“The word persona originally denoted a mask worn by an actor which enabled him to portray a specific role in a play. In Jungian psychology, the persona archetype serves a similar purpose. It enables one to portray a character that is not necessarily his own. The persona is the mask or façade one exhibits publicly, with the intention of presenting a favourable impression so that society will accept him. It might also be called the ‘conformity’ archetype.”
Most of us are involved with one of our many personas when we are working. This is where we wear our persona of the teacher, the doctor, the carpenter, the nurse etc, etc. The persona is the basis of community life and the numerous roles we play are necessary for survival as it allows us to get along with other people and play predictable roles.
A person may have more than one mask. At home we may wear a different mask than we wear at work. We may put on a third mask when we go out to play golf or socialize with friends. Collectively however all of our masks constitute our persona – we merely conform in different ways in different situations.
The two unrelated media items reminded me that sometimes when playing the roles we play and wearing the masks we sometimes wear; emotions can break through that are at variance with the current persona and say something very honest about what we are feeling and who perhaps we really are.
The first item was a photograph in the New Zealand Herald newspaper a couple of weeks ago. The photograph (above) shows an Afghani mother with her child at the local hospital after 90 Afghan children were rushed to hospital, many who were unconscious and vomiting after a gas attack on their school.
“It was the third such attack against a girls school in Afghanistan in as many weeks, raising fears that the Taliban are resorting to increasingly vicious methods to terrorize young women out of education.”
When I looked at this photograph something drew my attention. If you look closely at the mothers light blue burqa on her right hand side next to the burqas viewing screen, you can see that the cloth is wet with tears. Despite the cultural imperative to wear this burqa which creates a collective persona of anonymity, the mothers true individual feelings and concerns seep through. You cannot but feel sympathy for her and for all Afghani girls struggling to obtain an education.
The second media item featured the ex Rugby All Black and now New Zealand television personality Marc Ellis. Ellis has been and is involved with a number of television shows. The persona he projects in all these shows is the persona of - the lad, the larrikin, the good Kiwi blokey bloke and the clown. The language that drives this persona is one of banter, jokes, putdowns, competitive challenges and good old fashioned blarney. All of this is well mixed with a mischievous macho ethos. Often this persona verges on a caricature of itself.
A couple of weeks ago in a new show called “How The Other Half Live” Ellis goes pig hunting with a tough group of pig hunters. Helter skelter through the bush they go with guns and a pack of pig dogs. Marc Ellis seems to be in his element, full of bravura and involvement right up to point of the kill. At the point where the dogs have the large boar surrounded and the lads go in to ‘stick’ the pig, (‘stick’ being a euphemism for slitting the pigs’ throat) Ellis turns away – “I don’t think I can watch it being killed” he says laughing in a slightly nervous manner. Later after having bodily carried the pig out of the bush, he sits astride his horse with the dead pig lying across the front of the saddle.
“Well, this has been fun” he says, “But I actually like animals a lot and I don’t like seeing them get hurt.” He says this with a slight quiver of the lips and a vulnerable hesitancy in his face - for a few seconds the carefree blokey mask disappears. He is clearly upset and reveals himself as being, at heart, an animal lover. As he revealed this unexpected side to himself I had a vision of a younger Ellis of say 10 or 12 years old holding and stroking his pet rabbit, cat or guinea pig – It was an endearing moment and this revelation was for me the best audience connection in the whole blokey caricature of a TV show. Something at variance with his persona had broken through and revealed an aspect of his true character from within the caricature .
Sometimes from the depths of our being the way we really feel seeps out - like tears through a burqa or like the quiver on the lips of a reluctant pig hunter.
Sometimes what we reveal about ourselves is as wild and yahooingly free as a bungy jump from the Skippers Canyon bridge in Central Otago - sometimes its like blood seeping through the thick bandage of a deep wound – but when it happens, we reveal something of our true selves, our humanity beneath the Persona - and that knowledge is like a knife.