Personality Pastiche

Early on in The Saturated Self, Kenneth Gergen suggests that our relational saturatedness, especially that experienced through mass media, means that we increasingly “know how” to act in certain stereotypical situations. He writes,

If a mate announces that he or she is thinking about divorce, the other’s reaction is not likely to be dumb dismay. The drama has so often been played out on television and movie screens that one is already prepared with multiple options. If one wins a wonderful prize, suffers a humiliating loss, faces temptation to cheat, or learns of a sudden death in the family, the reactions are hardly random. One more or less knows how it goes, is more or less ready for action. Having seen it all before, one approaches a state of ennui (71).

Of course, we have always been habituated by our culture in these things; there is nothing new about that. But in the past one would have been “trained” in these reactions by a much smaller and closer community. Now, as Gergen’s quote indicates, the narrative that informs our reactions in these situations is far more often the product of a distant media rather than a local community. This both homogenizes responses as it depersonalizes them.

Gergen argues that, somewhat ironically, in this age in which we increasingly tout our powers of personal expression, “as the century has progressed, selves have become increasingly populated with the character of others” (71). That is, as we are confronted by more and more people and ideas, we pick up more and more information that gets subsumed into our behavior.

From a Christian perspective, this reality challenges us to think hard about the “dramas” that we expose ourselves to and points to the importance of inclusion of the biblical narrative and characters in the biblical drama in the panoply of “relationships” with which we are saturated.