Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Through Which Lens Am I Seen?

A photo I took a couple weeks ago.
It was a reflection on my iPod screen;
but you wouldn't know it just
from seeing it. 

To sum Elizabethan court life into a single word, perhaps the most telling would be impression. The ideologies of noblesse oblige, of the correlation between inward and outward beauty, their obsession with courting Elizabeth and reciting poetry, the perfectly logical act of selling five hundred acres of land in exchange for a chest of clothes, the painting of their faces with lead and the plucking of hair to produce a high forehead, the values of education and athleticism, the spectacle  and the display – all of these nuances stem from a desire to present oneself as a particular sort of person.

I remember, not too long ago, a public discussion amongst my peers of the same subject. There was some discontent over the disparity between the reality of a person’s life, and what they presented of it online. One side maintained that people ought to share the mundane, the normal, and the unpleasant – because otherwise the online community received the impression of a life much better than it actually was. This subsequently created expectations that a life ought to be so surreally happy all the time, and wreaked havoc in the audience’s self-esteem and evaluation of success.

The other side maintained that negative thoughts were irritating online, and had no place in being there. That we ought to post the happy and the good in order to (1) celebrate them as a community and (2) uplift others through positive thinking. Happiness is contagious, right? Therefore: spread it. Spread it everywhere.

It is, nonetheless, true that we selectively post and share things online to create a particular image of ourselves. And we judge others based on the same. Think only to your Facebook friends: the one who posts politics, the one who posts cat pictures, the one who complains about dumb people, the one who posts three hundred selfies in a morning, etc.

Within the LDS community, there is pressure to be a particular kind of saint online. Remember in 2014, when Elder Bednar said to sweep the earth as with a flood? Or in 2007, when Elder Ballard declared, “Every disciple of Christ will be most effective and do the most good by adopting a demeanor worthy of a follower of the Savior.” Other church standards – some explicit, like keeping those belly buttons covered; some implicit, like what sort of makeup a Mormon woman might use and what sort of “look” she might wear (simple and natural, ladies) or what cut of jeans is appropriately cute – are all aimed toward creating a visual rhetoric around ourselves. It’s sort of a “this is what a Mormon looks like; if you’re a good Mormon, you’ll adjust your appearance to look the same. You’ll post these sorts of things on the internet; you’ll respond in these ways to commentators on the church.”

Think also to blogs and memes – despite many authors and many sources, most feature a very similar voice. Sharp. Wholesome. Witty. Intelligent. Conversational. Competent, but informal. We are not all that person – but we all try to pose as one.

In other words, just as Elizabethan nobles carefully crafted and presented themselves to be a certain kind of person, the digital community does the exact same thing – but in the name of individuality. Ironic, isn’t it?

Works Cited

Ballard, M. Russel. “Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet.” The Ensign July 2008. Web. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 29 Sep 2015.

Elder Bednar’s talk can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this idea of digital sprezzatura and I think that a lot could be written about it. Do you think that this movement by the Church is helping or hurting their efforts? What about the popularity of the Pope online? Has the religious conversation across the world become focused now on certain figures and somewhat celebrities rather than religious issues or doctrines? What would Luther say?