I was having a discussion last night with Liz when she brought up an article in the latest GQ Magazine in which the author rails on the different archetypes being played out by certain individuals on popular social network sites. As we were talking it occurred to me that it all started back in ’92 when the real world debuted the commercial and social viability of creating a forum for people to reduce themselves into easily understandable and definable parameters: an archetype. Chuck Klosterman writes about this in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs : A Low Culture Manifesto, and it’s something that comes up quite often when you live with someone who has their Masters in Media Studies.
So if we look back to the original Real World we can see the “low hanging fruit” archetypes: the militant African American; the prim, proper and prude mid-westerner; the pretty-boy from the “wrong side of the tracks”, etc. With each offshoot of the Real World (Road Rules, Big Brother, etc.) the archetypes used for exploitation (read: profit) have evolved, have become more granular and have grown significantly in number.
People tend adjust their behavior to align with personas they identify with. It’s how we learn behavioral lessons from our family, society and culture. But some people try to differentiate to find their own niche and be unique. As they do they need to explore ever more granular facets of their personality in order to get noticed. Especially now that social media has allowed for the long-tail of culture to have the same degree of visibility as the mainstream.
It’s like biological classification: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. The visibility social media provides for the average user is the fuel for a feedback loop that continues to drive the subdivision of primary archetypes into ever more granular ones. So will there be an endpoint? Can we all be reduced down to a single thing using n number of classification levels?
Something else to consider is: Are these mechanisms of self-identification and behavior modification mutating due to the explosion of reality TV and social media, or were they always there but just under the surface (due to the relatively narrow variation mass media provided)? There was always the annoying “I’m so great because I’ve been to so many cool places” guy and the “woo hoo go ” guy and the perpetually-having-a-bad-day girl, but they never had a megaphone before.
Social media sites certainly do promote and reinforce an oversimplification of a person’s personality (profile: interests, favorite music, etc.). So given the predefined swim-lanes we have at our disposal by which to express who we are the question becomes, can we all be reduced down to an archetype? Or has the fact that we’ve progressed past the over-simplified archetypes of the Real World ca.1992 served to prove that there are too many combinations and flavors to be contained within a single classification system?