Vanity as a form of pop culture magic

Posted on September 5, 2013
Filed Under Magic, pop culture | Leave a Comment

Taylor 1998

One of the aspects of social media which really fascinates me is how much it appeals to the vanity that many people have. Facebook is a prime example, wherein people will post a variety of pictures of themselves, as well as various things associated with themselves such as pictures of the food they are eating, activities they are doing, etc., often for an audience of people who they don’t even know in person. You see similar variants on sites such as Google + and Twitter. And what you’ll also see is that a lot of people will end up feeding the vanity of a given person by liking the photos and/or commenting on them. You see this vanity occur also when people share text updates about activities they are doing. Other people will like the update and sometimes comment. And all of this activity creates a kind of vanity magic in my mind, where what people are interacting with is an idealized version of the person who’s updates and pictures they are liking and commenting on. I say idealized because whatever is presented to people is purposely chosen and creates a filter. What we see and read is presented to us and craft’s a particular image, which may not be “real” but nonetheless becomes a reality in and of itself, and an entity in its own right.

I’ve seen this principle of vanity employed over the years with celebrities and other authors. For that matter, in my own way I’ve used this principle as well, because the truth is that no matter what I present on here or else where, it will always be filtered and biased. Social media may offer an illusory belief that we can share an unfiltered perspectives of ourselves, but think carefully about your own social media interactions. What are you really presenting?

This principle of vanity has been in effect for far longer than social media, but social media makes it blatant. And consequently the magician can also experiment with such vanity. For example, I’ve purposely chosen to write fictitious status updates on my Facebook timeline for the purposes of creating a vanity narrative about myself. Recently I’ve observed someone else who has chosen to take pictures from her list of friends and use a picture of a friend as her Facebook avatar, again as a way of experimenting with the vanity principle.

I think you can take it even further. You can purposely create this persona of yourself with specific pictures chosen and text written that creates an alterego of sorts. It could be the creation of the person you wish you could be, or it could be something else altogether, with the comments and likes received used to not only fuel the existence of this alterego, but also it’s connection with you and how you become it and vice versa. Then this vanity becomes an identity magic used to establish a new identity for yourself. In fact, I’d argue that what social media really presents to people is an opportunity to re-create their own identity within in an environment of participation, where other people’s interactions help to shape the new identity being formed through social media actions. I see this kind of vanity as a form of pop culture magic, where technology and audience participation and interaction is used to create the social identity and reality of the person.

The picture I’ve included in this post is a picture of me circa 1998, at State College. I present it with a sense of amusement, as much of my image has changed and yet hasn’t changed. The past presents its own vanity, its own persona, all of which feeds into this social identity/reality. In fact, when you think about it, what social media has really done is allowed us to connect our past and present images and commentary to the internet and injected all of that into the superconsciousness of humanity, in a much more conscious way than had previously occurred. The reality of our identities are mediated now as much by the audience all of us have as by our own attempts.