All The World Is A Stage: Identity Is Weird And Shakespeare Once Wrote a Thing That I'll Use Too
All the world is a stage. That is a very popular phrase written by a very popular writer you may have heard of, his name is William Shakespeare. As someone who enjoys creative writing, works of fiction, and art in general, I am sort of obligated to sing his praises as one of the greatest things to ever exist, and misquote him as often as possible. I mean, misquoting him is easy since he wrote in a version of English all his own that takes time to dissect, learn, and pretend to understand. It is very similar to speaking with a drunken Scottsman, you know they are speaking English, you are just not sure what version. What I'm saying is that William Shakespeare is a genius and should be appreciated by everyone. Don't lynch me...
What I'm going to talk about today actually has very little to do with the fatalist meaning behind that quote, and more about the idea that identity itself is such a moldable and unsolidified concept. A concept that we hold very dear to us without understanding what makes us, us. So, what I'm saying is this whole thing will likely go nowhere and just be a bunch of ramblings.
You ever hear someone say the rather aggressive phrase "You don't know me!"? You ever then ask them, "Do you know you?" and then watch as they get confused and go through an existential crisis right before your eyes? It's kind of wonderful.
Exploring the concept of personal identity is a tricky piece of business, even Webster is no damn help here as its definitions for personal identity come off as super new-agey: a : sameness of essential or generic character in different instances b : sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing : oneness
That second definition might as well be a sentence said by a white dude with dreads during a drum circle after smoking a trash bag full of weed.
It is interesting to note though, that our use of the word 'identity' and its importance in society began to skyrocket right around the 1970s and has since kept a steady incline in use and societal importance since. I believe that correlates to our continued push towards cultural acceptance and equality. Not that I'm going to prove that correlation, I'm just making it and leaving it out there for everyone else to call bullshit on. Please submit a comment if you agree or not and why, because I'm honestly curious, but just a tad lazy.
I've come to find out that as I thought more and more about this topic, it is incredibly tricky diving into what identity is without getting all kinds of existential. Which is why many people just choose to wear their identities, as if today they identify as a Marilyn Manson shirt and a pair of black JNCO jeans with a wallet chain. I use to hang out with a lot of goth kids and metal heads in High School, and let me tell you, their clothed identity was fucking serious business. By them, I mean me, I'm included in this, I identified as goth, I owned a pair of JNCO jeans, I thought no one understood me, and that Anne Rice was the best. The school system trying to ban me from wearing a trench-coat and spikey bracelets was fucking censorship! They were trying to stifle my identity! (I was a dumb kid).
The best way for me to really talk about this topic is to simply say what I think defines an identity. I feel that identity is defined by the person we see when we look at ourselves and by how we perceive what others see when they are around us. That's an important distinction, not how other people actually see us, but by how we believe other people see us. To say that the perception of another's viewpoint of you doesn't control or define your actions in anyway is simply a lie. We are social creatures who want and crave companionship like we crave air, food, and liquids, however, it at least isn't the only controlling factor.
How we look at ourselves is controlled by a great many factors, but it is an ever-changing and evolving thing, which to me means the saying "People never change" is utter bullshit. It is impossible not to change as new experiences fill our lives with never thought of concepts while new traumas stunts our mental growth and develops new and interesting mental illnesses that some professionals around the world can create a name, a code, and invent new medications for.
Since identity in this aspect is such a malleable thing, I have found the experience of deciding to be a different character in a real life setting very intriguing. It is interesting what happens to yourself when you are in a setting where you are free to be different. Be it some form of masquerade ball, a Renaissance festival, a table-top role-playing game, or at a bar on St. Patrick's day, putting on a fake Irish accent and never once breaking character because you are gathering a bunch of attention from random folk you would never once talk to if you weren't playing a fun loving Irishman on St. Patrick's day (always take the easy road, I'm not Daniel Day Lewis).
That is the main reason I chose the title I did. The world is a stage, because it can be. It can be a place where I decide to be someone else, create a personality that isn't mine, a voice that isn't mine, and subject the world to it with unabashed commitment. I'm not being me, I'm being this other person now, and this other person has no hesitation in saying what is on their mind, saying the jokes he is thinking aloud regardless if anyone laughs, but he laughs, so other people laugh too because social queues are important to follow. For someone that deals with social anxiety, it is a very sudden and therapeutic wake up call to the possibilities of what could define me. Most of what I said up there is just bullshit I tell myself when I'm in the middle of the act so as not to scare myself into remembering that I'm supposed to be scared of social interaction, because who else is this confident and fun character but myself?
As a society, I feel we put a lot of weight on identity and finding a phrase or word that defines our existence. Be it a cultural influence, a social class influence, a sexual preference influence, or as of late, a sexual identity influence. Labels have become so diverse and contradictory that it almost seems like we try to label ourselves in order to box ourselves into a more solidified ideal that we can boil down into a three words or less descriptor that we can share with anyone and they'll suddenly "get us."
I like to think that while we don't have full control over the stimuli and events that continue to change who we are, we do have a level of control over how much influence it carries. That is why self-help books are such a big business, they teach methods of self-control and how to mold this person we see into something we can be more comfortable with and confident in. The fact that these things work for so many people proves to me that we are ever-changing creatures that can have a level of influence over our own internal evolution. While I don't believe that I am yet capable, I believe it is possible and that's a pretty romantic thought.