Thursday, April 27, 2017

INTERNET PERSONAS: THOUGHTS ON THE PERSONAS THAT MODERN INTERNET ARTISTS BUILD AND THE PERCEPTION OF THEIR WORK AND PERFORMANCE IN THE DIGITAL AGE! (Ironically NOT, I repeat NOT, in light of the recent Alex Jones revelations.)

(Frustrated sigh)

So, this asshole!



Okay, this is gonna be hard to believe, but I actually had this blog planned out, before all this Alex Jones shit happened. But, since it coincides,... (Sigh) So if you don't know Alex Jones, lucky you; I feel envious. He's a prick through and through and his and he right-wing hate-filled bullshit and conspiracies on his program, "Info Wars", 'cause apparently he's at war, with info, which should be a clue that he's full of shit...- Anyway, he's in a domestic battle with his wife over custody of his kids and in court, his lawyer argued that his radio "character" wasn't the "real Alex Jones", but that he is a "performance artist". He's performing a character, of piece of shit conspiracy nutjob that real piece of shit conspiracy nutjobs listen to.

(Sighs)

Look, I'm, not gonna spend my time here focusing on this guy, 'cause he's not worth it, but from what I can gather, there's nothing listed on his website and nothing on his radio and streaming broadcasts that indicates that he's performing an act, which would make him a fake, so "The Daily Show" is correct about that. If he, in fact, is a performance artist, fine, but I don't care, 'cause either way, many members of his audience thinks it's real, and have been directly inspired by him to believe things that are outright lies and even commit gross acts of violence against innocent people based on his inflammatory claims. He doesn't present himself as entertainment, which is why him suddenly calling himself that, while no surprise to anyone, doesn't excuse the actions he's inflamed and inspired, nor does it make his behavior excusable. As an artist, I can't say how talented he is, although he's pretty good in the three minutes of screen time he has in Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly". (Shrugs) Basically as the previous holder of the chair at "The Daily Show" once put it when talking with Jim Cramer, "I get it, we're both snake oil salesman, but we label our bottle, "Snake Oil"...."

But, this is actually a good way to segue into the conversation of "persona". No, not the video game that I have no interest in covering and have no knowledge of anyway. And, no, not the Bergman film although I wouldn't mind talking at length about that. No, I mean, persona in the sense of what, well, the perception of the person that others see you as. Especially an exaggerated one that might be manufactured and shown to the public. You see, I was actually influence to discuss this because of a Youtube livestream that Lindsay Ellis hosted a couple weeks ago on her Youtube page, Chez Lindsay:



Now, I'm not entirely familiar with every one of the Youtube personalities that are brought up or even the ones involved in the conversation itself, but as someone who, technically is also an internet personality, (I mean, this is a blog, you're not reading it in the New York Times, yet) who does try to generate a persona, this itself is something that intrigues me.

Now keep in mind, this isn't something that's internet exclusive. Everybody has a persona, in particular every famous person and celebrity. They go out of their way to portray themselves and give people the perception that they want, whether this comes in the form of an actor picking particular roles or when somebody puts themselves out there politically as either a liberal, conservative or something in-between, or whatever. Every aspect of them, is apart of what makes up a persona (Or one aspect can be a persona itself too). Some might be close to their real-life personalities, some aren't, but either way, it's a persona, and I've been thinking a lot about it lately, 'cause I do think that there are, (sigh) issues out there, when it comes to understanding the differences between one's "persona" and the "person" themselves, and in particular with celebrity. Internet celebrity, particularly female internet celebrities have been dealing with this for awhile, but I see it all around in mainstream. That's one of the reasons I so vehemently defend Lena Dunham several times on this blog, because anyone that actually looks up all the crap that she's accused up thoroughly and understands her perspective and persona, and those are two different things by the way, will see that she most of the time she's getting crapped on unfairly and incorrectly, mainly by people who are fucking idiots who don't know and don't give a shit, because they don't realize her perspective and confuse it with her persona. They take things literally that are clearly satirical and wit, mainly 'cause they're insistent in seeing negative because the persona she gives, at least in the main acting and writing performances is one that upsets them for one reason or another, not realizing, well, A. half the time it's supposed to upset you, and B. it's not relative to the actual person, and she has never claimed that it does.

I have a Facebook friend who bashes Amy Schumer every chance he gets for similar reasons as well, and frankly I don't understand why, and most of that is the same thing, confusing persona for the actual  person. Stand-up comedy is of course a genre renowned for having a difficult line of distinction, because while, yeah, they're performing an act, their performance is still, usually based on certain aspects of the person themselves. Not always, Robin Williams was hard to pin down based on his stand-up, but you took say, George Carlin more genuinely, maybe 'cause of subject matter, maybe because of approach to stand-up, but it's not a bad comparison, what's happened with female comics from Leslie Jones being bullied off twitter to Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham getting crap, for, um, I don't know, not being thin enough to be naked and unashamed, basically. (Or as Schumer put it in her latest Netflix special, the last thing you want to be called when you put an underwear photo up, is, "brave") it's rough out there, and frankly, I have made myself known about it, 'cause as a creator, a writer an artist who knows and occasionally works with other artists, I know the process of branding and creating a persona and what that entails, and a backlash against a perceived image of somebody, against a real image of somebody shouldn't be something we stay quiet about. If everybody started calling Snoopy a cat for some reason, it's our responsibility to go, "No, he's a dog!" and not just go along with the crowd, 'cause it's popular. It's one thing to go after Bill Cosby for drugging a raping a bunch of women, because it's pretty damn obvious that he drugged and raped a bunch of women, and not that Casey Affleck is excused because he did his indiscretions while essentially being apart of an actual performance by an actual performance artist, but Cosby doesn't have that in his background as an artist to defend him, in fact quite the opposite, considering the persona he spent decades building up.

So, the stream is pretty interesting in of itself, with a good cast of Youtube personalities who have intriguing perspective, although they do, get there although they bounce around the basic conflict, but basically, it's a discussion about that conflict between making the points you want to make and having to create a persona or in some cases a complete separate character in order to express those points and get noticed and the benefits and drawbacks of that.

Lindsay Ellis, in particular, probably has one of the more unique perspectives on this than any other of the Youtube critics or creators, 'cause she had a persona that she did not choose herself. She was originally "Nostalgia Chick", a character that was created by Doug Walker, better known as Nostalgia Critic to be a female counterpart to take on subjects that were nostalgia but had more of a female bent or marketing towards them, since he was getting a lot of requests for them, but he didn't really have the knowledge or background on the subjects to cover them. Lindsay Ellis won the contest that That Guy With the Glasses, now known as Channel Awesome set up.

She's brought this up a few times in her reviews, and if you go back, and I'm not gonna pretend that I know the exact order, but her earliest Nostalgia Chick reviews are similar to Nostalgia Critic's reviews in format and structure, but eventually she started deviating from that, not only in structure but also in content, and at one point she eventually left Channel Awesome and started her own website of critics, Chez Apocalypse, which had a similar base in Nostalgia Critic's aesthetic but had more of an intellectual bent to their reviewing and were necessary as comedically-based, and now she herself with her "Loose Canon" series in particular isn't so much a reviewer or critic, although she is, but she fits more in the realm of an media analyst or theorists through her video essays. Which makes sense for several reasons, for instance she has a documentary background to begin with, so this is more in her vein of work, but also, think about it, she had a persona, essentially thrown upon her, that wasn't entirely her own. Doug Walker created Nostalgia Critic himself and at the point where he was at at the time he held this contest, he had years of developing and establishing this persona of his, but she had to take a character and essentially meld and twist it until it fit something that more resembled the kind of analytical work that she wanted to do, and even then, she eventually abandoned the Nostalgia Chick persona entirely to formulate this other persona. That's fairly unique in general, and while it's not entirely impossible to start one persona and abandon it entirely to create another in this medium, she doesn't quite have that option, 'cause essentially, the fact that she used to be Nostalgia Chick is also what informs her present work and iteration of her persona. How she presents her perspective, through this persona that she's built up.

She's a perfect example of how one adapts when a persona, essentially becomes too limiting. That's the thing, a persona, ideally, isn't necessarily an exact representation of the person behind the one creating, but it's taking aspects of one's personality and perspective and basically exaggerating them to full effect. And that's often played for comedic effect, but it can played the other way too. The most notable example of this, in the celebrity culture, is the star system in Hollywood. It's not as prevalent today, but you think of somebody like John Wayne, and you don't necessarily think of the actor or the person even, but you think the image. The persona that he generated, in many ways for himself over several decades. A good example today might be, Will Smith. For two decades he's been the biggest star in Hollywood essentially, but think about the majority of the roles he's taken. "Suicide Squad" is the closest he's ever been to playing a bad guy and even then, that character shares many similar traits and values of the characters he's played in the past, almost all of which are relatively good guys, honest people, smart, at times funny, usually honorable family men or people who you can imagine being. He's the guy you wish your daughter would marry and have kids with. There's exceptions to that and that's not a negative but it's indicative of somebody who's had complete control over his persona for most of his careers and while it doesn't necessarily indicate every aspect of Will Smith, it certainly indicative of the aspects about himself that he wants to project and emphasize to the public at large. This is why Lindsay Ellis is a particularly useful example here, for all-intensive purposes most of the Youtube reviewers and creators out there, essentially chose their own persona(s), now it's definitely that some have regretted it over time, but she's had two, one that was thrust upon her and another one that's had to form out of that original persona.

Now that's a common thing, now, in most entertainment media, actors, musicians, especially young ones, often progress and change from their original persona all the time and nobody blinks an eye, but it's a little more unusual to see this happen for an internet personality, especially one who's famous, essentially as a critic or theorist or something of that nature. There's this implicit indication that, even the critics who are as over-the-top in their persona as possible, that there's a sense of truth and realism for lack of a better term to their thoughts and opinions when in reality, that can often be very different. I think some people don't understand entirely. I had one troll for instance, argue that John Oliver or Jon Stewart are not credible news sources because they're comedians. (This guy was an idiot who also once sent me a video of a right-wing commentator who used a supposedly comedic sketch in his work as well, to explain his point, so, I don't know why he thought that was more legitimate than the guys that win Emmys and Peabodys for doing it, but oh well.) That's the thing they do, is they take a persona and use that as a way to filter and extrapolate their opinion. Basically, they're acting. I know Lindsay Ellis often discusses how she's somebody who doesn't like acting, but she's acting. That's not a criticism, it's just a fact, and even if she wasn't filtering an easy and performing it in front of a camera, that's positions in a particular way to frame her essay or anybody else's for that matter, you don't talk like that in real life. It's scripted, it's formulated, it's structured. Even if it's free-form and stream-of-consciousness there's still an aspect of presentation involved.

Hell, there's an aspect of that in every blogpost I write, including this one. I think about how I'm projecting myself and considering the kinds of perspectives and personas I write with and determine which one works best to explain the point(s) that I'm making. I've pointed it out many times, some of my blogs are more satirical others are more serious, other have a combination of both, and other have different voices and influences within them. And even outside of this blog, I'm a brand. Not only here, but online and hopefully within the industry someday. I do have writing gigs and the like occasionally, and all three of these personas are different and they help me approach the different jobs and works differently. Writers do this the same ways actors work, especially people who work with voices, who name each voice and approach a cold read of a part by trying to select the voice closest to the part they're auditioning for. It's an acting performance, where I take and borrow from some sources, but collage it along with my own stuff and create my own point and my own voice and perspective filtered through my persona.

I know, I'm bordering on naval-gazing with my ranting here, but I do think about this, and the possibilities and dangers I run into with these worlds possibly one day colliding. I've said some tough and sometimes means things about people here, who I, in the future might have a possibility of working with, but you know, one or two Google searches and I might not get that job for Michael Bay or Rex Reed or whomever. Now, I suspect, that, most of those people, who professionals, moreso than my personal perspective or understand that I'm in the role of a critic and commentator and that most of the time I'm not talking about them as people and persons but them in terms of their work. That's a bit like saying, "I love you Mr. Picasso, it's just your paintings I can't stand," but in general, they're professional, they know the artistic and critic process as well as anybody, so I think most of them will ultimately understand that I'm not being personal. And I think most will, and I think most members of the audience do get that, for both the mainstream and the internet celebrities, but not everyone does.

That's why such discussions are important to have and important to have and consider, and while perhaps the days of when have the country thought their soap operas were as real as their pro wrestling was are long gone, but on the internet, this idea of persona and branding oneself and how best to do it, is not only going on, it's just starting. We're already seeing people who have been doing this for almost a decade now just on Youtube or some other streaming service, and longer for much of print media on the internet and both definitely have influenced each other and now there's several new subgenre of media that's been invented through this, and these genres are still seeking out their personas much less the creators themselves trying to figure out how to mold and brand,- I mean, hell, this is a medium that's only barely figured out how to make money doing these things. I've barely figured out how to make money doing this and I get criticism on my persona and perspective that itself, and if you go back to my early, earliest blogs, which I don't recommend you do, 'cause they're not that good, but I didn't necessarily come into this venture with an assured persona(s) either, it evolved and was formulated over time, and while I guess I could delete certain older pieces, in the spirit of the internet age, I leave them up for posterity's sake as most others do, 'cause it does reflect how much I've evolved and changed over the years doing this...-, and yeah, the people might not realize or understand where I come from occasionally, they're just gonna be disappointed or left in the dark at times. And I'm not under nearly the scrutiny that these people are, imagining what it is for them to be forming and evolving persona, all the while realizing that some aren't gonna contemplate or understand the perspectives which have formed these personas,

I wonder how it's going their personas are going to evolve in the future as the medium continues to grow. Hmm, I wonder how mine might change in the future.... Oh well, let's just hope we get more performance artists and less, fakes in the future.

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