Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Be Freddie Miles

Tying together a slew of Slog themes which are obviously related, though I'm too slow to have previously noticed...

I was famous for a while and didn't like it. This is because one can't be famous. Your name can be famous, and some superficial facet of you can be famous, but not you you. It's a thinly-sketched cartoon-you. This disjoint makes encounters with fans strange at best and calamitous at worst, and explains why it's best not to meet heroes - who impertinently fail to embody the cartoon you assume them to be.

Then I wasn't famous. But as my circle drastically shrunk, I felt a queasy recognition that I wasn't any better "seen". I was just famous (i.e. cartoon-ized) for fewer people. And as I've surpassed Kafka on the existential shrinking scale, this remains true.

People are lost in their heads, terribly occupied with orchestrating an imagined cinematic journey for themselves. The rest of us won't occupy much attention. We're side players - colorful additions to enhance a protagonistic narrative; transactional units given emotional stakes via cinematic gesture. The montage flashes by: The Love Interest! The Pal! The Frenemy! The Boss! It's no wonder sensitive humans perennially feel alienated, feeling like cartoon cut-out characters serving other people's narcisissistic mental contrivances.

But that realization alone isn't worth much. Spotting delusion doesn't mean you're sane; it just means you're observant. It's a huge clue that we only ever rue alienation in the first person. No one pays a lick of attention to how they alienate others. Awakening to omnipresent narcissism is only a tentative first step toward recognizing that you, yourself, are the problem.
It always amazes me to see people mystified by behavior they themselves exemplify. You are the greatest source of information on why people do what they do! I keep flashing back to how my parents were perpetually indignant about how, as they kept moving further eastward on Long Island, the assholes from Brooklyn kept following them and ruining the rural landscape. They never realized that we, ourselves, were the Brooklyn assholes who kept moving eastward and ruining things!
Our thin, washed-out, unrealistic and cartoonish way of viewing celebrities is not a phenomenon of fame. For a narcissist - and nearly everyone in the First World is one - all relationships are cartoonish. Everyone we know is thinly famous - reduced to a prominent characteristic or two.

We warn each other to "never meet your heroes" because as soon as one steps out of character (not their actual character, but the character we've contrived for them), they've committed existential atrocity. Same problem for people in one's immediate circle. Everyone is counting on you to be That Guy - to embody the cartoon you're perceived to represent. Lock in, or else!

This is all leading to a confession of error. I've always expressed contempt for people who model themselves as a Type.
There are a few dozen clone lines in any society, no more. People are types, which is adaptive behavior because it lubricates social interaction. When you meet a brassy lady with a gravelly voice and energetic good humor, you feel that you know that person. Love her or hate her, you can deal with her comfortably due to long experience with her clone line. Same for the aloofly ponderous academic. Or the BAD BOY. No one's born as these things. The personas are adopted via modeling, these days mostly via movie and TV actors. In the old days, one modeled the persona of a family member or another local "role models" (turn that phrase around in your mind for a moment!).

We really commit to the role. A person never feels more expressively uniquely himself than when he's being most flagrantly clone-ish. That's exactly how the millions driving VW bugs or listening to "indie rock" manage to feel fiercely nonconformist. "Hey, I'm a free-thinking type! Yeah, one of those!"
I must admit defeat, acknowledging that the person who chooses a type, and sticks to it through hell and high water, wins. That's how you win. Me? I've worked hard to ensure I'm uniquely useful. Don't do that. You know who wins? Freddie Miles wins. Here's Freddie:

Freddie Miles wins. Freddie Miles, who is 1000% affectation and smugness and swaggering ballsy confidence. Freddie Miles is working too hard to embody this superficial cartoon to have any inner life, but it's not his superficiality that makes him, it's his unshakable commitment to the bit.

This is not a deep world. Committing to the bit - and making sure it's a contagious one - is literally all that's called for. That, after all, is the golden ticket. That's the answer. Game over.

Most of us collapse, for no good reason, into an unappealing off-the-rack bit/type/cartoon. Consciously or not, we bought a ticket and then we took the ride. But same for anyone like me who decided to remain an earnest, unaffected eleven year old. No points are awarded for that. Freddie Miles is doing it right. If the world compels you to be a cartoon cut-out character serving other people's narcisissistic mental contrivances, at least lean into it. Relish it. And force the card.

I anticipate your objection. After viewing that clip, you think, "Well, Freddie Miles is sharp! Freddie Miles has energy! Not everyone can be Freddie Miles!"

Wrong. That's just you falling for it, exactly like everyone falls for it. Consider, please, that Freddie Miles was played by a pale fat depressed schlub named Philip (also immensely talented and a beautiful human being, but that's irrelevant) who felt so ill-fitting in this world that he eventually cashed his own ticket.

If Philip Seymour Hoffman can summon an inner Freddie Miles (or some other mass-appealing cartoon), anyone can. And you've just seen Philip Seymour Hoffman literally - not metaphorically! - playing Freddie Miles. It wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if he'd kept it up! It might not be "true", but there's no deeper truth in the social strata. Truth is a matter for one's inner life, not one's persona. A persona is a persona is a persona. Choose a flavor. Nothing deep.

Don't spurn cartoonishness because it's thin and superficial and annoying and pretentious. Just select a good one. And cling to it for dear life. All while nurturing and kindling your inner life behind the firewall. That's how you do it. Freddy's right; I was wrong.

It's too late for me; I'm all-in on developing inner strata. But I've come around from my initial compulsion to wince at pretension and to "see through" smugness. I realize that we need those people to make the world interesting. A world needs performers. It can't all be spectators!

For example, I've learned to appreciate good-looking people who've invested 10,000 hours in front of mirrors, learning to compose themselves; to committing to that good-looking bit. It's not anything like Art or Insight or Creativity or Quality, the commodities which delight and inspire me. But it serves a good purpose, and it's an interesting challenge to pull off, and one I'm unable to provide (I had potential once, but chose a different path).

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