PRESENT BUT UNACCOUNTED FOR
“Presentation” as a personal strategy, esp. in regard to appearance to the public, is a word that is in much use lately. It implies that one is not being “genuine” as was the watch-word for how one should be in the Seventies. Be your real self, they said. That turned out to be too much of a vulnerability — then “they” really knew where to “get” you.
In the Fifties presentation was everything, but it was really more like conformity. The idea was not to fool people but to conform to expectations: be clean, dress neat, cut hair short, stand up straight and do NOT tell anyone the size of the ranch or the number of cows you have. Partly it was so the bank would loan you money. Partly it was to blend in. Partly it was just a hangover from when Dad was in the army. (Name, rank, and number.)
Nowadays a “presentation” is also an art form. And a term of art for computer people.
“A presentation program is a software package used to display information in the form of a slide show. It has three major functions: an editor that allows text to be inserted and formatted, a method for inserting and manipulating graphic images, and a slide-show system to display the content.”
It about appearance and identity, but allows for the possibility that it’s deliberate and calculated rather than being organic and natural. This idea is morally loaded.
Christianity is a performance art, but the most institution-based religions are. Even primal views of the world are acted out. One might think that spirituality is freed from any cultural costumes and stages, but second thought — not true. One’s daily actions betray one’s beliefs. It’s not about “believing” — it’s about demonstrating. Even Norman Rockwell “middle America” knows it’s about dressing up, doing something, going someplace, and attracting witnesses. Dress up for Sunday and wear black for funerals — but this kind of thing can be expensive.
Previously I wrote about performance arousal in the sense of doing something visible, like speaking or acting with an audience, and getting turned on by it. I should also think about a different kind of performance arousal, the adrenaline that comes from living up to expectations, one’s own or that from others, whether in sports or as part of a profession, or some other venue. It is about arousal that comes from a successful performance when one presents oneself to try.
This is very hard to talk about to someone who has never experienced it, someone who has always been a loser and has no idea of how to approach success. I used to see it in kids all the time. They didn’t know success, even when they saw it in others. Their arousal came from refusal and attack. They are otherwise flat, dead.
The newest twist being talked about is “imposter syndrome” when one can’t accept one’s own success, demonstrably real as it may be — a promotion, a degree. This culture wants to compel everyone to be attached (in love) to other people, so the observers and recorders can treat them in quantity as categories instead of alone. It’s for efficient merchandizing and for politics, which is a form of merchandizing. Targeting silo by silo. But what if the context itself is a delusion.
This is all first rate material for novels and non-fiction analysis. TV series, etc. What affects one person also affects the others in that set. We watch to see what consequences will be. But if we step out of that “world” of maybe television, the performance can become grotesque.
When the roll is called, people generally answer, “Present” or even “Present and accounted for.” What that means when everything is via electronics is open to question. If there are no pictures, maybe someone’s dog or mom is taking classes! When students are present in their pj’s, what does that mean?
Presentation used to mean meeting a certain public standard for appearance, but now students are tattooed, heads half-shaved, metal bits implanted, clothing barely legal — at least we still draw the line at exposing certain parts. This has nothing to do with the quality of thought and the ability to pay attention — in theory. But it fact this sort of thing can mean defiance and be a means to stand out, saying, “I’m an individual. Deal with it.”
On the other hand, if one is sliding around doing something nefarious, it would be a good thing to look like everyone else, so as to be hard to find and identify. The shocking part of the January 6 Capitol invasion was that many people not only didn’t disguise themselves, even actively sought the camera and presented themselves smashing and violating. Except that the professional rioters who go from one demonstration to another across the country — they marked themselves with disguises.
In fact, the whole event was a mass demonstration meant to threaten law and order, to show the vulnerability of the proper rules and order. But this was an illusion. It only showed justification for more action against them. They had no idea what they looked like in the eyes of the country on television, esp. after hundreds of video reruns, carefully analyzed and compared.
Over and over the Republicans present themselves in ridiculous terms without any consciousness about how they look. Ted Cruz in the midnight shrubbery on the Mexican border is no more authentic than Donald Jr. hyped on cocaine and bawling into the camera. What can they possibly think later when their heads clear or do their heads ever clear? Donald himself never saw himself with his tiny hands splayed and waving as he brayed his complaints about enemies.
The Karens, often bleached, implanted, botoxed, with stick-on eyelashes and glue-on fingernails, are their own and often only audience, happily perpetuating the idea that bimbos are valuable and desired. The guys (what nickname?) with their bellies and bushy beards, assume they don’t look like the guys on the box of Smith Brothers cough drops.
Watch how these people show up in court after their lawyers improve their “presentation” so the judge and juries will take them seriously. Notice how many of them are at flight risk and are refused bail or even home confinement. Now that’s serious.