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Exercising control over representations of yourself

On pg 57 of George Packer’s Unwinding, he describes how Oprah Winfrey’s rhetoric of authenticity and openness co-exist with a pronounced tendency to exercise control over representations of herself:

She exalted openness and authenticity, but she could afford them on her own terms. Anyone allowed into her presence had to sign away freedom of speech for life. She bought the rights to every photograph of herself and threatened to sue anyone who infringed the inviolability of her image. She withdrew her autobiography just weeks before publication after friends warned that it revealed too much about some parts of her life even as it falsified others. Her face underwent drastic alterations year by year.

At risk of stating the obvious, the capacity to make this demands is unevenly distributed. But so was the impulse to do so, at least pre-digitalisation. Only celebrities incited a sufficient proliferation of representations to make such a demand coherent. However once digitalisation becomes ubiquitous, the predicament of the celebrity begins to generalise throughout society for two reasons:

  1. More representations of individuals will tend to be produced
  2. Past representations are progressively less likely to decay

What might have been purely the prerogative of the celebrity under past conditions becomes a predicament faced by increasingly numbers of people, still with wildly different capacities to exercise control over representations of themselves. The capacity to exercise such control is going to become ever more important with each passing year, as well as ever more unequally distributed.

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