(…occasionally my own worst nightmare)
Sometimes, over the course of writing this blog, I’ve referred to myself as a ‘writer’; Hell, I’m a ‘writer of words’ according to my about box. But others have to work for years to be deemed a writer: John Green is a writer because he has produced a series of intelligent novels, and Shakespeare wrote a butt-load of plays and we see him as a writer today; both these guys and their work are far more intelligent and thoughtful than these ramblings, making me question – how do we define people, and whose definitions are these to make?
Regarding that first notion, defining people in any larger groups than of one is an inherently flawed idea as people are so bloody different – my Optimism Versus Positivity post a while ago was only a light-hearted look at the futility of this idea, not a genuine attempt to socially classify everyone on the planet. As such, I’d argue that we can only apply labels to people on an individual basis – if you call me a ‘writer’, it doesn’t mean everyone else in my English class can be called the same.
The easiest way to define people that I can see is based on occupation, either as a paid job, or the thing they spent the majority of their time doing – I might be a writer because I write for instance, and Charlie Brooker could be a TV personality because he is on TV, and possesses a personality. This idea works because it is these occupations and uses of time that people will see to the greatest extent; Brooker might not be such a hilarious cynic all the time, but most of us only see him on TV, where he is a hilarious cynic, and so we term him as such; I feel that, for better or worse, people’s opinions of us are often formed on first impressions and prejudices, so if you see that I write a blog, it’s totally logical for you to call me a writer.
However, this idea is obviously flawed; I would not term Homer Simpson a technical supervisor nor a supervising technician, regardless of what it says on his pay cheque; a lot of people, sadly, end up being defined by their jobs over everything else. Also, the idea of definition deriving from the stuff we do most frequently is flawed: I play Football Manager, read Middlemarch, eat waffles and watch the paint-drying channel for fairly similar amounts of time, so am I a voyeuristic paint-drier with a piece of nineteenth-century literature in one hand, a toaster in the other, and a space bar being whammed constantly by my foot as I jump through the dull off-season on FM? No, that would be silly.
I suppose the flaws of the above idea are linked to who is doing the defining; if I am going to give myself a label and an identity, it will not be based on a mathematical calculation of how I spend my time, but a subjective judgement on my own character, based equally on the things I do and my own reactions to them. Therefore, the above style of definition only works if you’re going to be defined by strangers, or people who only know you as ‘that cousin who became a teacher’ or some such.
For some people, I’m sure these definers are fine; celebrity culture revolves around convincing the faceless masses that you represent one set of values and one identity – Simon Cowell is an arsehole because that is how he is presented on TV, the only way most of use ever get to see him.
Personally, I don’t want to be defined by strangers, as such a type of definition, while potentially leading to popularity or fame across a wide range of people, invariably leads to a simplification of your life; celebs are famous because their single values (which can be both superficial and intelligent, mind) are easily understood by a lot of people quickly. I would rather fewer people know me, but that these people know that I have considered opinions and ideas about a range of halfway intelligent topics; I’m not saying my preferred type of definition is in any way more moral or superior to that of the celebrities, it’s just different.
This is why I feel ‘definition’ is more accurate if we define ourselves, or a groups of close friends judge us, as they are more likely to have an appreciation of the complexity and depth of our lives. Therefore, I am more likely to listen to judgement and criticism from my family or Head of Year, as they’ve known me for years and to a detailed extent.
I mentioned this teacher as different to my family, because I feel that we can also be defined by different people in different ways; my Head of Year can judge me as a student and learner of literature (as they’re my English teacher, too) and say that I am ‘x’, be it intelligent, blunt, controversial or whatever. Conversely, my family is in a better position to judge me as a person, determining me to be ‘y’, presumably things like considerate, humorous and often insultingly direct.
This is where you guys come in, because you are to me the X-Factor fans to Simon Cowell; I’m nowhere near as economically successful or culturally influential, but in the same way that he is defined by his viewers based solely on an hour-long program, you readers will judge me on these blogs you read.
A key characteristic of our society is that people feel increasingly in a position to validly determine our personalities; look at things like Twitter, where we can get a direct insight into the minds of our heroes within the confines of 140 characters. Now, people will be in a position to determine your ability within your occupation, and extend that judgement to the rest of your life; it’s not happened to me or anything (that sort of thing won’t happen if you have five readers), but look at someone like Ben Cook – his style of video criticism is direct and almost confrontational, but this doesn’t mean that he’s a prick in reality. One comment on the Women episode of Becoming YouTube read “Or maybe you meant to be slightly sexist and infantilize women, and if so that’s slightly disturbing, bur I guess you succeeded?” – here, the commenter has imposed their (perhaps misguided) judgement of Ben’s views on Women on YouTube onto their opinions of Ben as a person, calling him ‘disturbed’ in the process.
Overall, people get judged by everyone to deeply personal extents that really only a few people can make this judgement validly. My method of coping is simply to keep the different kinds of judgement in mind; let those who know you personally shape and define your character as they know you best, and if strangers can only see one side of you, be it in your schoolwork, sports or any kind of performance art, let them judge you accurately as students, athletes and dancers, and don’t assume that being a bad writer makes you a bad person.
It just so happens that I am a bad writer as well as a bad person.
– Becoming YouTube Episode Seven (you can find that damn commenter yourself, dude)