Picture the scene: nefarious men in determined chaos intent on inflicting damage and unspeakable horrors on the citizens of some nondescript country village. Just as they’re about to have their way with the women, run off with the goods, and kick a few dogs, from the safety of the darkness gallops the masked rider to save the day. While the vermin flee, vowing to revenge their humiliation another day, our unselfish hero who’s modest to a fault, says nothing, tips his hat and disappears into the dark while villagers murmur among themselves, “who was that masked man”?
The explosion of blogging offers an intriguing opportunity to observe human behavior, both good and bad, in both bloggers and bloggies (avid readers of specific blogs; think online groupies). Much like the masked rider of American TV fame, blog writers spin their tales and abuse language under the guise of an online identity. Do we know who these people really are? Except for the rare occasion of an in-the-flesh friend who blogs, you depend on what a blogger presents as a virtual extension of themselves.
We all grew up play-acting, becoming characters we weren’t nor were ever likely to become. Cowboys, Indians, pirates, it didn’t matter who or what, only the chance to experience different personas and unleash our imaginations mattered. And we were told this exercise was healthy for our mental development. Then, as we aged, it suddenly became taboo to explore those fantasies, that it was “high time” we grew up and forgot the games of youth. Like all compliant adults, expectation is we deal with our unhappiness while grabbing reality by the short hairs and hanging on. So much for creativity and expression. Artistic types, whether in tangible or thespian arts, were fortunate and able to continue working outside their own realities under the blessings of society towards such gifted ones. But normal folk who simply enjoy donning a mask to explore a different persona are subject to cruel abuses by the rest of society; viewed as “having a problem,” or simply struggle their whole lives to fit in.
Zoom ahead to the early part of the 21st century to the blogging explosion. Suddenly there’s a new, accepted outlet for being “other than yourself,” a way to put forward a persona from your imagination, one you scrape from that your mind’s dark corner. For many bloggers, the opportunity was simply an extension of their already active, yet private, paper journals. But some preferred to open the barred door, enter the forbidden room, and in a defiant act of burning the bridge, flip on the light switch to illuminate everything without judgment.
A recent article from The Observer has some interesting examples of these masked writers. Especially interesting was the woman who, as a fiction exercise, adopted the persona of a 13-year-old boy living with his uncle. She crafted a world of an individual so convincing that her growing following absorbed everything she wrote as gospel. When at one juncture she/he mentioned being spanked by the uncle, concerned bloggers wanted to intervene and thus began the unraveling of her secret and the unmasking of another false blogger. There are many stories like this, some with tragic conclusions to the fantasy played out past a dangerous conclusion.
In reading these very words I share, can you really come to know me, or is this the real me I’m projecting? Sure, there’s a link to my home blog where there’s the obligatory About Me page and certainly there’s my voice and revealing facts threaded throughout, but do those combine for a complete picture of the real me, or do they merely reveal the person I want you to see? And how do you know they’re not the bored imagination of someone else? Are you so sure I’m not really a woman, some bored stay-at-homer craving to live another’s life? Or could I be someone under a witness protection plan hiding from a once-conviction of a horrific crime against society? Certainly, given the gist of what’s written, I’m hardly controversial or show any signs of luring young men or women into bad situations, or even dare I say in these unsure times, threatening the American Dream. Perhaps I’m not the best example of this theory, and even so, you must wonder whether it’s all just a grand show, an experiment in fiction with no purpose other than to “pull the wool over your eyes.” And then there’s the ultimate question: If we were to meet and I take off my blog mask, would the same perceived person be standing in front of you? Or would there simply be another mask underneath?