What Has Gone Before: Research Into Self-Presentation Online

Literature on self-presentation online all agrees on one particularly salient point; an online environment offers a level of control over the self that one shows previously unheard of. As far back as 1959, Erving Goffman addressed the presentation of self in everyday life, writing at length about how personal presentation was enacted throughout daily life, whether unconscious or conscious, in order to create a particular portrayal of oneself towards observers. He addressed the fact that this was not a flawless method of attitude management, as there will always be subtle cues that can’t be controlled without great difficulty by the ‘actor’. This is, of course, not the case any more. With the rise of computer-mediated communication, a persona can be micro-managed to the point of complete control. Internet scholar Sherry Turkle wrote in her 1995 study Identity In The Age Of The Internet ‘you can completely redefine yourself if you want. You don’t have to worry about the slots other people put you in as much’, and this exemplifies how personality works online. Much literature on the subject of blogging has addressed the balance between presenting the self as truthfully as possible whilst presenting the self as positively as possible and Twitter, with it’s emphasis on the idea of ‘what are you thinking’ micro-blogging, walks the line between the two like a tightrope. The need to highlight positive attributes of a self online is mitigated versus the desire to present a true, authentic self to others is apparent for any person in an online community, and this extends – perhaps even more meaningfully – to celebrity self-presentation – Nicole Ellison et al. saw the contradiction of honesty/appeal as inherent to computer-mediated communication on dating sites; this can be applied to celebrity self-presentation by seeing this online dating as a form of online marketing.
Celebrities are by their very nature ‘created’ personas in many ways; for whatever reason they are celebrities, this prejudice from the public will colour any view of them. How they then present themselves through Twitter was seen in research by David Marshall to have to address a number of different subjects and facets of their personalities; their presentation of their personality is interspersed with self-promotion, marketing tweets and other information we would not expect to see from ordinary members of the public.
The fact remains that celebrities are not anonymous – anything but, in fact – outside of their self-presentation. Qian & Scott discuss at the beginning of their investigation into anonymity and self-disclosure how ‘self disclosure can be risky because it may invite ridicule or even rejection’ but I must take into account that, whilst this might be true, typically the most embarrassing moments of disclosure for celebrities occur in the media outside of their influence. Might it be the case then that celebrities will use Twitter for (what they might consider) their honest self-presentation, free of media spin, or is it simply another medium for marketing themselves in a completely self-controlled style? Kaye Trammell believes it to be a combination of the two, differing between celebrities. I feel this is probably the most reasonable judgement, and so will be using this as my primary inspiration for judging how celebrity self-presentation on Twitter works and what it hopes to achieve.

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Dance, Monkeys, Dance: How Celebrities Are Self-Presented Through The Medium Of Twitter

One only needs to examine the magazine rack of any corner shop or supermarket to see we, as Western culture, are obsessed with celebrity. It’s been suggested we use public figures in order to fulfil the inherent craving our society has for bonding over shared experience of people, something in bygone years we would have sated with garden-wall gossip with the neighbours. Twitter is no exception; many people’s first ‘followee’ is a celebrity – Stephen Fry, Lady GaGa and Justin Beiber combined have over 20,000,000 followers – and trending topics regularly result from one celebrity’s tweet to their fans or simply a snowballing of affection or hatred from the tweeting masses.

What is it celebrities hope to achieve through Twitter, then? Is it a medium through which they can connect with their fans in a small but meaningful way, another facet of their own self-promotion, a make-shift litmus test of public opinion towards them, or some combination or none of these? I shall be trying to investigate the presentation of celebrity selves through Twitter and what seems to want to be achieved through them, as well as whether I believe it to be effective.

Call That An Agenda?

If you haven’t heard, there was an article on the Daily Fail’s website today that provoked quite the response. Written by Melanie Phillips, it addressed the sheer immoral horror that is the possibility of children being exposed to gay people during school hours and therefore growing up thinking that it’s acceptable, it’s political correctness gone mad, you couldn’t make it up, won’t someone please think of the children etc etc.

The diatribe mainly consists of Phillips telling us that pupils studying maths will be forced to use census data to find out the percentage of homosexuals in Britain and geography students will be considering why the gays show a trend towards moving to cities. She then goes on to conjure up visions of a ‘gay agenda’ and ‘bigotry in reverse’ and how it ‘turns upstanding people into lawbreakers’ (and these are all verbatim quotations from her article), before telling us that ‘many gay people are uneasy or even appalled by this increasingly oppressive use of their cause’ because we’re actually pretty okay with our rights and we don’t really need any more, thanks.

This being the Fail, I did a bit of my own research just to check these claims, and found out that they weren’t *strictly* true. The government is providing schools with more freedom to choose how the curriculum is taught; amongst these freedoms is the possibility of including gay people as frames of reference for examples. Phillips is right that census data could be used to find the gay population of Britain, but this data could equally be used to examine Catholic population, or Indian population, or female population. No school is to be forced to adhere to a gay agenda; instead they’re being given the chance to show that homosexuals exist as normal people to kids who might otherwise only have their Daily Fail-reading parents to get their views from. It is, if anything, an attempt to prevent any more teenage lesbians committing suicide after being relentlessly bullied, or any more gay men being kicked to death by drunken homophobes, by teaching their would-be tormentors that homosexuals are people too.

Naturally my subsequent reaction to Phillips’ article was initially mouth-foaming rage, with a fair bit of ‘how is this woman allowed to write?!’ and ‘I can’t believe people like her still exist!!’ thrown about. Quite aside from her odious claims that gay rights threaten ‘the very concept of normal sexual behaviour’ and that the government is trying to brainwash children into become boa-wearing drag queens and Birkenstock-ed bulldykes (not true), she’s just not a very good writer, and it offends me to have to trawl through her badly-worded and rather simplistic prose in order to first complain with good conscience to the PCC and then to pen a suitably indignant response from my high horse.

However, halfway through the deliciously brutal opening paragraph, I suddenly realised that no-one – NO-ONE – I know would actually believe the tripe Phillips refers to as ‘journalism‘. In much the same way as Jan Moir or Richard Littlejohn, she’s a bit of a joke to the 90% of British society that hasn’t considered creationism as a valid alternative to evolutionary theory since the 1950s. Viciously attacking her holds all the challenge of getting the cap off the toothpaste in the morning.

So instead, I decided to think what if the homosexual agenda was real? What if we did want to convince all children in Britain that gay was the way through a combination of subliminal messaging in the commercial breaks of Hollyoaks and the school curriculum? Inspired by some very witty Twitterers, the synapses started firing, and I believe I may have revolutionised education for the 21st century. Introducing…

THE BAXFAIL CURRICULUM FOR ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLE ACHIEVEMENT

(Financed by the Gay Agenda Inc.)

If we’re actually going to brainwash kids into becoming gay, we can’t let up. The odd module on censuses isn’t going to be enough to ensure even a 10% success rate – it is VITAL to go all out. Every aspect of school life has to be aimed at creating a generation of mincing queens and short-haired lezzers. Straight away, I’ve come up with a few sample questions…

MATHS:

‘Gabriel has been 26 for four years and Rupert has just celebrated his third 22nd birthday. They have been in a civil partnership for 1 ½ years, how old will they claim to be when they celebrate their silver anniversary?’

‘Samantha is organising this year’s national Dykes On Bikes rally. Each year, attendance has increased by 30%. In 2008 90 lesbians took part; how many fistfights will break out before the rally even starts this year?’

‘If X = 3Y and 2Y = 8Z, then who gave Benji crabs in Heaven last week?’

Now THAT’S a Maths GCSE we can teach. And as for Geography…

GEOGRAPHY:

‘This term, boys, we’re going to start by looking at global rainfall averages in Gran Canaria, Mykonos, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam, and when it’s best to rent a 8 person villa there as a result. Girls, I want you to write me a report on the environmental benefits of not wearing make-up and becoming a vegan, so start your research now.’

And it doesn’t have to stop there – in fact, it won’t stop there! Music will do away with all those old composers like Mozart and Bach (who didn’t even straighten their hair – I would just DIE) and really bring it up to date. The coursework topic will be a choice between ‘Iconic Female Singers Of The Last Thirty Years’ or ‘Musicals: 1940 to 2010’. There will also be a practical exam in Karaoke, with a selection of songs from P!nk for the girls and a range of Disney Renaissance film soundtracks for the boys. Chemistry will teach how to distil your own poppers and exactly which fragrance works best with your natural musk, whilst physics will measure Newton’s Laws Of Motion at work on a sex sling. Biology will be ENTIRELY about which food groups to avoid, apart from a coursework-based study in third year on bears and their mating habits.

All the modern languages will be streamlined into one subject, as learning how to order a Cosmo then ask where the nearest cruising ground is shouldn’t take too long, even if it is in every language from Rio De Janeiro to Rajasthan. History will have all those ugly wars cut out of it and concentrate more on the cyclical nature of fashion trends in the late 20th century, and predicting the next time period that tangerine vest in vinyl is going to be ‘retro’.

PE will be completely gender-separate; the girls will play competitive women’s rugby and the boys will have the choice of a three hour workout concentrating on upper body definition or an hour of learning the newest dances off of YouTube. The IT tutor will show you how to turn the safe-search option off and which sites provide free previews on which days, as well as teach the proper dialect you’ll need to speak in order to understand and respond to your Gaydar messages. CDT will be EXCLUSIVELY for the girls and will consist of fieldtrips to B&Q, Wickes and HomeBase. For the female Sex-Ed lessons they shall be placed in the main hall and shown series two of ‘Sugar Rush’. The boys shall be shown ‘Teeth’.

If Phillips really believes the gay agenda is going to stop at just making it into the curriculum, then she’s not seen anything yet. Now, does anyone have the number of AQA? I want to ask them about creating a few new A levels…

So You’re Single This Christmas?

Seems recently a lot of my friends have been getting into relationships. I can sympathise; it’s cold, it’s dark, you’re going to want a reason to stay in bed that’s slightly more understandable than ‘December makes me sad’. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Of course, for those of us who choose to be (‘choose to be’ here being a euphemism for ‘are clinically unable to muster human feelings towards another person for longer than six days and so must remain’) single, all these new couples can get a little…wearing. After all, there’s only so many first dates you can hear were ‘perfect’ before you begin to develop a Pavlovian-style twitch in response to the word. Add to that the fact that inviting people on nights out will often be met with ‘nah, I’m staying in with the boyf’ and you will slowly become convinced that you need to find someone – ANYONE – as well. That bloke you’ve been turning down for the last nine months because of his poor personal hygiene, facial tattoos and spare tyre will start to look like a prospect – well, he would do, had even HE not managed to find a boyfriend. The likelihood of dying alone and being eaten by your cats looms. You wonder if it’s all worth it any more. DON’T give up. There are a number of techniques you can employ to make your situation bearable, and maybe even enjoyable!

1) Develop alcoholism.

It gets dark a lot earlier in winter, which means there is much more time for drinking without getting judged by reasonable, coupley members of society. Your bulky winter coat can easily accomodate three, maybe four hipflasks, as well as two cans of Stella. These will all be kept cold by the ambient temperature, so no worries about having to drink warm beer, and the subsequent Bacardi-gan you will be permanently shrouded in will mean you won’t even feel the chill.

Your constant inebriation will help you to forget that you’re alone by convincing you that everyone is in fact your best mate and that it’s your God-given duty to prove it. Methods of proving it will include but will not be limited to hugging them, kissing them, sticking your tongue down their throat, punching them in the face and vomiting profusely down or up them. Doing all of these at once will be considered the greatest honour you could bestow upon a person.

2) Go on night-time walks.

You know, the outside world can be very beautiful at night when it’s quiet outside and all the couples are tucked up in bed, dreaming of shared Christmases and the person who loves them. Go out! Wander round! Ring doorbells and run away quickly! Pretend you’re the only person left alive and you’re all alone in the world. Shouldn’t be hard to imagine for you, the alone bit.

3) Read the Internet.

All this free time that you’re not spending on the partner you don’t have means you’ll be able to concentrate on the things that really matter, like finishing every single quiz on Facebook and learning all of Wikipedia. I mean, come on – haven’t you once been curious to find out exactly which Indonesian island out of all 17,508 of them is MOST LIKE YOU, or been at a dinner party only to realise you don’t remember exactly in how many episodes Ross and Rachel are in fact officially a couple? All the space in your brain usually wasted on stuff, like remembering your soulmate’s birthday, how to cook their favourite meal and the memories of how magical your first kiss was, can instead be put to much better use now!

4) Not sleep.

You know that, without anyone in your life to warm it up for you and wrap an arm round you when you get in, your bed is going to be cold, so avoid it altogether. The night-time walks and reading the Internet will help, but categorising your entire iTunes, developing a healthy 4AM coffee habit and reminding yourself that no-one loves you are all good ways to greet the dawn as it should be greeted – red-eyed and quivering from the caffeine.

5) Furiously masturbate.

Speaks for itself, really.

6) Contempuously sneer at couples.

With a bit of work it’s remarkably easy to convince yourself that all your loved-up friends are actually deeply unhappy. Start imagining undercurrents of hatred in everything they say to one another and convince yourself that you definitely saw one of them looking at other men. Whenever they express any dissatisfaction – with anything, regardless of whether it has anything to do with their significant other or not – tell yourself it’s a metaphor for their relationship and take two months off the mental countdown you’re giving them. Enlist your single friends, if you have any left, to agree with you. With all this suspicion about other people’s romantic lives you won’t have any time to think about your lack of one.

7) Believe you’re honestly much happier single.

Inform your friends on a regular basis that you’re actually grateful you’re not with anyone. Tell your parents you’re not really looking right now. Let the checkout girl in the supermarket know how single you are and how much you love it by only buying a ready-meal and a bottle of wine. Even if she doesn’t ask, tell her it’s all for you and how FINE you are with that. That raised eyebrow she gives you and her asking you why you’re buying the three packs of thirty-two paracetamol is her saying ‘I wish I was single too’. She respects you.

Just think about all the things you’d have to do if you were in a relationship. Buying Christmas presents is so difficult and going out for dinner is definitely a waste of money, money that you could be spending on booze instead, you’d have to shower every day AND probably get dressed as well, and all the sex would probably give you some kind of injury anyway.

Now, don’t you feel better about being single now?

The Note I Wish I Could Leave My Housemates

‘Dear Housemates,

Tonight is a night when I could have REALLY done with some comfort eating, but my chocolate orange – a GIFT from a friend – has been eaten by someone. The person responsible knew it was mine but apparently ‘it was an emergency’ and so had no major qualms about eating it. This person then informed me they’d eaten said orange but promised to replace it by the end of the day. Replacement orange is not apparent. Were this the first time this had happened, I’d let it slide.

It’s not the first time this has happened.

Hereby:

1) When I offer you some food, please feel free to have as much as you want. When I leave a portion of food out on the worktop, that is NOT me offering you food. It is not okay to eat it and then tell me you’ll replace it/pay me back, to come knock on my door and ask if you can have some, or to eat a ‘tiny portion’ because I’ll ‘never even notice’. I notice.

2) Things I put in the fridge that you are not allowed to eat/drink/finish include:
– Innocent smoothies
– Cheese
– Sausages
– Bacon
– Any meals I have prepared and left in the fridge to eat later
– Chocolate oranges

3) If I ever gently try to remind you eating my food without asking me first isn’t massively cool, grinning at me and saying ‘but let’s face it though, this is like, your only contribution to the house’ is not funny, it’s not fair, and I may respond with FIRE.

4) The above may be ignored in an emergency. ‘Emergency’ includes earthquake, plague, zombie attack or your imminent demise from starvation. ‘Emergency’ does NOT include feeling guilty that you had sex with your ex last night and not fancying walking the 100 or so metres to the shop to buy your own fucking chocolate orange.

Thank you.’

A Lotta Love To Give

It’s a stereotype that gay men like having a lot of sex. Sorry, perhaps I could be more specific. It’s a stereotype that gay men like having a lot of random no-strings attached sex with hordes of anonymous men whom they could more easily pick out from a police line-up by cock size and shape than facial recognition.

I’m aware this isn’t true, and I’m sure most of you are as well (those of you who don’t read the Daily Fail, anyway). Recently it’s been reported that homosexuals are not the sexually voracious ghouls they’re portrayed as in ‘Queer As Folk’, for example, and 98% have had 20 or fewer partners. Civil partnerships are on the rise and gay marriage is currently looking like it’s going to be a reality in the next twenty years AT MOST. Attitude magazine runs a monthly feature celebrating couples who’ve managed to make it past the first three weeks. Obviously, this is fantastic. It should give hope to any boy who dreams of finding his prince, any woman who hopes to meet her perfect girl, and any parent who worries themselves to sleep that their gay son or daughter will live their life alone. Nowadays, a homosexual isn’t guaranteed eternal singledom any more than a heterosexual is assured of marriage and 2.4 kids.

We can all accept that as true, yes? Hopefully so, because what I’m about to say requires that preface, otherwise I’ll be backtracking later to try and reassure you I’m aware of how many of you feel.

I honestly believe an open relationship can work.

This isn’t me telling you that open relationships are the only way to go, or that all open relationships will or can work, or that if you’re not capable of having an open relationship then you’re a miserable and sexually-repressed human being. None of that is true at all. I simply believe that two people can very easily be in love and not have to be monogamous.

Open relationships have taken a bit of a bashing in the last twenty years, I think. As a subculture, gay people have turned against them somewhat and preferred to pursue monogamy instead. Explanations for this might be emotional – an individual desire to find ‘The One’ rather than ‘The Many’ or a fear of the man you’ve already found meeting someone he prefers – or practical – your partner and yourself not sleeping around reduces your chances of catching an STD, for example – but whatever the explanations are, these are all valid reasons not to want an open relationship. If they’re yours, that’s fine. I would never tell any gay man or woman their personal beliefs about relationships were wrong, and if I were going to, I certainly wouldn’t commit it to writing without massive amounts of evidence proving me right.

In my opinion, though, an open relationship doesn’t have to mean you’re going to end up alone, riddled with disease and sobbing into your wedding dress (‘never used, worn once’). Contraception has made it possible to almost eliminate the risk from sex and, whether you’re sleeping with every Tom, Dick and Harry or if you’ve been life-partnered for twenty years, taking the appropriate precautions is the least you should do. An open relationship is no different to any monogamous relationship of under six months AT LEAST – regardless of how much you trust your partner, you can’t know everything about them so quickly. You especially can’t know whether or not they popped down the local sauna last weekend and came back with a souvenir. You could start following them everywhere but, let’s face it, we all live far too busy lives to be constantly stalking our boyfriends.

I would go so far as to say that, hypothetically, you’re LESS likely to catch something serious in an open relationship, although this is entirely personal opinion rather than proven fact and also assumes that protection is being used. A person in an open relationship would expect to put on a condom before sleeping with their boyfriend regardless, whereas a person who believed themselves to be in a monogamous relationship would perhaps be suspicious and upset if their partner was still rubbering up two years in or, even more obviously, started using a condom again after a few years of unprotected sex. It could suggest they were either sleeping around themselves or that they didn’t trust the other partner, neither of which is an appealing thought to be weighing on your mind when you’re getting down to it. From another more cynical perspective as well, if you were aware that your partner knew you were sleeping with other people, putting a johnny on would pass without comment. If you’re sleeping with other people and your partner didn’t know, you’d probably be tempted to risk giving them something rather than them inferring you’d been unfaithful through your insistence on a condom.

Of course, this scenario does rely heavily on the premise that protection is being used religiously by couples in open relationships, which unfortunately isn’t the case, but the number of friends of mine who decided to stop using protection with their boyfriends ’because they were in love’ and subsequently got VD for Valentine’s Day is large enough to confirm that many monogamous relationships aren’t as monogamous as they seem.

The doom and gloom stuff isn’t the only reason I believe in open relationships, though. It’s the 21st century. Humanity hasn’t been this sexually liberated since the first organised religion decided the fun stuff we’d been doing for millennia wasn’t cool in the eyes of the god we created. We’re encouraged to talk about what turns us on, to experiment with partners, to push our boundaries and try new things on the off-chance that it’ll give us one hell of a sexual rush. Swinging with your neighbours is passé in suburbia nowadays; you’d get more of a backlash for not recycling your Guardian than announcing your significant other enjoyed ‘light spanking and pony-play’ to a dinner party.

I believe it’s very rare to meet someone into exactly the same things as you are, and downright impossible for them to match your moods. There will be some days you will want the full works – sling, handcuffs, ball-gag, twenty German businessmen masturbating furiously in a ring around you whilst a six foot eight Nigerian transsexual inserts both fists – and there will be some days when you want to wake up and have sleepy hung-over morning sex where neither one of you cares what the other’s hair looks like because you adore each other. An open relationship allows you to have both; to explore every inch of your sexual psyche, no matter how sordid, whilst also being able to go home after a bitch of a weekday, make two cups of tea and complain about your job to someone who isn’t necessarily expecting you to put on a collar and cover them in hot wax. You’ve fulfilled any primal urges you’ve had and you’re still giving your love to someone who reciprocates.

A problem with open relationships that is often cited is the jealousy; knowing your partner is sleeping with other people can be a difficult thing to cope with. Firstly though, jealousy is by no means exclusive to an open relationship – many monogamous couples experience it and subsequently deal with it. Secondly, said jealousy can be mitigated somewhat. After all, there’s a difference between being aware that your partner sleeps with other people and knowing exactly what he did last night with your best friend, your best friend’s boyfriend and a rent-boy. Keeping the details vague and the sexual partners either distant or discreet can save a lot of heartache in the long run.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly when it come to jealousy, is the difference between physical and emotional cheating and how serious each one is, an issue I’m currently hashing out with two friends of mine. To clarify, physical cheating is having sex with someone else regardless of feelings associated, and emotional cheating is having feelings for someone else regardless of physical action. My friends maintain emotional cheating is the lesser of the two evils – after all, it’s harmless, seeing as it’s not being acted upon. Also, one can resist physical urges but not emotional desire – it’s much more difficult to not think someone is attractive and want to be around them than it is to not suck them off.

I believe emotional cheating is worse; indulging your horn and then going back home to your partner is much more forgivable, in my opinion, than not doing anything and then going back home to think of someone else whilst having sex with your partner. Physical cheating is simple, a quick bish-bash-bosh and back to normality, whilst emotional cheating is pervasive, slow and sneaky; it convinces you you’re not doing anything wrong until you look at your partner and realise you think about someone else more than you ever do them any longer. I believe that, in an open relationship, by indulging your physical urge, you remove most of the power your emotional desire could hold over you.

This isn’t, unfortunately, to say that people in open relationships don’t meet people they like better outside their partner. Once again though – not exclusive to open relationships! Monogamous couples break up after one party falls in love with someone else as well (usually after a bit of emotional cheating, by the way) and at the end of the day it’s usually because the feelings were stronger and the prospects were better. It’s natural and right to trade up; if you weigh up both options and find one beats the other, which do you choose?

Ironically, after all that, I do not consider myself to be an open relationship type. I personally think I’d get jealous and would end up asking questions I didn’t want to hear the answers to. Still, I can understand the appeal of this kind of relationship and, probably more importantly, can understand why people try and succeed having them.