Mirror, Mirror

November 24, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’m skipping the “Self and Socialization” unit this semester. The real reason is that time thieves have been at work, and the term is about two weeks too short this year. But beyond that, I’ve lost my faith. I realize how wrong I’ve been about some basic ideas. Taking the role of other, seeing ourselves as other see us, the looking-glass self – what a crock. In fact, people don’t see themselves as others see them, and I’m not just talking about people who are clearly delusional.

A few months ago, I was interviewed for a TV show – a show you’ve never heard of for a network you’ve never heard of, unless you’ve heard of Ebru TV. Weeks later, they sent me a DVD of the show. It was painful to watch myself. Not because I said things that were wrong (though there was some of that too), but because the person in that real video looked and sounded so different from the person in the imaginary video of myself that I carry around in my head.

A looking-glass self? Maybe, but that looking-glass is flat and flattering. That’s why it’s so distressing to look in those triptych mirrors in the fitting rooms. Or to watch yourself on TV. Who was this stiff-looking guy with the ungraceful walk and a much higher forehead than I remember, this guy who looked like my brother (what’s Jack doing in this video?) and not at all like Gregory Peck?

I didn’t sound like Gregory Peck either. I knew that already, but even so, I certainly didn’t hear myself as others hear me. It wasn’t just my voice, which sounds so much more resonant from inside my head than from outside. It was all those verbal tics – “y’know” and “I mean.” I had no idea how often and how unwittingly I utter them.

Maybe the proper question is not how socialization works. The interesting questions are about the discrepancy between the image we have of ourselves and the image others have of us. Why do we so seldom become aware of the discrepancy? And given this discrepancy, how do we manage to sustain social life?


Anonymous said...

yeah skip it - its something you can read up on later

Anonymous said...

Gregory Peck is your ideal? I've always favored Robert Redford as the ideal I could never live up to.