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Friday, April 14, 2017

The Big Lie.

​Sit down, y'all.  Imma tell you a story.  Like all stories I will tell you, it is true, in spite of the title of this article.

I have a very close friend, a performance artist and visionary whom I have had the pleasure of sharing both stage and world with for many years.  Let’s call her Bast.  

My friend Bast and I were talking one day as we often did, about the trials of a life built out of art and cardboard and fishnet stockings. We talked for a while trading stories, both of us enjoying a bit of a rant on shady producers, freezing dressing rooms, and the weird shit people say to us at gigs. Ultimately, I sighed and said something trite like, well I wouldn't want to trade lives with anyone else, even for all the struggles. At least this life is mine.

And Bast was quiet a second and said, “Actually, there is one person I would trade lives with. Sabra.”  I wanted to object, but I couldn’t, and here’s why.

Sabra is a fellow performer who had achieved a dazzling success. She had been in a prestigious dance company in Chicago from a young age, leaving to move to LA at the behest of her main employer.  This employer was a very, VERY well known mega-star for whom she choreographed all of their dance numbers for major events. Bast and Sabra would be having lunch and she'd be all, “oh shit I'm late for rehearsal with HUGELY POPULAR POP ARTIST” and a black car would be waiting for her on the curb. She'd run off for months on tour, staying in fabulous hotels and barely working at all except on rehearsal days, but living that glamorous superstar by proxy lifestyle. She told hilarious stories in a rich, buoyant voice about working with over-the-top tour managers and how everyone acted like crazy people in the presence of fame.  

On anyone's terms, her success was brilliant. By a dancer/choreographer's terms? Practically a unicorn.
A few years passed. I was having lunch with Bast again, on a quiet garden patio in San Francisco. I asked about Sabra, as she hadn't mentioned her in a while and they had seemed to be close friends. Plus, I was curious as to what other cave of wonders the woman had managed to unlock on her yellow brick road.

Bast went silent.  She fixed me with her indomitable stare that meant shit was about to get real. And over the next hour and a half quietly explained how she had come to discover that Sabra's life was...

wait for it...

...a complete and utter fabrication. She had made the whole thing up.

I'll give you a second to read that again. A person in my friend's life, who for years had shared friendship, meals, travels, and shows with her, had been systematically nurturing a complicated illusory life for herself over the past five years. The sheer complexity of the untruth was mind-boggling.  The attention to detail was punishing in its ruthlessness.

It took Bast another hour to answer all my questions about how one step at a time, because of one tiny little loose thread that begged to be pulled, my friend slowly and rather chillingly uncovered the vast extent of a glittering career that never happened.

Need to make a call from a fancy hotel?  Ask to use the courtesy phone.

Need to be carried off in a big black car?  Call an uber and instruct them to wait.

Need to be out of town to validate a world wide tour you have nothing to do with?  Go see your mom back home in...wherever.

I was stunned, and deeply disturbed as one tends to be when confronted with an elaborate falsehood.  The most malicious part of it was, Sabra’s lie was so convincing that my friend got to the point of fantasizing about trading lives with her. The continued glowing successes of Sabra's apparent career had eaten away at my friend's pride in her own accomplishments, each one won with so much effort and labor only to be overshadowed again and again by Sabra’s stunning reach.  

And it was all one big, stinking, putrid, absurd lie.  Bast was the real unicorn.  But since we accept the world that’s presented to us as reality, this was usurped.

The above example is a caricature of a usually much more subversive, pervasive, and poisonous reality.  The Big Lie of Social Media Life.  I’ve written about this before in an Ode to Failure.  The reach of The Big Lie is so convincing that it can permeate even an old, comfortable relationship.  I have a friend who is a successful visual artist who I have been close with for 15 years.  I stopped contacting him because he was always traveling, going from gallery opening to gallery opening, and I didn’t want to bother him.  A year later we discussed it and he said, “It’s my job to make my life online look as exciting and elusive as possible.  It’s branding.  The truth is I go to these gallery openings and then eat noodles alone in a hotel.  I wish you had called!”  

If you think that made me feel like a dumbass, you’d be right.  I don’t know anyone who is impervious to The Big Lie...most friends of mine who it truly bothers, who don’t need social media for advertising, simply go off the grid and live perfectly splendid lives that no one knows a damn thing about.  

What I am NOT trying to tell you is that your friends and colleagues are inventing lives for themselves on social media, and that you should become a deeply suspicious person who responds to every FB post like:

What I am trying to do is advise you to do is become adept at identifying the feeling of FOMO.  You know the feeling, like being surrounded all of a sudden by a poisoned fog of emptiness, even when you were in a great mood two seconds earlier.  Get really good at knowing the signs, so it can’t sneak up on you and ruin a perfectly good moment with the certainty that EVERYONE IS DOING COOL SHIT BUT YOU!!!

I mean, they might be.  But, probably not.  If you recognize the gremlin of FOMO and see it coming, it makes it harder for it to sink its rancid claws into your psyche. 

Behold, the embodiment of FOMO.
Why this oddly psychoanalytical post?  I’ve seen enough artists both new and seasoned, sunk in a mire of despair because they were comparing themselves to the online presences of their peers.

And you guys...that shit ain’t real.  The Big Lie is not an accurate representation of's very nature is contradictory to accuracy.  As performance artists, part of the beauty of what we do is its absolute transience.  The moment it lives it dies, and is gone forever, and no amount of video or photography can capture what the true experience was; those mediums have their own beauty, but it is another beast.  

Photo by Daniel Yoo
Above:  A rad live shot of my act from Natural Wings award winning show, Elements, with my two stunning sisters-in-air, Dawn Pascoe and Ruth Battle-Wayre of Perth, Western Australia.  Truly one of the highlights of life as I know it.

NOT PICTURED:  I caught a terrible cold and had to keep tissues just off stage so I wouldn't spray snot on the audience and/or my beloved co-artsts.  Wouldn't have changed a thing.  Just saying, it's never the whole story.

Don’t get me wrong, an online presence is a useful, even imperative tool.  It's part of playing the game of self-marketing.  But believe me, it is a game.  The smoke and mirrors and fairy glamour we love about the stage can become a staged life- and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t mistake one for the other; for in that way, madness lies.  

This has been a PSA from Madame Rex Studios- coming to you live from the Glass Castle, San Francisco, JUST KIDDING I’m just a woman sitting at my kitchen table typing!   I'm not even wearing pants!  See how easy it is?!

In other news:

If you were on my mailing list, you'd get all kinds of other info all in one tidy place, like an application for mentorships and heads up on other cool haps.  Not saying it could save your life but, you know.  It could save your life.  

1 comment:

Gary Kirkland said...

"The attention to detail was punishing in its ruthlessness." Words from an honest-to-God writer