Saturday, October 21, 2006

All Right, Even I Can't Look at That Name Anymore

(For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, see here.)

You know, that was an interesting goof-off for me. I started out with (do I have to type this again? Yeah, I guess I do) "Fartles von Biscuitbrain" sounding no different than I do normally, except "less sweary," because my first thought was to send up the idea--the wrong idea, I thought--that personality isn't identifiable without a name.

"Bullshit," I thought (Fartles would have said "Fiddlesticks"), "I've actually tried to sound like someone else, and it's damned tough to do*. You go slower, you have to think about everything more, you have to ask yourself, 'Does this read too much like me, not enough like them? Would they punctuate it this way? Would they use this word or another one? Do they like italics as much as I do? What distinctive features of this other person's style am I forgetting?'"

So I figured the whole gag would be this ridiculously-named poster insisting on being addressed as "Fartles von Biscuitbrain," even as I made it clear that hey, it's me, Ilyka, and if you think "Ilyka Damen" is a stupid name (and you do, because everyone does), just consider how much MORE embarrassing I could make it. That's the idea I held through the first post and the second.

But then I left comments as "Fartles" here and elsewhere, and in doing so, I found myself adopting this very lame, faux-stuffed-shirt style that really doesn't make for even half a joke, much less a whole one--but afterwards, without really meaning to, I found myself writing Fartles' stuff the way I figured Fartles would write it, as though Fartles were really a separate, if clich├ęd, identity.

And even dumber than that, I started deciding things about Fartles: Fartles would not identify as any specific gender, and whether Fartles preferred women or men or both or neither would be left open to speculation. Fartles would prefer fancier drinks than I do. (By the way, I can't answer your whiskey questions because I wouldn't know loamy or whatever the other choice was, or single malt from, hell, I don't know, Canadian Club? Is that a brand of whiskey? Blended though, right? And also Canadian. Anyway, I don't drink whiskey, because I hate to, but also because Grocery Chain keeps putting brandy on sale.)

Fartles would be fussier, wealthier, snobbier, preachier, more aesthetically conservative, and radically less sweary than I am. Fartles would be a pathetic one-note caricature, sure, but it still became important to me to make certain that caricature was not me--not out of vanity, or at least not much out of vanity, but because it was a billion times more fun that way.

I think the whole pseudonymity-begets-irresponsible-behavior-online thing still doesn't wash, for the most part, because Fartles experiment aside, what I write here is what I have to say, and what I would say in a perfect world, one in which employers did not Google the names of prospective employees. It is in fact what I do say to my friends, my family, and the coupla bloggers I talk on the phone with. It is honestly no damn different, except that I don't let everyone I communicate with online have my real name.

To me, giving everyone my real name would be like broadcasting my banking information during the next Super Bowl: Sure, most people wouldn't care or wouldn't know what to do with it, but is that still a good idea? Would you like to do it? I don't know--maybe you would, or maybe you just always have done, and you're cool with it. Maybe for me it's that I'm not using this blog to establish or maintain a professional reputation. I'm using it to entertain myself. I'm a shitty actress, and I don't have too many reasons to lie to myself, and I'm tragically in love with myself, so if I'm writing to entertain myself, it shouldn't be surprising that what you get when you read it is ME.

You just don't get my real name, because I'm not altogether sure where you've been.

The only perk of my pseudonymity is that Ilyka Damen can post a picture of her boobs online without getting a call from her employer, while [myrealfirstname][myreallastname] can't risk that. I suppose that's irresponsible in a sense, but you know what else it is? FUN.

That's the other thing: Someone who's on the internet mainly for fun, or mainly for research, or mainly for dialogue, but mainly for harmless pursuits, is on there for those reasons no matter what that person goes by, real name or fake one, and that someone's motivations for being online are going to become clear to you through your repeated interactions with that person, no matter whether that person uses a real name or fake one; and so the only point I can see to ferreting out the real names of people using fake ones is to punish the people with bad motivations. People with bad motivations certainly exist online, but unless you think a particular person is among their number, why have any curiosity at all about what his or her real name is?

I don't understand it. I've actually had some pseudonymous bloggers tell me their real names and you know what happens? I have to remind myself that they're not really called whatever their pseudonyms are. If I talk to my boyfriend about Helen, I tend to still say "Helen," even though I know that's not actually Helen's name. I got to know her online as "Helen," though, and it's a hard habit to kick sometimes. But Helen doesn't become a completely different person depending on what I call her. Helen's still Helen, even if her name isn't actually "Helen." Did I just take an entire paragraph to say "a rose by any other name" . . . ? Well, fine then.

I'm not as certain that names don't affect online behavior to any extent as I was before this Fartles nonsense was born, though. I'm just not sure you can predict what the effect is going to be, because if you went by this experiment, about all you could conclude is that the civility of my behavior online is directly proportional to the absurdity of the name I go by. It might be nice if that phenomenon held for everyone. I doubt that it does, but if you want to test it, slip Malkin a tab and try to convince her to retitle her website "The Official Strawberry Shortcake Fanclub." And be sure to report back to me with your results.

*Which is not to say I can't do it at all, just that it requires more effort.


Helen said...

That's ok, Ilyka. Even though I know your real name, when talking about you to my significant other, you're also Ilyka. Even though I know you're NOT Ilyka, but you are. But not.

Anonymity is beautiful.

So's your writing, no matter how you sign off on it.

Rob said...

No fair that you can rehash stuff and make it funny. When I do it, it comes off as ... well, rehashed. I kind of hope you haven't totally shelved Fartles, though. I like the "character of that dramatis persona".*

*Rehashed from V for Vendetta

belledame222 said...

the persona thing is interesting.

ever read Ruth Reichl? her memoirs? the most recent, "Garlic and Sapphires," talks about her time as NY TImes restaurant critic. she put on various disguises so she wouldn't be recognized and thus get special treatment & skew the review, you know. fascinating stories of how such and such persona begins to take on a life of her own.

you see that a lot in theatre, too, of course...

margi said...

So. We shall now, henceforth, refer to you by your REAL name. Isn't that right, Anastasia Beaverhausen?

What Helen said, BTW.

ilyka said...

you see that a lot in theatre, too, of course...

I was kind of wondering whether it was in any way similar, that but my acting experience is limited to failing a ninth grade drama class. So is belledame a character for you, or just a nom de internet, or something in between?

belledame222 said...

Pretty much a nom de internet, i'd say, although i did have fun with the various connotations when choosing it (it was going to be "belle" for more mundane reasons, then wherever it was i was logging into needed at least a six-character login: viola). i don't think my persona differs hugely irl. not consciously anyway.

i like playing, but i'm not real wild about doing it nonconsensually, which i do think can happen on the 'Net a lot. not to say it can't be benign (g-d forbid i start getting into Bartles von Suspicionbrain territory), just...yeah i dunno. it depends what the intent is, i suppose. "muhahaha i'm doing this just because i can and it's fun to watch people have all these emotional reactions to someone who doesn't really exist," gest kind of tiresome at best. then again, i've never been a bid Andy Kaufman fan either.

and, too, again, i always think: even if you -think- it's a mask, wear it long enough, invest enough energy in it, and it'll get harder and harder to tell the difference between that and your "real" self...for you, too.

Gower, Voice of Reason said...

You know there's no shame in just taking a break from blogging.

Anonymous said...

Anonymity is different things to different people. Some invest in their "false" name as if it were their own. Some use a new name (or a new venue) every time the audience learns to recognize them. It can be liberating. It can be corrupting.

I've had a real-name user tell me that using his real name makes him more accountable--in the same message where he was being a real ass. Anonymous users run from the founding fathers, to me, to trolls.

How people react to anonymity--both their own and that of others--is a reflection of them, not of anonymity itself. Yes, this is a "it's the hands, not the tool" argument, and you can just as easily counter with, "people kill people, but the handgun sure helps" kind of thing. As a responsible user of anonymity, it may come down to a "cold, dead fingers" situation.

I enjoy the discussion, if not always the participants.