Monday, December 27, 2004

Identity Revisited

- What's your name?
- John.
- What's your real name, John?
- Pyro.

And with that Erik Magnus Lensherr, or should I say, Magneto, draws the troubled youth to the 'dark side'.

Why? Why did John feel so drawn by the suggestion that he was really Pyro - I mean, it's a bit cheesy isn't it, when you think about it? Even though we might not be able to explain it, why do we understand exactly what is going on, why can we empathise? What draws us to watch movies about costume clad super-heroes with cheesy names? Why do millions read their comics religiously? Escapism? Maybe.

It doesn't just happen in comics though. You see it was only a week or so ago that I was no longer me. I had gone to visit friends, Xbox in hand, and for that night, the only name I had was Galant. As we played stupid, macho games, I was the one in grey running around with everyone else. When I managed to get the best of my friends (some of whom I had met only for the first time that night), the only thing they knew was that they had been hit by Galant. After several hours with rivalries and friendships more solidly understood, it was Galant they were congratulating, or cursing or occasionally gloating over.

Galant wasn't the only one there though, there was also Magma Blue, Hero, Tringard and many others. Those names appearing not only on the screens, but also on the lips of those in front of the screens. Not one of us minded a bit. We didn't even feel weird, or cheesy, it actually felt quite good. Why? Why did it feel good? Why did I even have that name in the first place?

Some of you might be laughing right now, but even though the form is new, the practise isn't. In chatrooms across the net, and countries across the globe people are interacting under a name different than that on their birth certificate. Beyond technology - what does your husband call you, or your wife? What about your friends? Nick-names have pained and empowered, the world over.

Why do we love to give ourselves secret identities? Why do we like to be known by a different persona? Perhaps we want to get away from our boring lives, we want to escape into a world where we are something more than Andrew Smith, or Jane Johnson. Maybe. I wonder though, how many of us feel that our names, or what we think people identify with our names, are really us. Am I the guy you think you know, or is Galant more indicative of who I am? How close to me are you? What do you really know? There's something good about chances to be somebody entirely new. To go somewhere where no-one knows you, where you can recreate yourself as whoever you want to be. If you have the guts. Technology has given many people that chance in a way far more accessible and managable than ever before, but I don't think it created the desire.

I think too that many people have settled into roles and situations they can manage, but it is not who they are. If that's so however, then who are they, and what's more, what can they do about it?
In the second X-Men movie, X-Men United, the fire-wielding John threw away what was sensible and right because Magneto suggested that 'Pyro' was more who he was than John. It seems John, or Pyro, agreed. So many today are doing the same thing, just not quite as spectacularly. They remain John Smith and Rita Haworth most of the day and most of the week - but they are waiting for an opportunity to be something more, to open up the things within them that they know are there, but they never use. It leads to all sorts of results, many of which unpleasant, undesireable or even contemptible. It begs the question though, what else could they do?

In youth it is perhaps seen most easily - the feel that they are most themselves when they are with their friends, late at night, doing whatever, than when they are at home with the family. Why? If you asked, they might say that they feel restricted. Restricted by what?

Me, I sometimes feel restricted by the repetition of the week. Same schedule, same tasks day after day, and many of them I do just because I have to, or because I'm supposed to. I get tired of living life because I'm supposed to. My job is fine, but it's not me, I can't do this everyday for the rest of my life, life is more than this. Living for the weekend? The weekend is never long enough, and more often than not, my weekends are identical. Vacations too, trips to new places, are breaths of fresh air - but always too short. Even church. Just going to services, being the nice choir-boy, the reliable Bible guy - I don't want to be just nice and regular. I want to be impressive. I want to excel. I don't particularly care if anyone else notices - I want to notice. Sometimes I just want to cut loose and unleash my secret identity. Make use of my secret gifts and abilities and find someone else beneath who I'm supposed to be; who everyone thinks I am.

I don't know though - leather jackets and shades in church, or long hair, don't cut it. I don't really want to fly like Superman or hold the power of a Jedi. There's something, some way, to live out there, I just wonder what it is.

What then of everyone else? I can't imagine I'm alone. What do we who are supposed to have it all together, offer to those outside? We can fix them up and offer them the solution to their big problems, but when they're fixed up and ready to go - then what? For me, the odd jaunt to the climbing gym, a hike in the mountains, or a night a assassinating my friends on Halo suffice to give me my fix. Is that who I am? Am I Spider-man, Mountain-man, or Master Chief?

I know I'm more than that, and I'm pretty sure I'm more than you know me as. And if I know this, what about God? Who does He know me as? Perhaps He's the one person I can't fool.

And you - who are you?

God bless,