Get me off this damned pedestal!

posted by lupa in occulture on 1/24/2006 12:00:00 AM

Image consciousness in occulture

Recently Taylor and I added a press page to http://www.thegreenwolf.com. We included not only the good stuff, the praise and compliments, but also the bad feedback. To both we added commentary, but we got pretty snarky with some of the bad feedback. All in good fun, of course–no personal attacks, no viciousness. Just a way to diffuse the negativity in a manner that we find fun.

A couple of well-meaning folk whose opinions we respect pointed out to us that this could possibly be seen as unprofessional, “sinking to their level” as it were. Now, I can definitely see where they're coming from. It would probably look better if we just ignored the negative commentary and pretended it didn't exist. And we did consider the situation for a bit, since there were good points raised.

However, in the end we're not concerned with image.

Sure, everyone has some semblance of an image, that initial introduction to the Self that we put off. When I speak of image here, though, I speak of the deliberately crafted persona that really doesn't tell much about the real person after all. Some people feel incredibly vulnerable being themselves, and so they hide themselves behind masks and carefully formed words and actions. This isn't to say that all who think before they speak/act are faking it; but it's apparent when someone's not being hirself.

Even among the occulture there's a certain focus on image. People have this idea that once you become an author or some other notorious character that you automatically forfeit your right to make mistakes. There are those who take advantage of the vulnerability of being public by trying to tear down anyone whose success intimidates them. They work on the tabloid mentality that any public figures, even in a subculture, MUST be perfect, and any flaws are automatic signs of ill repute.

Some authors, occult and otherwise, create outward personae to sell more books. Some of them end up popular as a result. I'll never be as popular as Anne Rice, with her dark-n-scary vampire queen motif that doubtless is much of the reason she attracted so many baby goths to her fandom. I doubt I'll even be as popular as Llewellyn's cash cow, Silver Ravenwolf, who has entire flocks of teenybopper Wiccans swallowing her “Mama Silver” personality wholesale. Sure, the personae work for churning out multiple books on the same stuff, fiction or nonfiction. It's not necessarily even a bad thing. If it works for them, more power to them. But it leaves me wondering, who are these people, really? Do they ever lose their tempers? Or have bad hair days? Are they people I'd like to talk to if I met them by chance?

But I'm not writing to be popular, or to sell more books than anyone else. I don't expect to make a living off my writing, because then my writing would cease to be fun and would become just a JOB. I'm writing to get my ideas out there. The people who matter to me are the ones who look past image and instead let my writing speak for itself no matter who the hell I am when I'm not typing furiously away at some creation in Microsoft Word.

Ya know what? I'm human. I piss, I shit, I fart and belch and vomit when I get sick. I fuck, and I bleed from my crotch once a month like most bio-females my age. Furthermore, I have a bad temper, strong opinions and a bad habit of putting my foot in my mouth at inopportune times. And you know what? I'm not going to pretend those things aren't as much a part of me along with the intelligence, perseverance, love of talking shop, and pure sexiness, just so I can create a wholly positive image.

I refuse to feed the image egregore by being anything other than what I am.

It's heavily cliched, the idea that you can't please everyone, so just worry about pleasing yourself. It's a lot easier said than done. We're trained from a very early age to be people-pleasers–usually it's the people who want to be on the receiving end of that who do the training. The thing is, though, that no matter what we do, somebody's going to disapprove. If we stop playing with bad press, some will accuse us of backing down in the face of pressure. If we keep on as we are, some will call us unprofessional and immature. It's a lose-lose situation either way if we just focus on the reactions of others. So we choose to keep doing what we want, and what we want is to banish the negativity with our own laughter–and hopefully that of others.


Comments:

I can see where you are coming from, but there are other reasons sometimes why authors have to be very careful about their public image. For example, 'Anton Channing' is my real world name, not some psuedonym, and since being an author does NOT make me a living, I can not afford to have the kind of public persona that would alienate my potential employers.

If anything, my public persona would be a lot LESS careful and constructed if I no longer had to worry about getting a job. Notoriety is good for book sales in the occult world.

Not that any occult authors make that much money from their books. Fiction is where the money is. Even those fiction authors that don't sell anywhere near as much as 'Anne Rice'.

posted by: Anton Channing on 2006-01-25 *nodnod* Good point. There's some tunnel vision in that respect on my part. It's not that I don't have to worry about “real world” issues–nobody I work with knows I write. Much of that is due to the fact that I have minimal contact with them in my line of work, and nobody ever really asks me about myself. Though I will have the issue, once I'm out in Seattle and job hunting again, of how to explain my writing on my resume and whatnot. Chances are I'll just be up front, or come up with pretty euphemisms like “nature-based spirituality” rather than “occult and magical topics”.

Part of it too, though, is also because I feel that within the magical community I can be myself more than anywhere else. I don't feel the need to hide my essential personality when I'm in my element. Now, I will grant that I have the protection of my name; however, that's mostly due to the fact that I feel it fits me better than my government-recognized name. I do try to keep the two separate for my family's sake, since they're not 100% comfortable with this, but if something got out *shrugs* It's not the end of the world for me.

I guess, too, I figure that if I'm going to be writing about things as controversial as magic, BDSM, alternate personal mythologies and whatnot, especially when I draw so much on personal experience, that I really don't have much to lose anyway. It's sort of the cost of not censoring myself–I lose the protection of being able to explain it away as something more innocuous. I mean, how the hell do you pretty up an essay on flogging someone to a state of ecstatic, orgasmic trance?

As I said in the OP, personae aren't necessarily a bad thing, and you've added another reason why.

Looking back, maybe I'd have concentrated more on the issue of others within the occulture holding authors and such to higher standards than “ordinary” members of the subculture. There is that perception I've seen among some–not all–magical folk that we (not just authors, but anyone who makes a bit of a name for hirself) can do no wrong, and if we do, we're suddenly targets for whatever vitriol they can find excuses to spew.

posted by: Lupa on 2006-01-25 To Anton,

Well other than on here where I go by teriel, all of my writing is published under my real world name. And I do understand where you're coming from in terms of being careful.

But at the same time the very fact that you and I write books on the occult is already a mark against us for many employers.

It's choice you make really…I could be focused on crafting a careful image or I can “be” myself, as much as any person can and see what results.

And I say that with the understanding that I'm currently seeking employment and my choice to publish under my real name has gotten me a bit of flack before. But nothing that couldn't be handled in the end.

posted by: teriel on 2006-01-26 You admit in your piece that image manipulation may not be bad thing - can anybody think of ways it could be put to good use?(apart from purely to sell books of course).The reason why I say this is that image and marketing are an integral part of the modern world and modern commerce - if you are published, chances are the publisher will want to fashion some sort of image for you to help sell the books. Perhaps some well crafted lies might inspire some people…….

posted by: johnny k on 2006-01-27 I'm not sure if I completely agree with you there Lupa.

I wonder if often the creation of a persona can be a by-product of the way media works (or a defence mechanism against losing your sense of self). If you're creating stuff that exists in the public sphere then many people will come to know you primarily through your creations (as well as other peripheral media such as interviews, which cause further distortion through others interpretation), simply because this is the only information they have to go on.

Take this site for instance, I've been fortunate to meet a couple of the people from Key23 in meatspace (asmadai and Lucifer Benway) and it's been interesting comparing the picture of the person I'd created from their writing against the actual person in the flesh. In both cases I can see the aspects of their writing reflected in their personalities but there are many others facets to them that you would never be able to know simply through reading the pieces they've posted here.

posted by: adam on 2006-01-27 as an aside, regarding Anton's comment about using his real name, when I went for the interview for my current job they told me they'd googled my name, apparently at the top of the list was an article I'd written about a knife fighting course I'd attended :-p

They thought it sufficiently interesting to offer me the job though…

posted by: adam on 2006-01-27 Adam: More good points. It's obvious by some authors' success (including the ones I mentioned as examples) that image can be an important tool in working the media up in one's favor. In addition, sometimes people WANT an author to look a certain way–after all, Anne Rice would probably be received very differently if she had a bottle blonde Valley girl thing going. Just doesn't cary the vampire and gothic imagery so well. And a lot of that comes from playing off not only one's personal aesthetic, but also keeping the audience in mind and how you want to present yourself.

I suppose the reason I (personally) want to avoid deliberately creating an image that is significantly different from the “real” me is partly because I'm very much against the guru syndrome–the idea that an author or other authority is automatically flawless and vaunted. The last two things I need are A) a reputation of perfection to try to keep up, and the resultant drama that occurs when I fail and B) a bunch of people who think I'm divine letting me do all the thinking for them. Granted, neither of these has happened at this point, but I intend to be a successful author, and I've seen the worship and fan club syndromes happen even to those who didn't want it in the first place.

I realize that people who don't know me so well, who only know me through my writing, will have a different picture of me than my closest friends. This is why I like to invite people to peruse my Livejournal. I don't put every little thing that happens in my day there, and I do filter certain things, but for the most part the public stuff is a mix of good and bad days as they happen. I figure it'll give people a little better look at the person behind the writing and artwork. Sure, there's a definite benefit to carrying a certain mystique, but I want to avoid it going overboard.

posted by: Lupa on 2006-01-27 Ah, my comment about sinking to their level was not meant as a personal barb but personal concern. I hope you guys know that. I did not mean to be hurtful in any way, but honestly, I did cringe at a few of the comments. Of course I am not suggesting that anyone pretend negative press does not exist, and I do understand a need to address those issues.

I guess my main feeling is that since (obviously) not everyone is going to like your work, its just a fact of the matter and people are entitled to their opinions (as are you, of course). Their criticism is either valid based on their own feelings and experiences or what they are saying is a slanderous misrepresentation of your work. I can understand wanting to correct the latter, and even to clarify on the former. BUT I honestly don't think mudslinging is particularly useful MOST of the time. (General comment not based on your bad press page.)

My advice, not that anyone asked, is to prove negative reviewers wrong with your next piece of work if their criticism is actually based on anything you can improve upon. :)

posted by: Ceilede on 2006-01-28 I'll help you off if someone'll give me a boost up to take your place. We might set off the giant rock trap if there's no idol on there.

Right then, Lupa, you posed three questions in your article, and I do enjoy talking about myself. Answers: I rarely lose my temper (too cool), always have bad hair days (too wild), and probably not because I'm a bit of a cock (too metallic).

I write (*cough*) using my birth name because I'm not so smart, and I subconsciously want to sabotage all future career prospects to satisfy my slack quota. Though, to be fair, I doubt that my work on boring technical manuals or roleplaying games is likely to generate much interest, much less critical infamy.

I'm not really concerned with criticism of any thing I've done because I hate any thing I've done about five minutes after I finish it, send it off, and realise what a monstrosity I've thrown to the wolves. Indeed, I often become annoyed when something I dislike gets praise.

And that… is… that.

posted by: Brenden Simpson on 2006-01-29 'ello

Thanks to my internet persona, I was denied at least one job, which is fine. Anyone too closed-minded to ask me about my writings, who's eager to discount me simply because I wrote an article about assaulting corporations with binding rituals a few years back isn't someone I'd want to work for anyhow. A friend of mine has her face tattooed. That works on the same level, only amplified - most places won't hire her, but her response is she's too unique to work in most places, and if a person snubs her simply because of her facial tattoos, then that person's too closed-off to bother.

besides, there's no bad press. there's only press. & an author needs as much press as possible, no matter what field hir focus is on.

all things considered, I place much more faith in a person who conversationally relates their own experiences over the statistical accumulation of information without a trace of the author's personality. Persona comes about of it's own accord, sort of manifesting out of the cultural artefacts created by or about a specific personality. These masks have their uses (anyone other than me following Ben Mack's work?) but I really think that in this field the most important baseline an occult author can hit is to present themselves without embellishment because the material is usually strange enough. Now if you're ghostwriting fiction under a publisher's trademarked author name (like, say, ghostwriting v.c. andrews novels or some such shit) all you got's persona (and you might as well kiss your future goodbye)

posted by: wes unruh on 2006-01-29 Image seems important to me- far more so than people give it credit for. Even in writing this you have crafted an image: Ya know what? I'm human. I piss, I shit, I fart and belch and vomit when I get sick. I fuck, and I bleed from my crotch once a month like most bio-females my age. These seem like things that you rarely, if ever do- in the grand scheme of things how much time do you actually spend shitting, farting, belching, vomiting and oozing iron-tinged snot?

In the “a stopped clock is right twice a day” category Anton LaVey once said “Good looks are unnecessary, but 'looks' certainly are.” In other words, by foregoing the construction of an image you are eschewing one of the most dramatic ways of affecting the world around you. One can moan all one likes about their personal distaste of image, but the fact that image can be a powerful magic!al tool. Why reject it on the basis of some Christian-tinged moral stance that tells us that “it's what inside that really matters.”

No one is suggesting that you hold in yr farts, start wearing half shirts and giggling like a bimbo for the benefit of the menfolk. Indeed, in the chapter of the Satanic Bible that I reference above, LaVey discusses the various “looks” that can be constructed. The idea that image construction must be for aesthetic pleasure seems narrow-minded and short-sighted to me.

And as I say, I just don't buy it when people say they aren't concerned with image. Having come of age in the grunge years, I know all too well that anti-fashion and anti-image is a fashion and an image unto itself- albeit a generally ineffective one.

I'm actually working on an article I'm tentatively titling “Fashion Magic!” about the various things that image can and can't do. I think you'll find it interesting.

I also agree with Adam and Wes above- at the risk of sounding youthfully (HAH!) naive, I think that being an intelligent weirdo is going to benefit me more than help me. Then again, I don't live in that useless tract of land between NYC and LA known as “America” and if I were living in Ohio or Kansas I might have a different perspective.

There but for the grace of “Bob” go I…

posted by: Ulysses Benway, Lucifer's Globetrotting Brother on 2006-02-07 “You are only an image to everyone else, slightly less fathomable than the one they see in the mirror.”

In the immortal words of Bruce Musaka.

posted by: Brenden Simpson on 2006-02-08