Ego & Hubris is the story of Michael Malice, told by American Splendor author Harvey Pekar in graphic novel form. It’s an incredibly entertaining read because Michael is incredibly honest. Most of us tell lies most of the time, and they make for lives and personalities that appear far more boring than they actually are.
Some of the reviews I read for the book treat Michael as some kind of heinous person. After all, he can seem vindictive and rude. Like the time when his boss was being a jerk about him spending time with his grandmother who had cancer. Malice later discovered the boss’s wife got cancer and thought it served him right. Sounds horrible when you read it. But it’s a very honest expression of a feeling many people would have in the same situation. The difference is most people would lie about how they felt – to themselves and certainly to someone writing their biography.
If you watch interviews with celebrities, no matter how different the people’s lives, the interviews are all quite similar. They’re boring. Safe answers are given that keep up an image that will offend the fewest fans. Fans pretend to want these lies. When a famous person is honest, everyone feigns offense.
When politicians talk during campaign season, the mutual lying reaches absurd heights. Imagine the shock – shock! – if a candidate for office said, “Yeah, I know there’s some charity event to raise money for poor children tonight, but frankly I’m just too tired to go.” Or, “You know, my opinion on Sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t really matter because there’s not much I can do about it.” Honesty like this would be branded callous, and make a lot of people uneasy. This despite the fact that every reasonable person would agree that it’s OK to be tired and not feel like going to an event, even for a good cause. Every would-be voter knows that Sub-Saharan Africa really doesn’t matter all that much to them. So why do they pretend they want it to matter to a candidate?
There’s a lot of lying going on. Public figures lie about who they are, what they do, and what they feel. If they slip and let a little honesty through, the public lies and pretends to be offended. It makes for a pretty boring spectacle. It’s one of the reasons I don’t read or watch the news. It’s so phony and everyone knows it but no one dare admit it. If we’re all gonna play pretend, I’d rather follow professional pretenders in well-crafted pretend stories in the movies, novels and TV shows.
When people let their real questions out, and public figures give their real answers revealing their real feelings and thoughts it’s pretty entertaining and enlightening. The more honest radio interviews, for example, are usually done by people called “shock jocks”. Sure, they say some silly stuff just to be different, but they tend to also ask the type of questions most people actually want to know. In the giant lying game of public life, we have to dub them “shocking”, because nothing is more shocking than honesty.
We see it in celebrities but rarely in ourselves. Part of the reason we don’t talk honestly about ourselves is because we don’t know ourselves very well. We know the self we wish we were better than the one we’d actually be happy being, or the one we actually are. Self-knowledge precedes self-honesty.
Sometimes I meet one of those rare people who, like Michael Malice, knows who they are and doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. It’s refreshing. They can be a little intimidating because they are used to honesty and can see through BS in others as well as in themselves. It’s also intensely interesting and challenging. It reveals how shallow most human interactions are.
Our actual identities are far more interesting than the lies we tell about ourselves. The narratives and carefully constructed biographies we publicly project are boring and second rate compared to the fascinating truth of who we really are.
Learn the truth about yourself, and don’t hide it. We’ll all have more fun.