It’s Carnival: That festive time of year when it is socially accepted to dress-up and be someone other than yourself. And it’s not merely for school children, adults also get very much into the whole costume and drinking frenzy.
Wearing a mask or a costume and heavy make-up could make one feel less self-conscious, and Carnival is a good excuse to leave your true identity hanging in your closet in exchange for a more exciting one.
Role playing is a liberating experience where one is allowed to experiment with different means of expression. You could be a cowboy or batman for the day, or even a wingless fairy on a scooter – in Carnival, no one cares, really.
It’s like scriptless theatre where people take on the streets as their stage and act out their parts.
The Internet, like Carnival, offers us a sense of freedom and control over our embodied identities – a chance to portray ourselves as someone whom we perceive as more desireable.
We tend to carefully re-create our story and hide behind our perfectly edited profile pictures or avatars.
But, are online identities real?
Oscar Wilde wrote: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.”
To an extent, online identities are both real and not real: They are what we make them.
The person behind the mask (or, avatar) is still you, even if what you are saying is being said ‘in-character’; it’s still you who’s thought of it and wrote it.
Avatars are there to alleviate certain inhibitions, to save face and explore another facet of who we are.
What is fascinating is that we can easily grow to believe that the identities we assume online are really real – no matter how far-fetched or exaggerated.
Nowadays it isn’t uncommon for online identities to leak into everyday life and bear very real and threatening consequences.
Catfish: The TV Show is a good eye-opener into the lives of people who assume fake identities online.
It gets even more complicated in some stories, where two people fall in love online, and one of them is “a catfish.”
The permeability of the online and the offline realms makes it almost impossible to get away with online role-playing. The situation becomes delicate when other people are involved or emotionally invested: Even if online profiles may be fake, it is important to note that they may be very real in their consequences.
We never know ‘real’ identity since we’re so multifaceted. Even our ‘fake’ identities are sometimes real in their effects and are, to some extent, a part of who we are.
Let’s face it, even what we choose to dress up as for Carnival could reveal a lot about who we are and who we want to be, even if the identity we assume is not ‘real’.