Although admittedly a more complex process, examining scenarios in terms of behavior and access to information invokes notions of power dynamics. While the concept of “knowledge is power” has been previously presented, Meryrowitz’ model of backstage/front stage/side stage provides interesting insight into the mechanisms of influence and control.
Knowledge of backstage discourse (and even being able to acknowledge its existence!) often confers a sense of power on an individual; permission to enter the backstage means that one is privy to the intimacy of the social networks present there. This concept provides interesting implications for the ways that minorities can cultivate and exert power. In particular, a sense of hubris in the majority might allow members of the minority to gain unrealized access to the backstage. For example, men who view women as being of no consequence might reveal things that they otherwise would not—these men do not view women as worthy of being a significant threat and, thus, their presence does not necessarily disrupt the intimacy of backstage.
Gossip Girl examines the concepts of front stage and backstage (and the consequences for behavior in both arenas) through two of its main characters, Blair and Serena. Based on Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, these two young women inherit their predecessors’ ways of navigating the world. Outwardly, Blair seems to exert a stronger presence as much of her time is spent focusing on the rules and power plays that dominate the front-facing lives of her peers. Blair’s manipulative nature allows her to dictate the course of action, but does not necessarily indicate that she is more powerful. Serena, in contrast, presents herself as inconsequential and thereby gains audience to some of the intimacies of backstage that Blair will never be allowed access to. Serena, like her forerunner May, represents a unique type of force in her social circles for she embodies the concept of “power behind the throne” and is able to call forth the type of destruction that her adversaries never see coming—because they never truly saw her.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer holds a special place in my heart as a beloved television show that managed to convey rather complex ideas to a somewhat young audience. In particular, “Lie to Me,” an episode from the second season, sees the main character obtain a more mature understanding about the power of deception. Examining the Slayer’s interaction with her mentor, audiences can instantly grasp a sense of Buffy’s internal struggle—one that does not lie in the realm of the supernatural but is entirely human—to make sense of a chaotic and complicated world. Through her words, Buffy demonstrates a desire for falsity that extends beyond a simple “white lie”; Buffy (momentarily) concedes to an untruth governing the fundamental operation of her world in order to decrease her cognitive dissonance.
Deception, in its many forms, can aim to reduce the cost of obtaining something of value (e.g., goods, services, protection, contentment, etc.). While animals will employ this tactic (e.g., mimicry) for self-preservation, human beings have taken the practice to more complex levels. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as we slowly exit the Age of Information, many current deceptive practices revolve around the manipulation of knowledge. Online, we might “fudge” our profile pictures in an attempt to lessen the rejection that we so desperately seek to avoid in real life; we might also alter a personal characteristic in order to test the waters of a new identity in an environment that dampens anxiety and judgment. Yet, while the relative ease of online deception confers us some cognitive defense, it also threatens to overwhelm us with delusion.
We lie to others and, perhaps even worse, lie to ourselves. We look outward for acceptance and affirmation instead of delving inward to confront the deepest parts of ourselves. Technology has allowed us, as individuals, to connect over vast differences and afforded us many opportunities that we might not otherwise have; yet, in some ways, it has also left us disconnected from the things that (arguably) matter the most.
 And our fragile male egos!
PostSecret raises a number of questions for me, specifically how the community art project reflects our current culture of confession. In particular, my work has focused my attention on youth and I often wonder how the current state of media might have affected the success of a movement like PostSecret.
Growing up, I remember watching the first seasons of The Real World and Road Rules on MTV (yes, I’m that old) and was always entranced by the confessional monologues. As a teen, the confessionals possessed a conspiratorial allure, for I was now privy to insider information about the inner workings of the group. However, looking back, I wonder if this constant exposure to the format of the confessional has changed the way that I think about my secrets.
The confessional format has become rather commonplace on the slew of reality shows that have filled the airwaves of the past decade and the practice creates, for me, an interesting metaphor for how Americans have to come to learn to deal with our struggles. As confessors sit in an isolation booth, they simultaneously talk to nobody and to everybody; place this in stark contrast to the typical connotation of “confession” and its associated images of an intimate discussion with a priest.
PostSecret, in some ways, is merely a more vivid take on this practice of reality show confessions; we hold our secrets in until we get the chance to broadcast them out across the interwebs. We oscillate between silence and shouting—perhaps we’ve forgotten how to talk? As Shannon mentioned, we might tend to our secrets, keeping them safe because we derive our identity from the things that we hide. We are desperate to make connections, to find validation, and to be heard.
Connection and validation are things that PostSecret definitely provides, but the development of the Voice is perhaps the reason that I am simply in love with the project. In its own way, PostSecret allows participants to declare and refine their identities but also allows individuals to see that their voices matter and are heard. I often work with young writers and one of the things that strikes me the most is that many of these children do not believe that they have anything to say or that no one cares about their point of view. Breaking this preconception takes some time, but some students are able to realize the unique power that they wield and leverage their Voices to create potent statements.
Should you find yourself with five minutes to kill, I encourage you to head over to the blog. Seeing the secrets presented on the site have changed my life.