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ArCATypes: Show me your anima

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JANUARY 23, 2013

If you’ve ever seen a dramatization of high school on screen — or even attended high school — you’re probably familiar with labels. There’s always the meathead jock. Occasionally, a misanthropic goth. And if you’re really lucky, a witty freak who makes it okay to falter on the social hierarchy (see: every high school movie ever).

But there is another, more sophisticated word for these kinds of generalizations: archetype. More precisely, an archetype is the go-to representative of a certain personality type.

For example, Zooey Deschanel is the modern archetype of the Quirky Dream Goddess (QDG). You know, those ladies who derive all their charm from being extremely pretty and incoherently weird. Frequenters of Urban Outfitters are the lesser manifestations of that personality type. However, it is important to note that the QDG, like all other archetypes, is more of a template than a well-rounded person.

If you feel that every person is a unique individual — which I usually agree with, unless I’m watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” (type: vapid, self-promoting fame-whores) — you might find the use of archetypes a tad less-than-one-dimensional. And that’s true. The identities of most people cannot be neatly condensed into a sound bite.

But no matter how staunch of an individualist you are, you probably generalize people too. The sad (or awesome, if you’re not into people) truth is that we can never know a person in his or her entirety. The majority of a person’s existence seems to lie in his or her thoughts, which are private — unless you’re telepathic, like Edward Cullen (type: sparkly, heartthrob vampire). Heck, most students at this post-teen age are still trying to “find themselves,” as if they’ll eventually stumble upon their long-lost, fully-formed identities. Moreover, philosophers seem to endlessly debate the definition of personal identity. So we’re forced to simplify each other and ourselves if we want to reach any understanding of humanity.

And history has shown that, for the most part, we do want to understand ourselves. The concept of archetypes was first applied to ancient Greek mythology. Most notably, psychoanalyst Carl Jung argued that we innately structure our experiences via archetypes. That’s pretty deep — subconsciously and meaningfully. This included the trickster, the mother figure and even this thang called the shadow (which is full of repression, weaknesses and other unsavory details). Cool!

Now, I’m not going to claim that there’s some collective unconscious looming in the distance or that Daniel Day Lewis has an anima or whatever. But there is something to be said for having patterns of archetypes, which deeply impact how we perceive people and tell stories.

There’s a reason why we describe others as merely “that rollerblading salsa dancer” or “that cross-dressing gymnast” or, more vaguely, “that one guy.” We need to differentiate people. But inevitably, certain people often fall into the same categories. And our society is made of the categories that we choose to use.

Just as ancient Greeks were defined by their weird shadows and stuff, we too must sift through our Kanye Wests to create our own definition. So this column will be a character — or rather, archetype — study of the major trends in our culture. This will be an attempt at self-definition in a world of overarching similarities.

I mean, why has the celebrity upstaged the hero in terms of who most of us want to be? Why are thick-rimmed glasses the height of sophistication? Why does everybody hate Anne Hathaway? These pressing issues require the critical analysis of a columnist who has a penchant for cat puns, which are the highest of the lowest form of wit. Hopefully, readers, we’ll access an even higher level of understanding.

Contact Caitlin Kelley at 

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JANUARY 25, 2013


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