Food Channel viewers in the U.S. will know the popular celebrity cook Paula Deen and the controversy, that hit the media about a month ago, over past racially-charged statements that she confirmed making in a court deposition. One of the things that interests me about this episode is the media response, especially speculations on whether the tears she shed in a morning talk show interview were real or fake — i.e., were sincere (making her apology legitimate and heart-felt) or staged (and thus a manipulative attempt to, I don’t know, save some of her business contracts by resuscitating her public image).
Such commentaries on the authenticity of crying are reminiscent of the many news stories about the public reaction in North Korea to the death of Kim Jong-Il, almost a couple years ago — such as this BBC News article:
It’s interesting how such speculations reveal a commonsense Cartesian dualism that, in daily life, we still seem to apply to our understanding of the self: presuming not just a gap between mind and body but also assuming that the rational ghost can’t quite control all of the unruly, non-rational machine. For crying “on purpose” — presumably the result of rational control and thus intentionality, such as an actor shedding “real” tears on cue — is judged insincere and inauthentic in interpersonal relations while tears that are thought by others to bypass our intentions are judged to be real and honest (and thus acceptable).
This reveals an ironic Catch-22 that seems to govern social life: if you want to apologize then the apology’s a fake.
The folk psychology that drives these speculations and judgements — which, I’d say, pretty much all of us draw upon routinely in navigating our way around our everyday social worlds — therefore assumes that the true, sincere, and thus authentic self somehow lurks beneath our rationality, residing somewhere deep in our so-called reptilian brain. Sincerity is thus pre-rational — making that old phrase, “crocodile tears” 180 degrees off the mark (since reptilian tears are, apparently, the only sincere ones in us!). Though we can’t overlook that while there are times when we’re eager to meet this deeper self (e.g., in someone’s apology), there are times when appealing to a supposedly non-rational, true self won’t get you very far (e.g., as an excuse for behaviors carried out while in a so-called “blind rage”).
Despite how passé many of us today think Freud’s theories are, this widespread view of the self is curiously close to his own — making our folk psychology a testament either to his accuracy or influence.