What Is “Real”? What is Ideal?

There was an interesting discussion after my last article, Welcome Back, Sandra Dee, regarding actresses, the roles they play, and who are they in “real life.”  There was mention of how who we are is often shaped by social expectations, and even a bit of philosophical discussion regarding our lives being an illusion and a play.

sandra-dee2As interesting as this discussion is, and I hope it continues, I think that in many ways the images are more important than the “reality,” or at least the “reality” in the sense of our physical existence.  I understand that this is contrary to the view of modern society.  We are fascinated by the “real lives” of celebrities, which generally consists of prying into the darkest and dirtiest parts of their lives.  We are particularly fascinated when the “real lives” of actresses, or other celebrities do not match the characters they play or the images they present.

I think that this fascination is a bit misguided, though, and I also think it is not really useful for those of us trying to clean and purify our Image Spheres for various reasons.

One of the reasons is that people are complicated.  We all play many different roles in our lives.  We play roles as parents, as students, as workers, as friends, and the list goes on and on.  Which one of these roles are “real”?  I think the answer to that is that they are all “real,” even though they are likely quite different.

People are also complicated in that we all have a True Self and a False Self.  On a basic level, our True Self is our better self, and our False Self is who we are when we succumb to temptation.  Using a popular media image, our True Self is the little angel on our shoulder, and our False Self is the little devil.  This idea is a bit foreign to modern, cynical thinking, which seems to operating under the belief that we are being “real” when we are at our worst.  Actually, it is interesting that there are currently many “reality shows” being produced that create artificial situations that often have the effect of bringing out the worst in people.

Aside from the complicated nature of people, when we are working to purify our Image Sphere, we are making choices as to what we are exposing ourselves to.  In our day to day interactions in the physical world, there are many situations that we do not have control over.  We can not always avoid ugly or poisonous things.  We are not always capable of creating a living environment that nurtures our soul.

Given that there are many things we do not have control over, when we do have control over our Image Sphere, it makes a lot of sense to choose good and healthy images.  Do these images represent the “reality” of the past or of another culture?  Some of the answer to that question depends on what one defines as “reality,” of course.  To avoid that difficulty, I think an easier question would be whether the images accurately depict the physical circumstances of the past or another culture.  If one phrases it that way, the answer is likely  that it does in some ways, and it does not in others.

On the other hand, when we get too much caught up in that analysis, I think we lose sight of what we are trying to do.  I think that the media we create and consume reflects our values and our ideals.  These are the stories we are choosing to tell and to listen to.

While the stories that we tell and hear may on some level reflect the physical, material circumstances that we find ourselves in, they also help shape and define our circumstances.  If we are trying to make changes in our lives to let our True Selves or our best selves shine forth, we need role models and examples.  I see nothing wrong with these role models being fictional characters.  I also see nothing wrong in allowing the actresses who bring these fictional characters to life being role models as well.

I think that this was understood in the past.  The images of actresses and movie stars were carefully preserved to hide their faults and their struggles.  Nowadays, there seems to be a great deal of effort spent on exposing the carefully hidden faults and struggles of the role models of the past and celebrating the bad behavior and faults of those who would be the role models of the present.  Much of the time, this is done in the name of “exposing the truth.”

VaseYet, is this really “exposing the truth,” or is it creating an illusion of an ugly and cynical world?  If our role models are celebrated for behaving badly, and if we are taught that this is “reality,” how will we ever aspire to, well, anything?

A metaphor to this might be a beautiful ceramic vase that has a flaw in it.  Does it make sense to turn the vase so that the flaw is visible and draw a black marker around the flaw to make the flaw more obvious?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to position the vase so the flaw can not be seen?

I think that all of us are beautiful vases with flaws, including celebrities.  The choice that we have is whether to highlight our beauty or highlight our flaws.  It seems an easy choice when looked at in this light, I think.

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Welcome Back, Sandra Dee!

As part of the changes I have been making lately, I have been doing my best to avoid most Western post-Eclipse media (media produced after the mid 60’s).  I admit, though, I slipped a bit this evening.  I watched a movie from my childhood, Grease.   When I was a child, this was one of the most popular movies around.  Children would brag to each other about the number of times they had seen this movie.  The soundtrack for Grease was one of the first albums that I had.  I listened to this album over and over again, and I can still sing “Hopeless Devoted to You” from memory.  Given this, when Grease was on the television, I found myself watching it.

Hopelessly Devoted to YouI am actually glad that I watched this movie, and I watched it in a much different way this time.  Watching this movie was quite instructive for me in understanding how the Image Sphere of my generation was shaped.  In remembering my own reaction to this movie, this shaping is not just theoretical, it was personal.

The movie came out in 1978, but it was set in the 1950’s.  The main female character in this movie was Sandy Olsson.  At the beginning of the movie, Sandy was innocent and pure.  During the previous summer, she fell in love with a boy, Danny Zuko, who was part of the clique, “the greasers,” who were the “bad boys” of the school.  The central plot of the movie was relationship and romance between these two characters, but I think that there was a theme to this movie that was quite insidious.  At least it was insidious for me, particularly because I identified strongly with Sandy.

Throughout this movie, Sandy was ridiculed and teased for her innocence and purity.  She had just transferred to the High School from Australia, and she was befriended by Frenchie, one of the “Pink Ladies,” who were the “bad girls” of the school.  One of the early scenes is a sleepover that Sandy attended with the Pink Ladies.  One of the songs of this theme was “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”  During this song, the other girls mocked Sandy because she did not drink, smoke, or swear, and because she was too innocent.

There were also several scenes where Danny rejected and even mocked Sandy as well in order to maintain his reputation with his friends.  The two do eventually get together, and Danny does try to make changes.  He joins the track team and earns a Letterman sweater.

Sadly, though, Danny’s changes were not the focus of the movie.  The focus of the movie was the pressure upon Sandy to renounce her innocence and her purity.  Eventually, she did.  When she did, she became fully part of the group of girls, and she and Danny came together.  The moral of this story seemed to be that if a girl wants to be happy and have friends, she must give up being innocent and pure.

I remember as a young girl, along with “Hopelessly Devoted to You,”  I also sang over and over again the song in which Sandy makes the decision to renounce her innocence, the reprise of the mocking song, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”:

Goodbye Sandra DeeLook at me,
There has to be something more than what they see
Wholesome and pure,
Oh so scared and unsure, a poor man’s Sandra Dee

Frenchie:  They won [a drag race].  Isn’t that great?  Aren’t you happy?

Sandy:  Not really, Frenchie, but I think I know a way that I could be.  Could you help me?  Can I come to your place?

Frenchie:  Sure, come on.

Sandy, you must start anew
Don’t you know, what you must do
Hold your head high, take a deep breath and sigh
Goodbye to Sandra Dee

The help that Sandy asks for from Frenchie is a makeover.  She changes from her pretty, wholesome look to one that was decidedly unwholesome.  It was then that there was a happy ending.

The message of this movie was clear to me as a young girl.  One could not be innocent and wholesome and be happy.  In order to be happy and accepted by her peers, a girl needed to say “goodbye to Sandra Dee.”

I am an adult now, and I have learned a lot.  One of the things that I have learned is that there have been many changes in our world starting in the mid-1960’s, and one of the things that happened was a process of Conscience Inversion, a process by which we are taught to be proud of our worst instincts and ashamed of our best ones.  This is one of the forces that shaped a larger change in society marked by atomization, deracination, and deformation.

So, as part of my journey, I am reclaiming Sandra Dee.  Rather than being embarrassed and ashamed of being wholesome, I am reclaiming and celebrating it.  A lot of things have happened in my life, but I believe that I can reclaim my innocence.  I also believe that reclaiming our personal innocence is one of the best things that we can do, not just for ourselves but for our world.

So Welcome Back, Sandra Dee!

See also:

Is Your Innocence Lost Forever?

Group Self-Policing: How Innocence is Arrested