Oscar Wilde once truthfully said that ‘most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’ The search for complete originality is rather a futile one, as people have been pointing out for some time. It is far easier to let other people’s traits permeate into our being.
When I sit down to write I always feel stunted by the fact that the people I look up to are so much better at writing and cooler and funnier and more talented than I am in every way. I have stuck quotations from my favourite people all around my room with hope that I will somehow absorb their genius. I even wrote a Wilde quote in my maths GCSE exam. It was an impossibly difficult question that I had no hope with even trying to answer so I simply scrawled, “In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot answer’- Oscar Wilde.’
I am other people. I am my parents, who raised me, friends from the past, who influenced me, friends of the present, whose mannerisms subtly slip into my own behaviour. However, (without discrediting those people who I know in person) more than anything I am Coco Chanel. I am Morrissey. I am Allen Ginsberg. I am Oscar Wilde. I am Tavi Gevinson. I am James Dean. I am Edie Sedgwick. Just a slightly less cool version.
I have an obsession for each of these people I call my ‘heroes.’ They are my idols, my influences, the books I read, the music I listen to. And I do not hesitate to say that without them I would not be the same person I am today.
However, where must we decide to draw the line with how much these strangers influence our lives? We are constantly bombarded with reasons why celebrities like Lindsey Lohan and Pete Doherty are negative role models but many still idolise them and their lifestyles. Then of course there was that ridiculous and inconceivably insensitive ‘cut for Bieber’ trend on Twitter last year. Celebrity culture is weird and sort of messed up. With the decline in religion people are turning more and more to their favourite celebrity to comfort them and give them guidance.
A friend once told me that she was glad that I was obsessed with Coco Chanel and James Dean as opposed to Justin Bieber or Nicki Minaj. However, Coco Chanel was allegedly a Nazi and was constantly embroiled in affairs with married men. James Dean had an often unpredictable personality and, somewhat ironically, was a dangerous driver. Hardly ideal role models, right?
There’s admiration and then there’s imitation and sometimes I worry that I’m slipping into the latter category. It was Morrissey who penned, “If you must write prose and poems, the words you use should be your own” but it is sometimes so tempting to want to fully become the people you look up to. I even managed to paraphrase two Morrissey lyrics into my English Literature exam last year. Morrissey himself wrote the anti-plagiarism line in response to being harangued about using the line, “I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice” in an early Smiths’ song ‘Reel Around the Fountain’ as the line originally came from Shelagh Delaney’s play ‘A Taste of Honey’.
I love the idea of escaping myself to become somebody else. Coco Chanel once said “How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.” I cut my hair to imitate Coco Chanel. I sometimes find myself daydreaming about styling it in a quiff like the teens imitating Morrissey in The Smiths’ ‘Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before’ music video. I want a bongo drum and perhaps a motorcycle like James Dean. I want a collection of fashion books as vast as Bill Cunningham’s. I want to dress like Tavi Gevinson. I want to write poetry like Patti Smith. I want to make witty quips in conversation like Oscar Wilde. I will just have to live my life with the worry that one day I may perhaps be serenaded with the song ‘Lighten Up Morrissey.’
I am definitely other people and my life is mimicry, my passions a quotation. However, I have not altogether lost my individuality because I am yet to find another person influenced my all these exact same people. Sometimes I feel like I am having a complete identity crisis but, at the end of the day, aren’t we all a product of the things that we love? The things we like can be just as telling about a person as what we are like and because of this I think we should move forwards and imitate whoever the hell we want to.