Some alter egos last an album (Xtina by Christina Aguilera); others a video clip (Mariah Carey’s Bianca). Alter egos sometimes make an artist, as in the cases of David Bowie vs. Ziggy Stardust, Katy Perry vs. Katy Hudson (and let’s not forget Katy Perry vs. Kathy Beth Perry). And in the world of standup comedy, Borat, Bruno, and Ali G all by the tireless Sacha Baron Cohen have made alter egos indispensable in modern pop culture.
The Public Image ‘I’
But when it comes to public image, celebrities are increasingly deprived of that opportunity to be versatile. Fergie, once an addict but clean for many years, is incessantly interrogated about her addiction and her struggles, even though she has evolved into a completely different person, and has put all of that behind. Seems like once the label is on, it is hard to get it off. Mary J Blige struggled to find commercial success as a happy, fulfilled woman for a while – no, the public wasn’t happy at all to see her dry her tears and stand strong. Ellen DeGeneres was out of work for three years – how dare she go gay on the public when all was going so well? Steve Martin made the public ask for their money back when he talked about ‘An Object of Beauty’ as an author instead of spitting out penis jokes (Who does he think he is? Salman Rushdie?). Severing the public ‘I’ from the real ‘I’ was the premise of the popular Russian talk show Shkola Zlosloviya with Tatyana Tosltaya and Dunia Smirnova until the hostesses realized that wearing masks is actually the healthiest survival technique in the dog-eat-dog reality of mass culture.
The Brand ‘I’
It’s all about branding, it’s all about what the consumer thinks, says to brand-guru Martin Lindstrom on America's Next Top Model: All-Stars' second episode where each of the (fully grown, somewhat accomplished) women are given a label they have to wear: Lovable, Daring, Candid, Trustworthy. No matter how corny and empty the label is, consistency is better than contradictory little truths; being hated is better than being forgotten. It doesn’t really matter if a contestant thinks she is smart. If the public isn’t picking up on that, she has to stick with what the crowd says. Identity has to be distilled, ironed out to the perfect flatness of a paper doll.