakes, we all screw up. We all do things we aren’t proud of. So the people who don’t seem to have any faults are the ones I mistrust the most.

This is not a uniquely blogger problem. This is true of the so called “real world” as well. I am a pretty honest person. Generally with me, what you see is what you get. I often say things without really thinking the through (just ask Joe – who relishes deconstructing some of my sillier assertions) and I often do things I regret later. I am a person who cannot learn except through experience (and, often, error). And that’s ok. I make no bones about it.

Therefore, I trust myself. And I trust my judgment. So when I see these too perfect characters here, it makes me wonder. They are leaning too hard on their image. For them, image is everything. And sometimes when the truth comes out, that image will topple over like the house of cards that it is.

Now please excuse me while I try and pierce the blog veil.


  • There was a guy who commented on my blog a lot, usually disagreeing with everything I said. I finally found out who he was, and since he has stopped posting. Annoying.

    By Blogger Jewboy, at 11:58 AM  

  • But it makes sese doesn't it? All of a sudden, it's not so easy to spew.

    By Blogger Elster, at 11:59 AM  

  • This must really be bothering you. It's even usurped sports. The line between who we are and who we want to be is a fine one even in real life. When we go online anonymously, it can really blur things. That's why I've been myself from day one - I don't want to fall into that trap of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, at least any more than I already do.

    By Blogger Josh, at 8:38 PM  

  • Josh - It hasnt usurped sports - I can write abt "serious topics every once and a while no?

    Yes, blogville is great and not so great. my point was only that sometimes bloggers who ty too hard to perfect their "image" really bug me.

    By Blogger Elster, at 10:04 PM  

  • I am who I say I am. So says I.

    By Blogger Jack's Shack, at 2:51 AM  

  • Elster: I can validate Jack's statement above. It's true. Really.

    In terms of me...I'm only seminonymous. Heck, we probably know each other :)

    By Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata, at 3:45 AM  

  • Jack - You certainly are - and you bring excellent evidence.

    Jameel - I would say it's certainly a possibility. Though I notice you don't deny being a member of Fatah!!!

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:30 AM  

  • Eslter: Darn. You figured me out. -- The Popular People's Front of Judea.

    By Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata, at 6:48 AM  

  • I'm goooood. And yes, you are pretty popular.

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:19 AM  

  • This is a great post!!! The question of anonymity (or not) is kinda overrated in this online world -- words speak volumes and it is fairly easy for people to see exactly what they want to see in words alone. Online communities are not mysterious places -- they are just another context for interaction. Just like offices, shuls, ballparks, grocery stores and parking lots, home (our home, our parents home, our children's homes) --we adapt our behavior to fit the context. We see bits and pieces of others --and often characterize (or even *gasp* judge) based on those bits and pieces.

    Those who demonstrate "impressive piety" online, no doubt do the same in other contexts. And, as the opening section of your post suggests, they often manage to persuade us of their impressive piety until they slip and we start to see something else. Sometimes our gut makes us "suspicious" even before the slip.. and we doubt our own judgement until...OOPS!.. the slip.

    Similarly, people demonstrate impressive "righteousness" in their blogs. They detail the wrongs of their spouses, parents, children, co-workers -- with the expectation that readers will be not only be sympathetic but will unilaterally condemn the offending party. (Those who don't are called to task for assuming that there might actually be two sides to a story.)

    People come to this community for any number of reasons -- and when a poster starts to overwhelm us with their "perfection", their piety, their righteousness (their one-sidedness) and to bristle in response to alternative points of view... well.. we can expect that is how they respond in other contexts as well. For the overly imaginative among us, it can be amusing to imagine what "the rest" of their lives look like...

    apologies for running on here... but your post definitely inspired me. i can live without the sports (JOKE!) -- but your other insights are pretty cool.

    By Anonymous iamokayasanonymous, at 12:07 PM  

  • I'm with I'm OK.AS above. People take advantage of the opportunity to say whatever they want as long as nobody knows who they are. These people are this way in real life too. Elster hit it with the blogger who balances his posts between his search for the perfect wife who he will never find until he realizes his own limitations and a post about some topic of interest to keep his readers interested. When someone tells him his "date posts" don't reflect so well on his image or go with his uniform, amazingly it flies by. "It's the economy stupid." (justlook up). There are other cases. I personally love it when bloggers present a one sided story of their lives and as soon as someone suggests they might want to look at the whole picture, for the sake of little things in life like marriages, relationships with friends or parents or even jobs they freeze up and their anger at being told to open their eyes is expressed in long periods of silence. There seems to be some unwritten code that bloggers and commentors are just supposed to support each other, regardless. I think the j-bloggers and commentors have a greater responsibility to help each other and be more honest with each other as you were in your post. It can be done privately, with dignity. I see bloggers run in packs, there are groups and my host, Elster seems to be a member of this one. The rest of you know who you are. Elster -your head is screwed on straight. Now that I've spoken my mind I'd better go before someone figures out who I am.

    By Anonymous AmIyourneighbor?, at 3:47 PM  

  • I am ok and AmIyour neighnor - Thanks for posting. Since you both seem to agree with me, I loved every second of your lengthy posts (kidding). PLease keep reading. Though I tell you now thgat the sportsa posts will still dominate - sorry.

    By Blogger Elster, at 7:37 PM  

  • thanks for the feedback... i'll try to continue to be agreeable *VBG*

    as for sports... it IS your blog and i don't want to be disagreeable (another VBG). Sportstalk is kinda like a foreign language to me -- so i'll just let it float over me, and pretend i am on vacation in some foreign exotic locale, waiting for the odd English phrase that I hear, understand, and can comment.


    i am ok...etc.

    By Anonymous iamokayasanonymous, at 2:56 PM  

  • Sounds good to me. How are you with youtube, my next major blog assignment?

    By Blogger Elster, at 3:11 PM  

  • youtube? YOUTUBE? *sound of iamokay pulling her hair out -- strand-by-washed-out-blonde-strand*

    where do you find these assignments, anyway?

    By Anonymous iamokayasanonymous, at 6:58 PM  

  • Hmmm - I have no words...

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:18 PM  

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