In my communications course this semester, I learned about an American sociologist named Erving Goffman who claims human interaction is dramaturgical. Shakespeare says that life is like a play, but Goffman argues that life is a play and we are all actors who perform a role in costumes or masks. According to him, we are constantly aware of society’s expectations so we can adjust our impressions accordingly.
My professor gave an interesting example of the life of a waiter. While he’s working at the restaurant, he wears his waiter mask to serve the customers. And once he’s in the back kitchen he complains to the staff about how his tables aren’t going to tip well. This creates the analogy of a front stage (the restaurant) and backstage (the kitchen). But then when he gets off work and goes for a drink with his friends, he talks to them about how slow the kitchen was that night. So now he is wearing another mask, and the front stage is now the kitchen while the backstage is the bar with his friends. And this continues on to when he goes home to his wife and talks to her about how one of his buddies is breaking up with someone (front stage- home with wife, backstage- pub with friends). And all the way to he goes to talk to his psychiatrist and says things aren’t going too well with him and his wife. So where is his “true self”?
It’s an interesting concept- the whole idea of us wearing masks in order to give off our ideal selves. When are we really our “true selves”? When I’m home by myself? So does that mean the me at school with my friends is not my “true self”?
Goffman argues that there will always be a mask on everyone. There will never be a time when they are not wearing a mask.
And it just got me relating to my own life. Evidently, there are whole different sides to me depending on the people I am with or the situation at hand. The me who is hanging out with my friends from school clubs is someone who volunteers and tries to help out a lot. The me who is hanging out with high school friends is someone more relaxed and easy-going. The me at home with my family is someone more dependent and childish. If those are all masks, then who am I really? Am I the sum of all those masks? Am I none of those and those are only qualities of a desired self I want?
And maybe I am wearing my blogging mask right now. Does this mean these are not my “true thoughts”?
How very complex.
And to the degree that the individual maintains a show before others that he himself does not believe, he can come to experience a special kind of alienation from self and a special kind of wariness of others. – Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life