A few weeks ago I went to see an exhibition by Toby Phips Lloyd called Desert Island. Known for exploring self-conception, Lloyd had recreated his childhood bedroom, right down to the painted over-wallpaper and drawing pin holes in the wall. This sat in a giant wooden box in the centre of the exhibition, while on footage played in the background, Lloyd took the role of interviewer and interviewee to ask himself about his life and the records in the style of Desert Island Discs – also supposedly broadcast from the radio in the corner of the bedroom.
As a fellow teen in the nineties, I got a kick out of the possessions on show (Pitchshifter CD, Red Dwarf on VHS, Hunter S Thompson clippings…) – but what made me think was the contrast between what Lloyd-as-interviewee remembered, versus Lloyd-as-interviewer’s analysis of his teenage years. The bullying wasn’t as bad as he recalled it, and he considered that perhaps some of the choices of song or reading material reflected how he wanted to be seen more than anything else.
Most of us look back on our teenage years with mild embarrassment – things that we said or did. More often it’s that we so readily used XYZ to dictate what we thought or who we made friends with. Often we forget how important it was to us to have that grounding in common culture, a sense of community, when the ways we regarded ourselves and the ways we were regarded by others were first ripped from their moorings, and set in perpetual motion.
Yet we also forget that little has changed since then. Log on to your social network feed, and you’ll find friends linking to cool things they have found, sharing their opinions of this and that, demonstrating support of causes and struggles around the world. We share photos and videos of ourselves looking sexy and exciting – and hide the ones we don’t like so much. In many ways, engaging in social media is a lot like is a lot like decorating your teenage bedroom – hell, they’re even called walls. We communicate in books and movies and games. We present a picture to the world of a version of ourselves, and this is ever changing. Just as we did back then, we are still making ourselves, every single day.
With this in mind, it’s little wonder we fear control and monitoring of our online profiles. It’s not only about personal information getting into the open, it’s a violation of our sanctum, abusing and using the face we show without our permission. Think about the word we use to describe posting as someone else on Facebook – “frape”. And identity fraud isn’t just about stealing your credit, or your money. It’s about stealing you.
Memory is a fluid thing. We rewrite the stories of our lives as we go along. Often the use of cultural tropes as shorthand is considered a bit teenaged, or indicative of a lazy brain. In some creative contexts, sometimes it’s even frowned upon, or considered vulgar to be referential in this way. Some forms of art are considered “lesser” for doing this. But why is that? Cultural tropes are ways of exploring and sharing the world and how we interpret it. Like pirates, we should always treasure our own desert islands.