I am nothing if not inconsistent. I’ve written about romanticization and authenticity a few times, mainly on my frustrations with the urgency of nonchalance in college and the somewhat paradoxical burden of sugarless sincerity. My point stayed more or less the same: Romanticization and its sister, coolness, are harmful to how we experience life.
Earlier this month, columnist Paul Russell ‘19 wrote an upbeat defense of romanticization on social media. “Sure, it’s artificial,” says Russell, “but so is every painting you’ve ever loved. Accuracy and reality are for the rest of our lives. A moment of fantasy is no less a moment.”
Russell’s piece reminds me of one of the most influential texts I’ve read, Oscar Wilde’s lengthy socratic essay, “The Decay of Lying.” Wilde, with his nose firmly up in the air, critiques aestheticism indulgently and concludes the essay with the primary goals of art. Wilde concludes the essay by declaring that “Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art.”
That essay bore one of Wilde’s most famous aphorisms: “Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life.” How could I neglect this fundamental view when writing about our interactions with art and life? I was foolish to assume some unclear definition of authenticity without reminding myself that authenticity itself is colored by our consumption of romanticized content. To quote Wilde one last time before The Sun editors ban me from the paper forever, “Nature is no great mother who has borne us. She is our creation. It is in our brain that she quickens to life.”
Luckily, Russell’s column revitalizes the argument for romance, but his constraints on romanticization are what make the argument so intriguing. In effect, social media is performative art and the most subtle, yet blatant, form of lying. You can’t really be authentic on social media, right? The very nature of a constructed persona means that our appearances and actions are deliberate. We perform differently depending on who the audience is, and this is so uninterestingly obvious. You’re pretty actively aware that your Tinder profile is different from your Facebook is different from your LinkedIn is different from your rinsta is different from your finsta. I have two Twitters: One is public and has my face on it, and the other is private and is used for shitty jokes about bitcoin. Both are lying.
I’m against considering social media as distinct from Real Life, as the two are so intricately interwoven, especially for our generation. Our lies online trickle into our in-person perceptions and actions. Social media isn’t that much different from my writing for The Sun, and the way I write is largely a function of how I engage online and how I act in person. In both media I am performing some sort of persona via deliberate decisions. These columns aren’t pure id. I’m not writing this on acid or something, despite how it might come across. The least self-conscious artist is still self-conscious. I try to be as genuine as possible, I think, in my writing, but I’ve seemingly neglected to consider that my authenticity is inevitably drenched in context. Every word I choose to write is fraudulent by virtue of being chosen.
I still hold that the paradox of writing is the maintenance of novel sincerity without dipping into the saccharine. The paradox of youth culture is that you should be interesting without losing your aloofness. I also hold that these paradoxes are limiting and difficult and that escaping them is freeing. Maybe conflating this escape with living sans romanticization was misguided. I’m working on it. I’ll (hopefully) get back to you.
Pegah Moradi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.