“Awesome” is how Erin Andrews later described to Elle magazine the postgame interview with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman that has since become repellently and ubiquitously famous. Her point in calling it that is that most postgame folderol is a sweat-soaked exercise in the same old same old.
Not this one. Sherman screamed into her mic as if he were still on the field trying to trash talk San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree into a turnover. Adrenaline – or something – was still sluicing violently through his system. His on-field trash talk persona had temporarily supplanted the one he personally carried with him from class to class as a communications major at Stanford.
It certainly supplanted the fellow who later blogged about the incident.
“Amazing” is what I thought to myself. I actually saw his rant in what we now quaintly call “real time.” Usually when the good memorable stuff happens during NFL and NBA games, I’m in the kitchen pouring a glass of tangerine juice or shmearing a bagel with cream cheese.
Not this time. I was front and center and paying attention to what America would spend the next week “tsk, tsking” over.
It seemed to me, at the time, yet another ridiculous example of something I’ve begun to notice with dismay everywhere in the last few months – the replacement of people’s real personalities by short or even long-term fictional personae.
Athletic trash talk is now a traditional way people fictionalize themselves. Athletes in full bloom during (or before) games try to pysch themselves up and their opponents down by saying the most obnoxious ego-expanding things. Michael Jordan, they say, was a minor master. Larry Bird, they say, was a major master.
Off the court, of course, Bird and Magic Johnson were one of the most famous mutual admiration societies in sports history. On the court, their personae took over.
It used to be common sense that an athlete in trash talk mode bears no resemblance to the guy pouring his morning coffee or taking his Mercedes into the shop for a wheel alignment.
One pretends to be a scary, vicious, chest-pounding thug. The other is a guy living a real life.
The opposite happens too. Many years ago on a weekend when the late unlamented “Monday Night Football” came to Buffalo, I was having dinner at the downtown Bijou restaurant with a lady friend. Next to us having dinner was the on-the-air team at the time which included O.J. Simpson.
We were, then, able to watch from 15 feet away as an endless procession of fans, well-wishers, would-be friends and autograph seekers filed up to the table and made it virtually impossible for O.J. Simpson to eat his dinner.
The fans had little, if anything, to say to everyone else at the table. It was just O.J. who was inundated with their demanding attention. I’m sure his on-air teammates expected it. They were, after all, in the hometown of O.J.’s on-field exploits. Back then, he was Western New York’s supreme athletic idol.
As we ate our dinner and watched O.J. treat everyone – everyone – as wonderfully as possible, it seemed to us at the time that O.J. Simpson ought to give lessons in celebrity on every level. He was so gracious and generous to everyone at the expense of anything that might even vaguely resemble his own privacy that he seemed the epitome of everything good that fame can elicit from human personality.
And then, a decade or so later people wondered if he were a coked-up double murderer who’d expiate horrific guilt in the back seat of Al Cowlings’ white Bronco on an L.A. freeway.
His autograph-signing persona was saintly. The husband of Nicole Brown Simpson was something else entirely.
In the Age of Information – in other words, the Digital Age of Social Media – fictional personae are everywhere. Lord only knows who is really what, just from their online personae.
Turn on your TV set and you see personae of appalling vileness created by “real” people who could be something else entirely if you caught them cleaning the bathroom tub or taking out the garbage.
Turn on radio news talkers or watch cable TV news bloviators and you hear neo-Howard Beales whose “madness” may, Beales-like, not be as completely fictional as decent people might hope (and as those profiting from their madness might claim.)
That’s the scary thing about fictional “personae” that are changing the nature of human personality as we expect to encounter it in life.
Who on earth would Bill O’Reilly be if you met him pumping gas into his SUV? We can guess who he’ll be this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. when he talks to President Obama – it won’t be the same guy who has on-air screaming matches with Geraldo Rivera. But if he were gassing up his car would he be gracious and charming? Or a cold misanthrope with no time for all those little people who have become his very big fan base?
Forget Elia Kazan’s great movie “A Face in the Crowd” for a minute. One of the first and biggest lessons I ever had in “real” life about the difference between broadcast personae and real people happened when I was a kid.
One of my best friends on our block lived next door to a reclusive woman who had a Saturday morning kid’s TV show.
On the air, she was a maternal sort interested in showing the kids unlucky enough to be on the show cool things they could do to make their 1950’s childhoods less boring than the era virtually demanded they be.
In life, she was the screeching, scolding witch next door who’d complain bitterly if the ball from your backyard happened to bounce over the fence into hers. You didn’t ever expect to get that ball back afterward, because you wouldn’t.
The harridan was, in life, the first grown-up I ever encountered in the real world who truly seemed to despise everything about childhood and those of us who were enjoying that life stage at the time.
Not on the air, though. The elderly Miss Kissykid – or whatever her professional name was on her meal ticket – was a kindly protector of the juvenile imagination who, no doubt, saved her psycho hissy fits for the periods when the commercials were on.
To have encountered her on the balmy summer nights of a childhood that actually threatened idyllic moments, was a privilege in life I’ve always been grateful for.
In elementary school, then, I already knew that fake personae were what we saw on TV created by people for whom the medium was their meal ticket.
God only knows what they might be in their secluded lives inside the oversize shrubbery surrounding their houses.
Just as God only knows who trash-talking jocks and bombastic radio talkers and bloviating cable-TV news blunderbusses are.
Heaven help some of them if they actually are who they seem to be.