To the real heroes of Medium
The sad truth: it’s not our articles that make the world go round
I idolized my university design professor. She’d dance in the study rooms and climb on school furniture, she’d be loud and blunt, merciless and hilarious. I wanted to be like her when I grow up.
One day she sat on the edge of the table, an eyebrow raised in disdain, and said that if some of us didn’t have an unstoppable urge to express ourselves that would force us to work all night long, it might be the case that we were born mere consumers. Which was totally okay — as long as we would stop pretending that we matter.
Since then, my worst fear wasn’t drowning or spiders, but becoming a consumer. It still is. No wonder — the disgust expressed by a public university professor somewhere in the middle of Russia is made of the same fuel that powers the marketing forces shaping the contemporary western culture.
The self-expression imperative
Susan Cain, the author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, argues that our ideal of a self-confident, loud, captivating, over-the-top personality is neither a natural preference or a set-in-stone rule. In fact, it’s pretty recent: those are the qualities of a successful salesman, a group of people that gradually grew and gained influence from the 1900s, along with the bloom of corporate America.
This process, called by the author as the rise of the Extravert Ideal, become the cornerstone of the modern American culture and got exported to the rest of the world, altering the self-perception and aspirations of all of us.
Those qualities weren’t always preferential — there was a time they were considered shameful. Thoughtfulness, good manners, and other forms of self-repression (also known as dignity) would be welcome in the Old World aristocratic circle — but make you a horrible seller. Acting and performing used to be an “imporper”, shameful profession — but now the people who are professionally looked at became our role models.
I find the characters of Scarlett and Melanie in “Gone with the Wind” the best illustration of this shift: Scarlett is loud, inventive, unscrupulous, and fun to watch…