What Happens When We’re All Brands?
The world doesn't need one more person playing a character
I’m a big fan of a UFC fighter by the name of Colby Covington. Covington is an amazing fighter, but he admittedly has kind of a boring style. Covington has superhuman cardio and amazing wrestling, but not a lot of power. So, he wins his fights via pressure. He’s constantly in the other guy’s face, pressing him against the fence, wearing him down, and is throwing lots of light punches. Eventually, the other guy wears down and Colby is able to get the win, usually by decision. Well, despite the fact that Covington is one of the best fighters in the sport, the UFC was about to release him because he wasn’t exciting enough. So, Covington decided to create a persona for himself:
“I’ve never told this story before but three fights ago, before I fought the No. 2 guy in the world, this guy named Demian Maia in Brazil, they had told my manager Dan Lambert that they weren’t going to re-sign me. They didn’t like my style; they didn’t like that I wasn’t entertaining. This is before I really started to become an entertainer and really understand the entertainment aspect of the business. Before this fight, they told me no matter what happens, I was ranked No. 6 in the world, we’re not re-signing you, we don’t like your character, we don’t like your fighting style. And I’m getting paid $30,000 to go fight the No. 2 guy in the world. After you pay taxes and pay your coaches you’re really going to get $5000 or $10,000. So, I go out there and I beat him up and leave him in a pool of blood in Sao Paulo, in his home city. I shoot this promo on the Brazilians and say, ‘You guys are all a bunch of filthy animals and Brazil you’re a dump.’ So, I go and shoot this promo, and I wasn’t supposed to have my job, but that promo goes so viral on the Internet, that the UFC’s like, we have to keep him, we have to re-sign him because that promo is so big. So that’s what saved my career and that was the turning point of my career. The rest has been history.”
From there, Colby started wearing cheap suits, insulting everyone like a wrestling “heel,” coming up with ridiculous nicknames for his opponents, and shouting about how much he loves Donald Trump.
How much of this is the real Colby and how much of it is an act? It’s hard to really say for sure. In fact, after Colby lost to Kamaru Usman, with whom he supposedly had a ferocious rivalry, he essentially “broke character” talking to him in the right and told him, “It’s all love for you. It’s all about making money nothing but love for you.”
What you are seeing from Colby there is nothing new. Wrestlers have been doing it for decades and yes, we all understand that Mick Foley doesn’t truly have multiple personalities and the Undertaker isn’t actually some unholy dead man who lives to spread evil or be a biker or whatever his last character was before he retired. We all also understand that corporations aren’t really the brands that they try to portray themselves as on TV. Whatever face Coca-Cola, Disney, and Google may show to the public, we all understand that their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th priorities are making as much money as possible. What is new over the last decade or so is that because of social media, it’s not just the celebrities and corporations that have started taking on personas.
We’re all brands now.
Not you? Really? Are you sure? Here’s a little something I wrote about this subject a few years ago. Read it and see if you can relate:
If you look at my Facebook pictures, they’re all of me traveling. I’m at the Eiffel Tower. Here’s me decked out with my hot girlfriend at the Empire State Building. Woah, there’s me with Alcatraz in the background. You don’t see me, right now, without a shower, wearing sweats and a t-shirt in a messy room, grinding out this column while my girlfriend is pissed at me.
Are people getting “the real you” on social media? Not at all. They’re getting the image of you that you want to present to the world. It’s no different than the fast-food restaurant showing mom looking pleased with herself while her perfectly behaved, smiling children happily wolf down burgers or the guy having the time of his life drinking beer with his friends while hordes of attractive women look at him like he’s a famous movie star who just made a billion dollars. That’s not real. Neither is what you see on social media in most cases.
For the most part, what we see is a Potemkin village, a false construct, a fake presentation of what life is like for people. Do you know how I know they’re fake? Because I’m out in the world, meeting real people, and guess what? They’re not going to parties every night. They haven’t been to New York, Paris, and Los Angeles this week. They’re also, if I may be so blunt, not huge @ssholes like most of the people are on Twitter. If you judged other people by Twitter, you’d think the country was on the verge of a race war, “Karens” are standing around with 91 punched into their phones waiting to hit that last 1, and that every disagreement leads to an outraged shout fest.
Sure, those people exist, but how many of them are there? For that matter, how many of the “people” you see on social media platforms like Twitter are actually real human beings?
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Culturcidal by John Hawkins to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.