"Covering" is defined by Kenji Yoshino, author of the pieces "Preface" and "The New Civil Rights" as "to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream" (Yoshino, 552). The art of covering is being used by many individuals in today's society, whether it is through anonymous internet accounts, anonymous postings on websites, or even to the extreme extent of hiding these identities from society by putting on a social front and keeping all of their secrets inside. In the Preface, Yoshino states, "Nevertheless, being deemed mainstream is still often a necessity of social life" (Yoshino, 552). From this quote, one can take that although everyone has one piece of them that does not fit with the mainstream, being accepted thoroughly is a necessity, so individuals continue to hide these pieces in fear of loss of acceptance. For some people, keeping their identities and secrets away from the social mainstream may be easy, however for others, it may be much more difficult to hold inside, and may reach a point where they feel that they need to expose this side of them to someone. With this comes types of websites similar to Postsecrets.com, a website where one can mail an anonymous postcard into this company, and they post all of the postcards they receive onto their website for the entire world to see. From this, individuals viewing the site can leave comments and remarks about the postcard, usually giving them some form of reassurance about their secrets. Some see this as being beneficial as way of curing the need of social "covering" to avoid the judgment of the mainstream. However, some others feel that it is fabricating the situation of "covering" and almost promoting it to the people in a form almost comparable to a security blanket. By analyzing Jill Lepore's concept of "privacy in an age of publicity" and the ideas surrounding PostSecret, I will argue that the use of PostSecret is an extension to the idea of "covering", because it does nothing but encourage individuals to hide their identities from society.
PostSecret encourages individuals to continue their "covering" from mainstream society because of their anonymity. PostSecrets.com insists and provokes people of the nation to reveal their secrets to the company and have them plastered on the World Wide Web, and they do it in hopes of some sort of closure with themselves. The only reason that these individuals are comfortable enough to do this is because they are guaranteed to remain anonymous on the website. In any other case if any person were asked to share a personal secret or hidden piece of their identity to be spread across the Internet, people would laugh and not even consider taking that leap. Why is this? The anonymity of this website helps them to maintain their privacy, while simultaneously exposing their hidden identity to the world. In Jill Lepore's essay, "The PRISM: Annals of Surveillance", describing the relationship between secrecy and privacy in context with the discovery of the NSA monitoring American citizens' telephone calls, e-mail messages, and Internet use, she uses an axiom to describe the relationship, stating, "the defense of privacy follows, and never precedes, the emergence of new technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the case for privacy always comes too late. The horse is out of the barn. The post office has opened your mail. Your photograph is on Facebook" (Lepore). In this piece of text, Lepore is saying that, once it is put out there for anyone to see, the ability to maintain privacy is gone. It is out there, and everyone can see it; anonymous or not. Too late in the game, privacy tries to come in with secrecy, and they do not intermingle so well in the terms of the internet. Anonymity is a strong encouragement for individuals to speak their mind without fear of punishment or consequences. The anonymity of the PostSecret website gives the people more confidence, provides them with no consequences or isolation from mainstream society, and lack of judgment. The use of anonymity through PostSecrets does not help in curing the individual’s need to hide themselves from the mainstream society, but in fact, does the complete opposite by influencing and encouraging them to do so through this anonymous program.
Lepore’s main point of “privacy in an age of publicity” in correlation with the blog site PostSecret, is better understood through her analysis on the history of privacy and publicity, and distinguishing the differences between privacy and secrecy. Lepore goes about comparing secrecy and privacy by the way they are used in society, and how they have been used throughout history, mainly through the nineteenth century. Secrecy is described as what we know but not what everyone knows. One example of this would be a secret of the government, such as the NRA monitoring e-mails, phone calls, and internet usage of the American people. This is considered a secret because it is known by only a small group, and not by all. Privacy, the key idea in Lepore’s essay and my point, is stated as where one keeps what they know to themselves. Certain examples that fall under this category are things that happen in the home, what people say on the phone and e-mails, and what they said to their friends and family. The idea of privacy connects with the ideas of D.W. Winnicott, an object-relations theorist admired in Yoshino’s The New Civil Rights. Winnicott introduces the terms of True Self and False Self, in correlation with the behavior of individuals to be accepted in today’s society. Winnicott describes the True Self as “The True Self is the self that gives an individual the feeling of being real, which is ‘more than existing; it is finding a way to exist as oneself, and to relate to objects as oneself, and to have a self into which to retreat for relaxation’” (Yoshino 554). Winnicott simplistic version of this is basically saying that it is the true identity of the person; their natural personality, being, emotions, and expressions, without putting on a front for any reason. This is the type of Self everyone would want to be seen, known, and treated as. Where with the False Self, it is defined by Winnicott as “The False Self has one positive and very important function: to hide the True Self, which it does by compliance with environmental demands” (Yoshino 554). Although Winnicott does not insult or degrade the False Self, it is clear that the true self is the more desired part of an individual. The False Self is comparable to the concept of “covering” created by Yoshino. It is used to hide the True Self from today’s mainstream society, in protection of being judged or mistreated for their beliefs, ideas, or behavior.
One example of a postcard from PostSecret provides a great example of the True and False self Winnicott describes. The postcard is of a small girl in a Snow White dress on Halloween in the privacy of her own home, but she also has a mask on her face. In small print next to the girl it says “I wish I would have left the mask ON”. This picture perfectly describes the idea of covering and the True and False Self because the true self of this girl is goofy and silly with her mask on, however, society is not accepting of this, so the False Self prevents the True Self from wearing it, making this a form of “covering”. PostSecret is a great way for people to reveal their True Self without the False Self trying to hide and “covering: it, however, it is far from an antidote to the idea of covering and hiding the truth from society. It does more so to extend the idea of covering the individual self, even promoting it with a strange sort of anonymous fame for a week; millions of people seeing your inner secrets and giving feedback on them, without the pressure of claiming the secret as your own. Through Yoshino and Winnicott’s ideas on the False and True Self and “covering”, it proves that although covering is not an awful tendency or behavior, but it does more to promote the idea of hiding from society.
The secrets plastered all over the website of PostSecret, and the idea that these types of secrets being published to the world is sadly mistaken as being an antidote to hiding from society. The individuals using this website to display their deeper, darker secrets are technically still hiding from society because they have too great of a fear of judgment from the surrounding society, and in connecting fear of being isolated from everyone because of their secrets. Using this website does nothing more but to put the information out there without their name, however they will still have their False Self as a cover in public regardless of what is said on PostSecret about these secrets they have. The evolution of privacy in regards to technology, social media, and other forms of media have made it almost near impossible to continue to hide the True Self from society, with cell phones, mobile cameras,etc. The True Self is a piece of an individual that is beautiful and real, and definitely should not have to be hid in fear of judgment. However, in today’s judgmental society with extremely high expectations, it makes it impossible to not have this fear and hide some part of yourself. PostSecret is not the way to hide oneself from the public. If a piece of information is so private that an individual is scared to share it with the world, then there should not even be a place to put these sorts of things, and PostSecret does nothing more than to extend “covering” and promote it to the people, corrupting the True Self and forever keeping it from the world.
Lepore, Jill. “The Prism.” New Yorker 24 June 2013: 32-36.