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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

the whole and my sum

So here we are.
Whilst setting up this Blogspot account, I spent a good deal of time staring at the "My Profile" page. It's a tad Facebookian. So many things I can choose to share with you about myself: I can tell you when my birthday is, or what my interests are, or what my favorite books or movies are, and then, presumably, you will know all about me. But don't go clicking on that profile. It will tell you nothing, and not just because I left most of the fields blank.
Let me clarify that I am not averse to sharing. My website's FAQ page answers many questions that may or may not have ever needed to have been posed. But it occurred to me the other day that, try as we might, the concept of finding kindred spirits through algorithms alone is deeply flawed. Not that I don't know a happy couple who met on Match.com. I do indeed know a happy couple who met on Match.com. One. Still, I can't shake the doubt that no matter how many movies I list as being my favorites, it's not really going to tell you who I am.

Even when I was initially building my website, it took me a long time to figure out what needed to be shared and what did not. My brief tenure on Broadway brought many repeated questions my way, in the form of fan letters and interviews, so I started there, since my site is really more a promotional one than a personal one. I mean, you can't swing a dead Playbill without seeing an actor's bio that ends with a www-dot-professional-name-dot-com. It's smart. No one  - except maybe someone fresh off the bus - can sum up a career in 75 words. So I joined the club, trumpeting my credits and production photos online in the hopes that someone will find my site, point to it, and say, "I want THAT GIRL!"
*cue opening title sequence music and shot of my face on a kite.
I am aware of reality. I am aware that most of my site's traffic comes from my three fans and curious late-night Googlers. So why not pepper in a little personal flavor? I am not ashamed of my love of the late, great Tony Randall.  And it is truly difficult to fully suppress the Sprite in me. 
So I added the obligatory lists of favorite things to my FAQ. But one of the things that gives me that twist of Lymon (a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company) is the fact that I can't seem to pare down my favorite things into bite-sized portions. When posed with "chocolate or vanilla?" I say "why not both?" Top 10 favorite films? Why not top 20? Or top 37? Or 42?
And then there's the definition of "favorite," which became most puzzling when I was listing my favorite films (in no particular order, of course). There are some films that are slam-dunks: movies I have seen many, many times, and love, and I know all of the lines and actors and trivia surrounding it, and most of the time, it's also a great film that surfaces on Turner Classic Movies. Easy, them.
Then there are films that I love, and think are amazing, but I haven't seen them more than a few times. Or the films I've seen many, many times, but aren't great movies and are more along the lines of guilty pleasures (or favorites of my husband and I've had to sit through them... I'm looking at you, Greatest Show on Earth and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, both of which I do not like but can quote anyway). These such things are trickier to define. Is it quality or quantity?
And where do you stop? That's also difficult to determine. For example, when listing my favorite TV shows, there were several series that I did not list but like very much. Firefly, for example, was very enjoyable. Is it a favorite? I don't know. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, or maybe it will be in time. But listing it says something about me that I am not sure defines me. It says I like me the quirky sci-fi stuff. Amazon.com would run that through their magic processors and recommend "Buffy" and "Angel," neither of which I ever watched. (Yeah, yeah, let the booing begin.) 
See? My point exactly. Listing one simple favorite thing creates an expectation and assumption that may or may not have anything to do with who I am. 
In other words, "favorites lists" are the number one cause of knee-jerk reactions about a person's character. An online statement such as "I like White Castle" inevitably leads to either "you're a fat, uneducated yokel!" or "you're a true American, unlike those food snobs!" (I also like snob food. You don't know what to think now, do you?)
It's true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But it's hard to figure out which parts to share and which parts to hide. That's why it's also true that on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. At least, according to that old New Yorker cartoon. (Gasp! Who IS this person?)
No one is defined by a list or profile or bio. I guess that's why some of us blog. To give people a burst of crisp, refreshing Lymon.
Those who tweet, however, are serving up Crystal Pepsi.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me. 


  1. Oh, I don't think you understand Facebook at all. Those "favorite quotation" and "favorite music" slots are for 14-year-olds to fill in. Facebook is about staying in touch with your old friends more than you ever dreamed possible, with incredible ease. It is awesome.

    I know you are not to be swayed on this issue. Especially after I confess that Twitter is also amazing in its way. You just have to know who to follow.

  2. Stephanie, I agree wholeheartedly regarding the whole "favorite" thing. It is subjective and relative. I have shelves of video tapes and DVDs of my "favorite" movies and TV shows...and they sit unused for eons. Such is life. I guess.

    BTW, you are my favorite blog-tress.

    one of the three,

    Dave in Milwaukee