Sunday, December 6, 2009

“Put on a brave front and brazen it through”

“It turns out her whole life was just a lie,” a friend was telling use the other day. “She said she was a former Miss USA… and she wasn’t. She said she was a former Redskin cheerleader… and she wasn’t.”

The “she” he was referring to was Michaele Salahi, who probably needs no introduction by now. “Yet,” our friend continued, “She managed to get into a cheerleader reunion party. Fooled everyone. Afterwards, people were wondering how she knew all the cheers.”

The madcap and twisted story of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the “gate-crashers” at Obama’s state dinner, has an absurd angle. It shows us how shallow and tenuous identity really is. It shows how easy some find it to slip into – and out of – any number of roles.

The Salahis seemed to have fooled lots of people because they simply looked the part. They played their desired roles to perfection. I think Robin Givhan, of the Washington Post nailed it here – as it relates to the gate-crashing episode – in her column “Why they got in”:

“Few of the stories that have been written and produced about Michaele and Tareq Salahi have failed to mention Michaele's platinum blond locks and her reed-thin figure. She is, indeed, a striking woman who maintains a shade of blond that typically isn't seen on anyone over the age of 2. She also has the kind of lean body that, while not voluptuous or curvy in a va-va-voom way, is reminiscent of a model's. She has chiseled cheekbones and an enormous smile. And while one could debate whether she is attractive -- to each their own, after all -- she conforms to the cultural standards of what a wealthy, privileged, important person is assumed to look like…” (Italics added.)

The Salahis follow a long line of such role players. Michaele is like another Frank Abagnale, whose life inspired the 2002 movie Catch Me If You Can. Abagnale conned lots of people into believing he was, at different times, an airline pilot, a doctor, attorney and parish prosecutor.

The truth is, though, we’re all playing roles.… We (Rick and Inigo) often joke about how we are going to play the role of “devoted employee” or “concerned parent.” If self is an illusion, then we really are whatever role we can pull off, like actors trying out and living different characters.

This line of thought also reminds us of the fictional exploits of Harry Flashman. The Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser is a first-person account of a 19th century (unwilling) adventurer, Harry Flashman, who gets himself unwittingly in all kinds of unlikely situations and often finds himself in the middle of historical battles – such as the battle of Little Bighorn or the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Sepoy Mutiny.

In the series, Flashman plays many parts … Danish prince, Texas slave-dealer, Arab sheikh, Cheyenne Dog Soldier, Yankee Navy Lieutenant, Afghan horse trader, Sepoy soldier, and many others… All of which leads Flashman to a very absurd conclusion:

“The truth is we all live under false pretences much of the time; you just have to put on a bold face and brazen it through.”


  1. I completely agree with the ideas in the post. Sometime ago I heard an interview (or read an article) concerning people in prominent position, such as CEO’s of major corporations, titans of industry, heads of major NGO’s, political leaders, and the like, and the most common theme that many of these ‘giants’ expressed was a feeling that they were complete and utter frauds. That they didn’t deserve their position of leadership, or all of the many perks and benefits that go with it, because they really didn’t know what the hell they were doing, they were just winging it, playing it by ear, and making it up on the fly. In other words they were just brazening their way through on nothing more than the fiction of their lofty positions.

    People looked to them for answers, and because they were the boss, they were the ones in charge, they came up with something, anything, to answer that need. But the overwhelming majority of them felt that they were always just on the verge of being found out, of being exposed as the incompetent frauds they felt themselves to be. To keep the position, and the things that came with it, they had to maintain the illusion of being ‘large and in charge’, all the while fearing that it will come crashing down, in wreck and ruin, at any given moment.

    So too, do most of us, go though our petty pace from day to day, playing our roles, hoping our fraud will not be found out, hoping our illusion will not come to wreck and ruin. We are indeed a strange loop. But it helps to realize how meaningless the whole thing is, how unimportant it would be if ever we were unmasked. For the absurd man is aware that it is only a mask, that it is only a passion play writ large, and he doesn’t invest so much in the illusion.

  2. Good stuff, Random Havoc. We've often wondered how much people in such prominent positions really believe in their roles or are just playing the part. For some reason this also makes us think of the funny line from George Costanza of Seinfeld fame: "Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it." Ha!

    Anyway, we've enjoyed reading your comments. You clearly get the whole absurd idea.