time-travel science: the murky origins of persona-reinvention

The first and greatest PR-man.

What is Time-Travel Science? TTS is the study of that which, ultimately, could only be determined by traveling back (or forward!) in time to witness firsthand. For example: was dinosaur sex tender and loving, à la the lovemaking of a couple on their second honeymoon, or was it savage and flesh-rending, à la a one-night-stand with a cannibal priestess? (Ha-cha!) We can speculate. We can even make relatively solid scientific observations given the resources at hand. (An erotipaleontologist might examine the fossilized bones of a hadrosaur for “love-scratches” that penetrated flesh and muscle.) But the only way to know—fo-real know—is to hop in the time canoe and paddle downstream.

Another example, and today’s topic, was hinted at in Monday’s post concerning a National Evil March Madness Memory: the concept of persona-reinvention.

As noted, one’s freshman year of college presents the average American with his or her first real shot at PR. (Now isn’t that clever—“PR”.) Even if you were, say, an army brat who moved six or seven times during your childhood, you still arrived at each new hometown freighted with parents and siblings. Whereas, after move-in day, whence you shuttle your parents the hell off campus the second they pick up the check for your “first day out of the house” dinner, college presents an open field for reinvention. (Roomies and pals from high school aside; if they’re loyal, decent Americans, they’ll coconspire in your PR.)

PR isn’t exactly lying—at least, not by our tradition definitions. Perhaps it could be better described as “long-form lying.” If your average lie is a couplet of deceit (i.e., “Of course that dress doesn’t make you look fat/honey” or “I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die”), then PR is the lie as told by Victor Hugo. (But hopefully with les miserable results. Get it? “Les miserable?” Ah, never mind.)

The question remains, though: how and when did PR arise in our species? The simple lie, sure, that’s easy: Caveman Og is accused by cavelady Ogina, whom he happens to be cavemarried to, of seeing that caveslut Unga. Thinking quick, Og denies all knowledge of why Unga’s loincloth is peeking out from a pile of mammoth bones. “You know that Unga always gets drunk and passes out in the wrong cave,” Og tells Ogina. “She probably stumbled in here and crashed on that pile of mammoth bones. Besides, you know she’s had her eye on Urk for months.”

PR’s a bit trickier, though. Psychological anthropologists are surely hot on the trail, but for now, during this window of delicious ignorance, the Evil will hazard this guess:

Early humans moved about largely in bands of family members. In order to stave off the ruinously incestuous pox of six-toed babies, the males of the group, like bull elephants, would occasionally peel off from the fam in search of nubile lasses who didn’t look like their sisters. Evil speculates that PR began when such males stumbled across another band of cavepeople. You’re possibly only the tenth or twelfth other human any of these strangers have ever seen, and chances are your sudden appearance is rather threatening. Your survival, and that of your little swimmin’ genes, depends on you impressing this new lot of humans with your prowess. Why, then, wouldn’t you invent an alternate history of your life as a top-notch mammoth-hunter? Or claim to have magic powers. Or, hey, commune with “God?” Imagine the scene:

OG: What did the strange one say, again?

URK: That he communes with God.

OG: He communes with Gog? Gog, have you ever seen this guy?

GOG: Me? Nah, never. Don’t know what he’s talking about.

URK: Not “Gog.” “God.”

OG: Who’s that?

Of course, until he have that time canoe, we’ll never know for sure . . . the glory, and tragedy, of Time-Travel Science.

Enjoy the weekend. If possible, put down that remote and finish that time canoe!

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3 thoughts on “time-travel science: the murky origins of persona-reinvention”

  1. Is this “PR” metamorphosis more about impressing or conforming? A magical uber-huntsman that talks to God (or even Gog) could be perceived as even more of a threat than the ambiguous stranger, not unlike the sardonic intellectual freshman out-bracketing the meathead dormies. Cue jealous hostility.

    Or…is this Evil’s plan all along? “Go ahead random blog-reader, reinvent yourself. Everyman LOVES the awesome new kid that’s better than he–even if it is only a facade. What can go wrong? It is a matter of survival.”

    And…time canoes–way too labor intensive. My arms turn to Jell-O after the first eon.

    1. hmm. . . .excellent question. as i totally missed the bus on the whole reinvention thing, i’m not sure. it would be interesting to get an honest appraisal from those who performed PR as to whether it helped them conform, impress, or led to pitchfork and torchbearing mobs coming after them.

      the evil reinvents himself every 7 months, though. so that’s something to shoot for.

  2. For me, almost always the latter. I’ve got so many metal plates holding my skeleton together at this point as a result of PR gone hideously awry when those I set out to infiltrate find out they’ve been had it’s a wonder I can walk without rattling. But, I can’t really complain — built a whole career about it, and now I get to kick back and live the life of Riley in retirement in my awesome uninsulated cinderblock and fiberglass villa. We even have electricity sometimes!

    And that is the power of myth in action.

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