Sunday, June 22, 2008

Goffman, Blogging

On writing, self presentation, and the internet:
Recourse to a backstage area is only one of a number of techniques by means of which performers may make the task of self-presentation more manageable. ...

I think that in fact there are no backstage areas online. On the internet, everything is a front, yet the stress and strain of maintaining a constant and universal front is so great that many performers on the internet make a show of abandoning the standards conventionally associated with a front. On the internet, the audience is with you too often, and sees you from too many angles, for you to pull any wool over their eyes, so the safest way to present yourself is by underselling. No intimacy comes with this deshabille, however. The environment remains dangerous. One skips through no-man's-land in one's pyjamas, as it were. If we live on the internet, as Keith suggested by the title he chose for tonight's event, then we keep ourselves as slovenly there as if we were backstage, yet feel as isolated and as trapped within our shells as if we were in front of the footlights....

Goffman writes that when a performer is publicly discredited, "the members of the audience may discover a fundamental democracy that is usually well hidden." That sounds like a boon, but it may be worth keeping in mind that the most powerful CEOs and politicians in America not only do not blog, they do not even use email. There is accordingly a limit to the internet's revolutionary potential.
I think this underestimates the potential of the net. It's not necessary for Barack Obama or John McCain to blog. If people around them--people who see them "backstage"--blog, then roughly the same thing is accomplished. (It's not as effective, since we don't see everything, and have no access to their unspoken opinions or motivations, but for that reason it may have more of an impact, since they are subject to the bloggers' interpretations and subjective perceptions and thus are at their mercy, unless they provide that inner access--almost blogging by proxy.)
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