Life should not be about performance, putting on a show

Published 11:53 am Thursday, January 16, 2020

Once modest temperaments were required. And taught. And practiced.

And true enough, the term was more associated with dress than temperament.

But just like manners at a party, there were further expectations you would not show out or off; you would always put others first; you would not seek or draw attention; in a word, you would “behave.”

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That modesty of temperament has been long lost since nice new cars and bigger houses have replaced behavior as an indicant of class.

Once certain things were called for, such as attention to a speaker; silence at a service; applause at a performance and making sure your guests at parties were all having a good time. We won’t even mention “please” and “thank you.”

Now all of them have been replaced by performance in our private lives.

Many years ago, I helped chaperone a birthday party for an 8-year-old. She was the child of my best friend.

All the children were having the most wonderful time both in the yard and in the house. Their favorite foods preceded cake and ice-cream. And then, suddenly, one of the parents of an invited guest brought out a camera, a movie camera, and started taking pictures.

In an instant, the whole dynamic changed.

Children were no longer running in and out of the house, playing games and spilling things. Instead, they were at the TV set, eagerly anticipating the pictures of themselves this parent had taken. Eagerly awaiting their performance. And the whole dynamic changed.

They were no longer at a party. They were performing and only interested in seeing themselves on television.

I told you this was years ago in the dawn of new tech cameras; 8-millimeter I think they were. But it changed a birthday party to performance art for children.

Life was real and worth living only if you saw it on a screen.

I don’t have to tell you that oh so much has changed since then. We go everywhere now to be seen.

Even in reverent places, we go mostly to be seen; no reverence required.

Being seen and doing something is the only thing that matters. It’s not contributing; it’s performing. Life is now performance art. And anywhere you can be seen.

A friend has a term for it which I’ve stolen and used often. He calls it “back-and-forthing” and “to-and-froing” just to show your stuff.

Wherever there’s a spotlight, literal or metaphoric, there’ll be somebody in it. Often the same people and nearly all the time.

This need to be “on” — or in performance — all the time manifests itself in how easily we’re offended and issue corrections to someone else, especially in public; how much we carry gossip about other people’s lives; and how routinely we repeat ourselves in visible positions instead of giving someone else a chance.

None of this was tolerated in the time we came of age. We need to be less tolerant now.

Heck, life is not performance.

Most times it isn’t even art.


Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.