ArCATypes: Persona-fication

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I know you’ve all stared at multiple Google image searches of Lady Gaga. And you’ve probably wondered, “How do famous people even exist?” Next to your everyday life of be-sweatpanted mediocrity, the fierceness of Gaga’s inability to wear pants seems mythical.

It seems like artists are one-upping each others’ Personas into increasing states of ridiculousness these days. Gaga, whose fourth album, ARTPOP, should come out any time now, seems to have set the bar for outrageous theatrics that accompany a pop star’s image. That may be why hottie potatties like Katy Perry have relied on blue Smurf wigs to get anyone to listen to their music. But the striking nature of these Personas have been around for awhile. The word “persona” derives from Latin, which refers to a theatrical mask. This etymology is intrinsically linked to acting, or taking on different roles. In previous generations, Madonna was a Material Girl, David Bowie was Ziggy Stardust and Oscar Wilde was and remains the Wittiest Dandy Ever. But in all of these past cases, the celebs were at some point stripped of their Personas — so they don’t equate with artists’ actual identities.

Personas don’t necessarily detract from the art itself. Sometimes, they can even add substance. Musicians like Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs — who are playing at Outside Lands this year — can take a performance-art approach to their live shows with kooky costumes, microphone swallowing and boundless stage presence. Why not add to the artistic experience? It’s only when the Persona compensates for a lack of artistry that it becomes a problem. (Ahem, Katy Perry.)

Most of us change our self-presentation for almost every single person we meet — each of whom has his and her own unique perceptions of others. Even if you work at Chipotle and are forced to tell every customer to “Have a good day,” you will do something subtly different each time that will affect each person differently. You might accidentally monotone so hard that your customer at the moment might think you’re being sarcastic about wishing them a good day. So, we are all different people to each other. None of these perceptions reveal complete personalities, because people can only present facets of themselves. Persona is distinct in that it’s an extreme manipulation of presentation. Whereas most self-presentation occurs without too much planning, the Persona is an exaggeration of, in this case, selected characteristics of the artist.

I know Little Monsters are sad because they’ve been idolizing the Persona of Lady Gaga this whole time. But as Gaga touts in her music video prelude to “Marry the Night,” it’s not necessarily dishonest to turn yourself into artifice. She’s all like, “Truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it.” By crafting her image, she chooses to show the qualities that she thinks best represents her — which gives some insight into her real identity. Particularly, that she’s a “free bitch, baby.”

Our constant exposure to celebs gives us a familiarity with them that can be on par with someone you know, even if they don’t know you exist. But it’s important to understand that you don’t know them or the entirety of their identities. Instead, appreciate Gaga like Pete Townshend, who told The Sun, “What Lady Gaga has done is created an iconic figure … She’s a story, and it’s fascinating to watch.” Rather than assume that Personas equate with artists’ identities, we should just embrace the spectacle.

Contact Caitlin Kelley at [email protected]. Check her out on twitter at @misantherapy.