I'm currently studying abroad for the summer in London, which has been really exciting for me because I have a very weak grasp on the distinction between fiction and reality and I love Harry Potter. In an effort to become culturally aware of works of art that don't include surprisingly decorative flying broomsticks, I visited the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square after class one day. I've never been to a museum by myself before and I really enjoyed it, mostly because I could stare at a portrait for a long time without worrying that I was holding someone up. This hold up probably wouldn't bother me if I was thinking big, intellectual thoughts, but because my mind usually wanders to "I wonder if the artist ever sneezed while drawing this," I feel guilty making someone wait for me.
So I explored the different rooms of the museum by myself, stopping every time an interesting depiction of a person caught my eye and skipping over landscapes and fruit (my head hurts while trying to figure out the depth perception of painted landscapes and fruit makes me hungry. [For skittles.]) I usually read the descriptions next to the portraits because it shows everyone that I am cultured AND literate. From these descriptions I learned that a lot of the portraits were paid for by the subjects themselves. I don't know why this surprised me. I guess I assumed that portraits of people outside of royalty existed because some artists stopped people on the street and were all like "You! I'll paint you now. Please wear something symbolic." If anyone is scoffing at my ignorance right now, please refer to the sentence about my effort to become culturally aware. And then continue to scoff. I'm 20 years old, don't let me get away with that shit.
Anyway, this discovery was interesting to me because it made me start to think about Facebook. As I mentioned before, I'm part of a study abroad program at the moment. If anyone reading this has a Facebook, I'm sure if you see one more picture of your friends standing next to old buildings with an enthusiastic "I'm in (insert foreign city or significant landmark here)! description, you will probably try to burn down every stone older than 300 years just to prevent future FB pics on your newsfeed. I guess what I'm trying to say is that people looooove to have their pictures taken and they loooooove for everyone to see it. I always thought of this as a social media generation thing. But these portraits made me think otherwise. Maybe it's not just Facebook that's made us the second most vain creatures on the planet (Peacocks are number one. Ostentatious bastards.) Maybe humans have been trying to figure out ways to instagram the shit outta themselves since the beginning of time.
And then I felt really bad. Because earlier, I had laughed really hard at this one portrait I saw at the beginning of my excursion. It was of this rich dude with a really sad and longing look on his face (okay this is making me seem insensitive wait let me finish) with words inscribed on the inside of his cap that said, in Greek, "Alas, I desire too much." After reading that description and looking back at the portrait, it seemed like the most ridiculous thing ever. Maybe because it just seemed really overdramatic (As an actor, I like to think I have mastered the art of being overdramatic while at the same time being very subtle. Some may call this "passive aggressive.") So yeah, this rich guy who desired too much was very funny to me. But this laughter-at-someone's-pain thing happened before my realization that maybe humans have always wanted a new Facebook default. And it was at this discovery moment when I realized that me doing this
is the EXACT SAME THING as the rich dude doing this
At first I felt ashamed by the realization, but when I went back to look at the rich dude I felt a weird connection to this man and his deliciously self deprecating cap. I liked the thought that though centuries apart, me and this guy share something:
Vanity. And a touch of narcissism.