Category Archives: Identity: Knowing Who We Are

Wrestling, kayfabe, and only labels

Work, Identity, and Wreck-It Ralph

In 2012, Wreck-It Ralph joined The Incredibles[1] as an animated film that deals with those most adult of themes: vocation, work, and the meaning of life. Where The Incredibles deals with one’s choice of work and the freedom to use one’s gifts, Wreck-It Ralph deals with the complex relationships between image, identity, and vocation .

Wreck-It Ralph is a video game villain who spends his days destroying an apartment building that is then relentlessly rebuilt by the game’s hero, Fix-It Felix Jr. Ralph feels trapped in his role and longs for something more. In the brilliant opening scene, Ralph attends a meeting of Bad-Anon, a support group for video game bad guys. Attempting to help Ralph see himself in a better light, a zombie tells him, “Good, bad — only labels.”

Work Identity and Self Identity

This might sound like a position of moral relativism, but none of these “villains” are truly bad in a moral sense. They’re entertainers, playing a role given to them by the game designers. Being a “bad guy” is best understood as part of the video game kayfabe. Kayfabe is the depiction of staged story lines of professional wrestling, in which some wrestlers are “good” (“faces,” as in “babyfaces”) and some are “bad” (“heels”). They are all actors, not actual heroes or villains. In the ring, two wrestlers may act like die-hard enemies. In reality, they are coworkers in the same wrestling company, perhaps even good friends. Their wrestling personas have been assigned to them by their manager, all as part of the entertainment. Continue reading Work, Identity, and Wreck-It Ralph

There’s No Such Thing as a Self-Made Man

A self-made man
This statue of a self-made man was, interestingly enough, made by someone else.

Few phrases bother me more than “self-made man.”

First, no one can literally make himself. Even if your parents contributed nothing more than the biological material out of which you were formed, other people were involved in your life from your earliest days. Even if their involvement did more harm than good, it’s still part of who you have become.

Even if the figurative sense, however, I strongly dislike the idea of a “self-made man.” It diminishes the fundamental connections between ourselves and other human beings, especially those which have laid the groundwork for our own achievements. Frederick Douglass, in his lecture “Self-Made Men”, provides a definition of the term:

Self-made men […] are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any of the favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results.

I think this is how most people use the term: a person who owes his success to no one else.

Yet Douglass qualifies the concept of “self-making” by stressing the importance of relationships and the work of past generations:

It must in truth be said though it may not accord well with self-conscious individuality and self-conceit, that no possible native force of character, and no depth or wealth of originality, can lift a man into absolute independence of his fellow-men, and no generation of men can be independent of the preceding generation. (Emphasis added)[1]

Do we give enough credit to the preceding generations who created the environment for our success? Going further, do we conceive of our work as preparing the world for future generations? Continue reading There’s No Such Thing as a Self-Made Man

There Are No Small Actors

There are no small parts, only small actors. – Constantin Stanislawski

It’s a famous phrase in theatre, and we know its truth. In a stageplay, television show, or movie, roles that are small in terms of lines or screen time can be integral to the plot. Or they can provide an opportunity for an unknown rising star to steal the scene. Or allow an all-time great to remind us all why they are considered great.

LEGO Hamlet
Alas, poor Yorick!

Boba Fett speaks only a few lines in the original Star Wars trilogy, yet became one of best-loved characters of the films. In Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins needed only 16 minutes (out of a 2-hour-long movie) to win Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance. With the right actor, in the right role, a few minutes, a handful of words, are all that’s needed for magic to happen.

The saying is often spoken to actors disappointed with their role, and it’s meant to encourage them to invest in what they have been given. Having only a few lines doesn’t give you an excuse to slack off. When I was ten or eleven, I was cast in a church youth group’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I had a very small role, with only two lines in the entire show. During one of our performances, another kid sat in my seat by mistake during a scene. While I was arguing with him under my breath, trying to get him to move, my cue came and went. An older kid covered for me, supplying my line at the right moment, and I spent the rest of the show in red-faced silence. This wasn’t Olivier flubbing a Shakespearean soliloquey, but it was a pretty good indication why I wasn’t given a larger role.

Is it also true in our work and daily lives that there are no small roles, only small actors? Continue reading There Are No Small Actors