Identity – On Derek Zoolander and finding our own ‘true’ face

In the 2001 film Zoolander, Ben Stiller plays a male model Derek Zoolander  who is capable of seemingly endless sharp focused facial poses – Blue Steel, Le Tigre, Magnum – that are ultimately the same face.  It isnt like Ben Stiller to embrace the depth of Greek tragedy, but this alone captures the heart of ‘persona’ – the Greek notion of theatre where multiple ‘personas’ or masks are used by one actor.  The audience accepts the masks as truly distinct characters with the knowledge that in the end there is only one ‘true self’ under all the masks.  The question that drives so many people is simply finding what our true face is under all the masks/persona that we wear and inhabit.   Derek Zoolander so eloquently put it “I ‘m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.”  Identity and meaning haunts even the ridiculously good looking it seems.

One the questions that drives much of my work is the question of identity.  Put plainly: who are you, who am I, and why? Granted, this seems like a fairly benign area of reflection and almost self-evident: there you are, here I am, so what?! That said, scratch a bit deeper and there is a swirling confluence of influences struggling (or better yet often resigning themselmes) toward some place in the make up of an individual.  I am fascinated by the way people seemingly change overnight as well – going from a coward to a champion through a series of reletively small, incremental shifts.

I got a degree in Psychology and English Literature as an undergraduate in part to discover these contesting resources of the self – the demons and angels that haunts the recesses of our id, ego and superego and the artistic expressions of that inner-life writ large upon the canvas of creativity.  Theology has been an area of further exploration – how do we reach beyond oursleves, our limited humanity, and seek meaning and depth in sources so far beyond our grasp as to seem ridiculous and sublime at the same instant?  A hymn to God? A book that professes to divine the Divine?  On the surface such attempts seem utterly foolish, yet there is such a hunger to know (as Matthew Arnold penned it in The Buried Life) “from whence we come and where we go” as to put the seemingly ridiculous attempts at forging identity into the realm of wonder and awe.

Even the really, really, ridiculously good looking understand this…

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