Why/how do people cultivate mystique through Facebook profiles?
February 25, 2009 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Why/how do people cultivate mystique through Facebook profiles?

So I see a lot of profiles on Facebook, MySpace, etc. that have aspects that I don't seem to communicate much of anything at all to me. For instance, here are a couple responses to "Religion" on Facebook:

*it's not as bleak as it seems (death-bed conversion)
*Rainbow Hearts, The Slicer
*Historical Materialism? Doesn't matter, all the cool kids are in hell.

My question is why? It seems like this phenomenon could be (a) obscure references to people 'in the know'; (b) simply an attempt to be unique; (c) a subversion of the identity that the profile format ascribes; or, what I'm interested in, (d) mystification of the self, i.e. attempting to NOT be understood as a way to cultivate mystique.

Obscure references could accomplish this - but there is obscurity for the purposes of signaling to the elite and there is obscurity solely to not be understood.
posted by GIMG to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Some people are just being cute, or don't want to out themselves publicly as what they really are (family and coworkers on FB). But lots of people hate "religion" and "politics" fields in personal info profiles because they require you to narrow down your views to label of a mere few words.

As someone whose religious and political views are hard to categorize, I certainly don't feel that anyone's understanding of me would be well-served by adopting a more conventional label out of convenience. Instead I just put something there that will hopefully just deflect the question, trigger the imagination, or make someone smile, and call it a day.
posted by hermitosis at 9:00 AM on February 25, 2009

They're just trying to be cool. That's what they're trying to communicate to you through their profile info. Their coolness.
posted by joelhunt at 9:00 AM on February 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

I've always assumed people who intentionally obfuscate in such a manner (something many MeFites do their profiles here) are less concerned about signaling and more interested in a form of semiotic autonomy -- an attempt of expressive self-definition beyond what is perceived as limiting categories. You know, kind of like shopping at hot topic.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:01 AM on February 25, 2009 [15 favorites]

This is a totally chatty/answerless question, and the phenomenon is not unique to social networks. Take a look at any random group of MeFi user profiles.
posted by mkultra at 9:03 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm going to guess that you're thinking about this way more than most Facebook users have bothered to themselves. The truth is that most people's religious views aren't neatly summed up in six or seven words. People want to convey that they have their own unique outlook on life, so they throw something down that sounds vaguely meaningful and important. I don't think you're meant to catch specific references: you're just meant to understand that the person whose page you are reading is a unique snowflake with spiritual views that are outside the standard choices offered by a drop-down menu.

Also, people like attention, and sounding smart by placing words together incongruously is usually a good way to make that happen. By asking an entire web community to ponder a single person's religion blurb, you're playing right into their hands.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 9:03 AM on February 25, 2009

I always figured these people are either

- trying to start conversations and this is one thing that people would notice about their profile and ask them about. I know people who met (and later married) via Friendster because they'd both identified Kierkegard as a favorite book, this isn't far different
- young people trying to sound more erudite than maybe they are and/or taking a cue from people who maybe understand more than they do (I feel this way when I answer questions on AskMe that I think I know something about that are later answered by someone who really knows the answer)
- goons

Since it's facebook, there is some value in making a little inside joke to the people in your lit crit class that your Mom might not understand and I presume some of that is what is going on, since many many people on facebook are in some srt of school. It's like changing your profile picture all the time, people do that obsessively and yet it's mostly just to get peopel to notice that you did something since many of the photos are interchangeably the same anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on February 25, 2009

So it seems as if you have not met the so-called "hipsters".
posted by hal_c_on at 9:06 AM on February 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

Those are jokes. Jokes are funny.

Well, not really those jokes specifically. But they're meant to be. More info here.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:17 AM on February 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I think these people are just trying to seem "cool" and possibly "deep". People who really don't want you to know (like me) either leave the question blank or use HTML to block it from showing up altogether (in the case of MySpace).

I'm not trying to be mysterious, but I can't talk about it and I can't talk about why.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:30 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

They're just inside jokes. Very, very inside, sometimes.

My husband likes to write very cryptic status messages on his FB pages. I have to ask him to explain most of them. When he explains them, only then do they make any sense (to anyone besides him)
posted by lgandme0717 at 9:33 AM on February 25, 2009

I have a funny answer for the "Religion" field myself - "Church of Toffifay."

The main reason, like hermitosis said, is because just putting "Catholic," while technically true, implies a whole set of things that I'd rather not be identified with. Plus, my attitudes about religion/spirituality are more complex than that.

So, I just put something jokey - but it includes a mention of my favorite candy, just in case anyone else happens to like it, too. I'm far from being a hipster, and I'm not trying to be mysterious.
posted by HopperFan at 9:37 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used a quote from Ishmael for my "religious views" field on Facebook. I chose it because it covers my "spiritual" beliefs fairly accurately, and "Recovering Catholic, Secular Humanist" wasn't zippy enough for me.

And I'm kind of an elitist jerk.
posted by giraffe at 9:39 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Aside from the other reasons cited I suspect some people put strange responses into these fields in an attempt to reduce the value of marketing data collected by Facebook (or whoever). They want not to be on a list which they should be on; they want to be on lists they should not be on and they want to reduce the quality of any list being compiled. This may be because they want to get less spam or it may be because they believe it is reasonable for the site owners to ask these questions.
posted by rongorongo at 9:40 AM on February 25, 2009

My political affiliation is listed as 'heh' and my religion is listed as 'heh-heh.'

Some of my earnest friends have stuff like 'social liberal fiscal conservative moderate Jew' which means 'heh and heh-heh.'
posted by fixedgear at 9:43 AM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Mine says....
Religious Views:
(I can see a Church from my upstairs window)
...but now I might change it to say:
semiotic autonomy
posted by JtJ at 10:03 AM on February 25, 2009

You have to remember that Facebook is populated by clueless teenagers and clueless forty-somethings. Sometimes it will just not make sense.

For what it's worth, here's my FB "religious info":

禅:I once stayed at a Buddhist monestary. All I could think of was cheeseburgers.

Not sure if it's funny or not. Anyway, I put up all that personal info way back when I first joined FB, just after it opened up to the wider community. I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote all that stuff. I think the time has come to remove everything but my name and maybe some work and family info.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:04 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

A few of you are too busy acting superior to see social interaction evolving past you. Jesus Christ.

Anyway, yeah, sometimes people don't want to put their actual religious affiliation up there because they're not that serious about it, or they are but they don't want it to be all that widely known. Or they would rather make a joke, or use something witty, both of which are totally valid in that they still say something about the person. It's like the way that your car says something about you, even if what it says is "I don't care about my car."

My Facebook religious views used to say "Guitar Hero - Orthodox" when I was playing a lot of Guitar Hero. I thought it was funny, and it conveyed that I would rather make a joke than make sure that people knew I was an atheist.
posted by Who_Am_I at 11:33 AM on February 25, 2009

Facebook isn't serious. It isn't a job application, a driver's license, credit card application, or any other documentation for which humorless accuracy is a requirement. It's a fun way to stay in touch with acquaintances. That is all. We all fill out zillions of redundant "serious" forms -- given the opportunity to be whimsical, why not have a bit of fun?

Obscure references could accomplish this - but there is obscurity for the purposes of signaling to the elite and there is obscurity solely to not be understood.

To sum up: I think you're reading waaay too much into it.

I really don't get the vitriol against people who are making cute with their "Facebook profile" answers. Who cares? Also: see MeFite profiles.
posted by desuetude at 11:37 AM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Mix of reasons. Rr's is one; many people believe they can to various degrees use online relationships as a substitute for real life ones, so they're consciously trying to project coolness just as many people do IRL.

There are others who use Facebook mostly as an adjunct to IRL relationships. For me, though Facebook is online, I consider it part of "IRL" rather than part of "on the Internets," because I have actually met my Facebook Friends almost without exception. People in this group tend to take Facebook much less seriously and to fill it more with in-jokes.

There are many people who don't take "Religion" or "Politics" and even, believe it or not, "Relationship Status" and "Interested In" as very important things, or who, even if they take their Religion or Politics seriously, see little use in trying to make serious descriptions in a few words. Which is why I too just made my political views "Semiotic Autonomy."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:44 AM on February 25, 2009

A lot of it is the desire to appear intriguing, I think. I purposely don't read people's Facebook profiles anymore because I worry it'll make me think less of them.
posted by Nattie at 11:49 AM on February 25, 2009

Part of it is constructing a personality in a social space. Like has been mentioned above, saying 'Catholic' or 'Baptist' includes a lot of values and culture that may not be shared by the person. For a-religious types, putting something in this is kind of a free-for all to define important beliefs.

Also see above.

But mine says something that is a private reference to my religion. I don't necessarily want my CoS membership out there, but I want others who know enough to know the reference to know.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 12:42 PM on February 25, 2009

I use facebook every day, and I have no idea what's in my facebook profile. Perhaps the sort of thing you're talking about. I don't care enough about dumb profile questions, or my answers to them, that I'd remember.

Some people focus their lives on one or two core aspects, and like to self-identify with that - they might say "I am first and foremost a Christian!", or "I am a teacher!", or "I am a dancer!" or "I am a mother!" etc. Profile questions can work well in these cases. In other cases, they're not very informative even if filled out seriously; they're mostly just noise, so a lot of people treat them like noise.

Maybe some are trying to be intriguing, but I think for most it's really the opposite - people just trying to avoid being stilted and boring.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:14 PM on February 25, 2009

(a) obscure references to people 'in the know'; (b) simply an attempt to be unique;

young people trying to sound more erudite than maybe they are

Yeah, I think these people are just trying to seem "cool" and possibly "deep".

As these posters prove, if you make the wrong references or jokes in your social networking website profile, people will think you're a pretentious elitist, either showing off or parrotting something clever-sounding that you don't really understand.

That's why my facebook religion is set to "penis lol"
posted by Mike1024 at 2:36 PM on February 25, 2009

My FaceBook religion is set to "I have accepted John Lennon as my personal Lord and Savior" which is both an inside joke and a sort of philosophical thingum. It always struck me as odd when someone asked "Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?" as the question implied that it was possible to have a Lord and Savior who was not Jesus.

John Lennon seemed as good a candidate as any.

My real religious affiliation is Buddhist. Way less interesting.

So yeah, some jokes do have stories behind them. Some are just funny. Some are unfunny and pointless. I'm pretty sure you can figure out which is which if you know the person behind the joke.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:03 PM on February 25, 2009

I don't think mystique comes into it, most of the time they are probably just inside jokes or something to make light of what can be serious topics.
posted by tumples at 6:33 PM on February 25, 2009

I would rather not share anything about my religious persuasion, which is why I have opted to put nothing down in the religion box on FB. Nothing goofy, silly, serious, mystical, smart, smartass, or anything of the sort. However I am endlessly entertained by the humorous statements placed by others, whether I understand them or not. And I do enjoy the relatively generic
Relilgion: Not for me, thanks.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:50 AM on February 26, 2009

I list under my religion "The Church of Stop Shopping" because I want to get the word out on that organization and I also have a pretty much religious obsession with shopping ethically or mostly not at all. I'm not trying to be a wise aleck or cool (well mabye a lil) but this is an honest "mystique" answer.
posted by saxamo at 5:30 AM on February 26, 2009

I don't think it's really any different than the way people select their mefi username; some people just use their name, or a version of it. Other people allude to something they think is interesting or funny. Other people allude to things they think others will find interesting or funny. And still others just make up something offhandedly because they just don't care at all.
posted by hermitosis at 9:12 AM on February 26, 2009

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