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Age of Identity

Έγινε ενημέρωση: 18 Σεπ 2022

By Eleftheria Kollia -The Tiny Storyteller

Recently, I’ve been watching a tv series based on a famous, long-lasting gaming franchise. In the adaptation, the main character, a man who serves in a futuristic society, takes off his mask to reveal his face, even though in the original game he never does so.

This decision by the showrunners to unmask a protagonist who had been “faceless” ever since he was created, rose a large scale of controversy among the fans, thus dividing them in two categories: The ones who agreed with the facial revelation and the ones who preferred the main character to remain under his ambiguous mask. The former viewed the unmasking as an act of long awaited “identification” for the hero, while the latter experienced it as though it was robbing them the ability to mirror themselves in the hero’s blurry presence.

This very simple event in the circles of a fanbase, made me consider a few things around the issue of our cultural demands in the artistic field. During each and every era in history, generations lead their lives under certain socioeconomic statuses which shape their worldview and their objectives.

For example, in the French Revolution, people needed to believe in the dream of a world reborn and the idea of a “promised land”, where the people who suffered would come first and the people who reigned would be somehow overthrown. Thus, Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” was created, marking Jan Valjean as an icon for a man “reborn” in a world “reborn” and Javairt as a symbol of the oppressive law, which would eventually be overpowered by the struggling man’s strong will and virtue.

Similarly, during the Interwar Period, people from all around the world endured vast economic hardships and at the same time they’d survived from World War I, while anticipating the shadow of World War II. This social context, under the principle that art always imitates life, gave birth to literary, theatrical and cinematic heroes who were hard working, self-sacrificial and focused heavily on the benefit of their collective societies. If they differed from that idea, they were tragically “punished” in some way.

A Hero In Art Represents A Hero In Real Life

To name a few artistic instances of this phenomenon, in Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, the hedonistic protagonist is never rewarded with his highest desire to be with Daisy and his attempts to gain personal wealth appear futile. At the same time, in Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, the titular female lead is getting exactly what she asks for, after experiencing terrible calamities, but managing to endure them with patience and hard work.

The individuals were important as long as they produced something important for the struggling mass, disregarding sometimes their own needs. Everyone was in a way expendable, but simultaneously, everyone was disciplined and vowed to serve the ideals of their system, even though they could spot the cynicism and corruption behind it.

Today, in the 21st century, the latest generations seem rather different from many of their predecessors. Even though there are still great economic problems, a large part of the western world hasn’t suffered a gargantuan or global war so far, which has given time and space for people to focus a lot on themselves and their personal growth and desires. At the same time, the existence of globalization and the overload of information through the internet, has formed new dynamics between the individual and the system surrounding it. There is a cartesian doubt in the minds of the younger people for almost everything and a general disbelief in the systemic integrity, which in turn shapes the idea that one should better count on oneself if they hope for a better future.

All these rapid changes have shifted focus from the “collective society” to the “individual”. And as the individual becomes more self-aware of one’s needs, there’s a call for something deep embedded within every single one of us and that is the discovery of the “Identity”.

When Art Imitates Real Life

As said before, art imitates life. And since everybody in the newest generation seem to be on a personal “Identity quest”, the artistic works arising cannot differ from this theme. Most of the literary, theatrical or cinematic pieces that move young people and are made in the modern age, deal with the issues of Identity in terms of personality, talents, desires, belonging, sexuality, mental health, ethnicity and roots, religious beliefs and of course, purpose. Everything we love in the most recent – and more popular – cultural outbursts have to do with some sort of identity discovery ranging from which Hogwarts House we belong in to the struggles of comic book Superheroes to master their personal “superpowers” both in terms of physical and spiritual ability.

Does this mean that the generations preceding us never pondered on the issue of Identity? No, quite the contrary. Since every generation consists of individuals, the subject of identity is something that has been relevant since the dawn of time, even when cave men attempted to draw themselves on the walls of their cave. Besides, art has always been a vehicle of self-expression, even if this many times implies that it expresses the needs of more than just one person, but rather a whole society.

The only difference is that today Identity has become an artistic movement, a mainstream trend that transcends us, but at the same time, monopolizes a large part of our way of thinking. It is our generational theme, something for which our youthful years will be remembered.

Is that a positive or negative outcome? In my humble opinion, I believe it is a bit of both. On one hand, it is important for each and every one of us to discover who we truly are. If we want to make our world a better place, we should focus on ourselves first and our own self-improvement and satisfaction of needs.

Knowing oneself provides valuable insight into systemic evaluation as well, since if someone knows what they stand for and hold a healthy dose of pragmatism and skepticism for what the world is “selling” them sometimes, the decisions made can be more mature and responsible.

Searching For Our Identity, Finding Our Identity

It is also fundamental to strive for the respect of our identity. No matter who we are or what we identify as on any level, as long as we act on love, we must be appreciated and respected for being who we truly are and not sacrifice our character development and freedom. Finally, identity is crucial in learning to love ourselves.

But, on the other hand, there’s a trap that we must be aware of and that is none other than self-absorption. Being heavily preoccupied with our own individual interests and needs, we sometimes become our own idols, but also our own servants. And that again can be good in a moderate way, but too much of anything can become counterproductive.

We are not the only ones in the planet and sometimes gazing ourselves in the mirror all the time or in our cases, looking our best social media pictures and the likes we collect in every post, can make us overlook the real struggles that other people right next to us are going through. Identity is important. But when it turns into narcissism, the time comes when we should remember our ancestors who also considered the benevolence of collective society.

Ego can make us rigid and closeminded. We are correct to be doubtful, but there are instances in which we should keep our eyes and hearts open. In the same way it’s good to know ourselves well and hold our standards high, but we can always listen before we judge and spare a glance before we turn our heads away.

Life isn’t black and white. So, the quest for identity cannot only mean good or bad news for the development of our generation. I guess it is in the way we eventually use it that it’ll be determined if we’ll be benefited, both individually and collectively.

So, returning back to that tv show I watched the other day, I think the fact that the protagonist took off his mask was unavoidable. In an age when art speaks heavily on subjects of identity, the main character of a gaming franchise must be separated from the controller of the player and through the lens of a cinematic camera, become “his own man”, acquiring a face. It is also expected that some people will react negatively to this, since they might be skeptical of not being able to see their own faces any more in the mask of their favorite character – and that is justified.

But, I think, that if an artistic hero can remain a symbol of the things we collectively stand for, then we can all see ourselves in the reflection.

In the end, it is important to be able to gaze our own face in the mirror of a protagonist’s mask. But it’s also important to hale with an open mind the face of the other that gazes back.

Eleftheria Kollia -The Tiny Storyteller

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