The unacknowledged origins of our ‘curated’ selves

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From videotapes wasted on Cyndi Lauper reenactments in the 80s to #TBT Prince lyrics on Facebook 30 years later, the ties fostered by music discovered through older sisters remain. Illustration by FIEL ESTRELLA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Everything I need to know about music, I learned before the age of Facebook. At 6, I knew all the lyrics to “Purple Rain” and walked like an Egyptian ready for his hieroglyph, my head moving in quarter beats like a eunuch in King Tut’s court.

My Sasha Fierce was Christopher Tracy, Prince’s unfortunate alter ego in a box office dud called “Under the Cherry Moon” — an epic waste of celluloid where Prince preens before a young Kristin Scott Thomas, talks of archaic methods of contraception (embroidered girdles versus chastity belts), and dies in her pale, aristocratic arms.

There was such love for the music during those early years that my favorite songs merited their own home videos. In front of monster camcorders, my sister and I pulled white sheets taut to resemble studio backdrops. Behind the scenes, we puffed on straws stuffed with Johnson’s baby powder to cast the shot in “smoke.” Better than dry ice, we thought, and cheaper. Conscripted cousins would dramatize Cyndi Lauper’s “Money Changes Everything,” complete with the requisite pleading boy and fickle, high-haired girl.

There was such love for the music during those early years that my favorite songs merited their own home videos. In front of monster camcorders, my sister and I pulled white sheets taut to resemble studio backdrops. Behind the scenes, we puffed on straws stuffed with Johnson’s baby powder to cast the shot in “smoke.” Better than dry ice, we thought, and cheaper.

 

Back then, I knew Lauper was the real thing, which meant she would lose airtime to Madonna (who was not the real thing, but whose facile bubble gum pop was sometimes better than the real thing). At 6, I knew the real thing because my ate knew the real thing: David Bowie, not Billy Idol; the Pet Shop Boys, not Wham; Boy George, not George Michael. Whether or not these were astute observations formulated by my ate — who at 14 was certainly no critic, and whose tastes were heavily influenced by articles from Rolling Stone and American Top 40 — seemed to be beside the point; I was 6, my sister was 14, and everything she told me about music was gospel truth.

For whatever it’s worth, I’ve just discovered that learning Prince at 6 years old gives you a little street cred in your thirties. It gives you a kind of wherewithal on social media, where your curated self constantly treads the hairline between cultural ascendancy and douchey-ness.

This fine line seems apparent when I read updates by fellow proto-millennials about the music they grew up listening to. I find it odd how people very rarely mention provenance. A statement like, “I grew up listening to the Smiths and Joy Division,” rarely comes with a backstory. I mean, if you were 8 years old and already listening to Ian Curtis, chances are someone pointed you in the right direction, and I always wonder why this person rarely gets credit or love in the few 80s throwbacks I’ve read — as if to give so much as a nod to the great anonymous would be to admit that everyone needs a purveyor of cool, and that no one is cool in and of himself.

In the world of curated selves, I’m not cool. But no one has to know it.

Purple Prince "When Prince died, I made no allusions to popular hits about a corvette or purple rain. Instead, I made an obscure reference to a song he sang in 'Under the Cherry Moon' called 'Sometimes It Snows in April.'" Art by CARINA SANTOS  

Furthermore, I realize that as far as online personas go, I don’t have an alter ego so much as I have an ate ego. On Facebook, I try to sound the way my 14-year-old ate did to my 6-year-old self. Which is strange when you’re in your thirties, and your audience isn’t composed of 6-year-olds. Am I talking down or up? Do I sound like I’m wearing a cropped, faux leather jacket? Who am I talking to, and who is listening?

When Prince died, I made no allusions to popular hits about a corvette or purple rain. Instead, I made an obscure reference to a song he sang in “Under the Cherry Moon” called “Sometimes It Snows in April.” Fittingly, he died in April, but people thought I was writing about a death in the family. “Hugs,” someone commented under the post, their “less than 3s” blooming into miraculous pink hearts at the press of a button. It was either that or, “Thinking of you, M.” Oh well.

A statement like, “I grew up listening to the Smiths and Joy Division,” rarely comes with a backstory. I mean, if you were 8 years old and already listening to Ian Curtis, chances are someone pointed you in the right direction, and I always wonder why this person rarely gets credit or love in the few 80s throwbacks I’ve read.

 

It happens that on this particular throwback Thursday, I’m nostalgic for Lauper, the 80s, and the wasted tape of all those home videos. Which is exactly what I write on my status update, as I post a picture of a VHS camcorder: eyepiece jutting out of it like an asthma inhaler, lens looking like the snout of a small animal. “Great Oculus Rift prototype!” someone writes. “Is that by Kandinsky?” someone else asks. “I ‘less than 3’ modern art!”

In all of this, I notice the glaring absence of one person in my small list of likes. My sister has never commented on any of my posts, and has never clicked on the “Like” button, even though these updates reference our shared childhood. One would appreciate being thrown a bone: a sticker maybe, or a “Star Wars” meme, or a state-of-the-soul hashtag, but no. It’s hard not to feel the abandonment when one is deprived of a sibling auto-like. One searches the soul, and wonders why. One turns existential.

In real life, my sister and I never talk about Facebook when we see each other, but I always wonder about our virtual relationship when I try to cough up the next snappy one-liner — the operative word being try. Despite my best efforts, we might as well be strangers online, nothing to bind us together except the same maiden name. I’m anxious to know what she really thinks about all these left-field references. Am I being assessed by my sister like a Cyndi Lauper record? Have I sold out like a Greatest Hits album? I’ll never really know.

I know only that my ideal reader is effusive with her likes on friendly posts that catalog other people’s birthdays, vacations, and anniversaries. But that particular like is far more important to me than any other like. It means complicity, nostalgia, and pride. It means I was listening all those years ago. And it means, ideal reader, that you know it, when you show me a Prince video on your smartphone as he does a duet with Sheryl Crow, glitter in his hair like a loose clutch of bright mosquitoes. I know you know it when you say, “I thought you might like this video,” as though I were 6 years old. Offline and off the record, where the real things get told.

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For Maya and Mona.