Under the skin

One online explanation for the runaway success of the Twilight series pointed out an interesting facet of the books. At no point did the author give extensive details describing the girl protagonist. Yet pages of adjectives were used to depict her vampire boyfriend. So every reader was free to visualize herself (it was usually herself) in the shoes of the protagonist and imagine in minute detail having a blood sucking boyfriend. To verify this effect, the author if this explanation suggested that the reader should go over a Twilight chapter substituting the word ‘vampire’ with the word ‘were pig’ and see if she how she felt about it.

Back in the 1990s, when I was in middle school, I came across a CD with a shareware personality analyser. The introduction (curiously featuring an image of Gen. Alcazar from Tintin and the Picaros) claimed to be a chatty letter from the chief head-shrink of a US government agency who created this test because he was too busy to work with everyone who wanted him to analyse them.

The test asked about 50 questions with 3 possible answers, yes/no/unsure. At the end, they produced a detailed essay type report. I found my report interesting. A lot of it I felt was true. Some of it, very personal stuff which I wouldn’t have discussed with anyone. A very little bit I felt was outright wrong. But well these things could never be 100% accurate. There was also some stuff I had never even realized but felt may have been true for me.

Excited by my discovery, I told my younger sister. She tried the test too. She agreed with her report as well. But then I noticed some disturbing similarities with mine. I ran the program again, filling unsure in every answer. Sure enough, a report popped up which was practically the same as ours with minor rearrangements. The software popped the same answer regardless of what we fed in. If we hadn’t compared, we might never had got wise.

Very different people often have strikingly similar self-images which makes it easy for them to do the same thing, say identify with a character. A common fantasy among very young children is that they were mixed up at birth and while their current parents are good people, their real parents are royalty. Think of Harry Potter, the Princess Diaries, Jupiter Ascending or even Stardust. Also, find me a middle schooler who doesn’t thinks he has depth and intensity unrecognized by everyone around him and I’ll show you a freak.

I am writing this on board a flight and the thought of almost 200 people around me thinking the same things about themselves as I do about me is kind of creepy. My mind just can’t take in all that.


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