Monday, May 17, 2010

Moebius Strip

There is a certain type of person who is trapped in a perpetual withering glare. Sufferers from Moebius Syndrome lack the ability to show any expression, and their seeming lack of responsiveness is frequently misinterpreted as a lack of empathy. Kathleen Bogart, a one-time social worker who is now studying the syndrome from which she suffers, has described how her condition made it difficult for her to help clients (“Seeking Emotional Clues Without Facial Clues,” NYT, April 5, 2010). Ms. Bogart represents an extreme example, but there are many people whose seeming indifference to life is actually a selling point. When you come across a person who is expressionless and doesn’t seem to react to your presence, you immediately assume something is wrong with you, not them. How much more powerful is this than the people-pleaser, the unctuous soul, the Uriah Heep who fawns over you with false praise, the person who has a goal in sight and is trying too hard? The gregarious nurse in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is frantic to make some sort of contact with the psychotic actress who has withdrawn from the world, until the tables are turned and the actress desperately tries to pierce the nurse’s now stolid exterior. In the case of Moebius, a physical abnormality creates a chasm. In the case of Persona, it’s psychiatric. In everyday encounters that don’t approach these kinds of physical or mental extremes, there tends to be an amalgam in which a posture of indifference is an outgrowth of a so-called passive aggressive propensity. Conversely, social anxiety creates a chaotic exterior filled with involuntary muscular movements. Naturally the cool, silent type gets a certain degree of reinforcement for the malady, to the extent that he or she is likely to have the upper hand. James Dean was the epitome of the cool, silent type. The frantic character Jim Carrey has created in so many of his films is the diametric opposite. Carrey’s persona is the paradigm of the dejected figure who has little of what sociologists terms “social capital.” Stripping your character down to basics, into which category do you fall?

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