Symbolic interactionism, or performance, is a theory developed by Erving Goffman. This theory is metaphorical in nature; it states that we are actors living on a stage, or theatrical arena that we use to portray to audiences, or onlookers, the image we wish to be known as. This performance displays our actions, and words, and through characters, routines, and demonstrations, we attempt to highlight certain aspects of ourselves and downplay traits that dispute the image we wish to convey. For the purpose of this essay I will address three class readings and apply Goffman’s performance theory as it relates to, strippers as a confidence game, pimp-controlled prostitution, and real punks and pretenders.
According to Goffman’s theory, our lives are based on a parallel divide between what our activities of daily living are, and what is called the “performance”. The “role” that we play during our performance eventually becomes a fixed part of our personality leading to second nature. Let’s take for instance the role of the stripper in Pasko’s writing, “Naked Power, Stripping as a confidence game” (Pasko, p.476). The “performers” are the strippers who work in a strip club “setting” and the “audience” is the potential targets or “marks”. Also the writing, “Pimp-Controlled Prostitution”, by Williamson and Cluse-Tular deals with world of street level prostitution, the “performers” are the street pimps, the “setting” is the game, and his “audience” consists of women and fellow pimps.
The pimps, “controls the actions and live off the proceeds of one or more women who works the streets” (Williamson and Cluse-Tular, p.537). Part of a pimp’s performance is in his ability to present his way of life as the social ideal and selling women his false dreams. He makes her feel as though he loves her and reciprocates by selling herself to any paying customer. By using various personal “fronts” such as, beauty, observation, and sex appeal, the prostitutes and strippers were able to convince the marks and johns that they were special. For the strippers, the marks desired something outside the setting, whether it was sex, or a serious relationship, and in Williamson and Cluse-Tular’s writing, the prostitutes wanted the men to pay. These performers would each become, “an impersonator of counterfeit intimacy” (Pasko, p.479). The motives for both performances were getting as much money as possible.
Goffman’s theory of performance is also exercised in the writing, “Real Punks and Pretenders: The social Organization of a Counterculture” (Fox, p.395). These groups find their origins in the anti-establishment movements that protested socio-economic issues that plague their families and countries for which they rebelled. It was through social stratification that they forged their own unique identity. There are four group roles, or performers, “the hardcore punks, softcore punks, preppie punks, and finally the spectators” (Fox, p.395), although it could be said that the hardcores, although lacking in the political awareness of their European counterparts, are the true performers since they set the tone of the punk movement. The personal fronts were their style, culture, sex, music, and appearances. The setting “took place in a small cowboy bar” (Fox, p.397). The performance of each group varied in accordance to its commitment to the punk lifestyle. The hardcore punks, “most involved in the scene and derived the greatest amount of prestige” (Fox, p.399) softcore punks, “less dedicated to the antiestablishment lifestyle” (Fox, p.399), preppie punks, “minimally committed” (Fox, p.399), and the spectators who were attendees of punk affairs.
Part of Goffman’s theory addresses “group performance” through his dialogue of “teams”, and the connection between the performers and audiences. His team concept illustrates how a group of people are able to unite, work together, and accomplish goals. This can be seen most effectively in the hardcore punks. Their team exemplified true loyalty to punk customs, lifestyle, and beliefs, while the other punk group loyalties were reduced, thus demoting each group to a lesser status.
In conclusion, I find Goffman’s performance theory interesting, in that we live our lives on a virtual stage where we are able to create a new identity by utilizing impression management. Parallel to this stage, is where we indulge in our normal selves without having to show that we are someone other than who we truly are. Role playing is very similar to the many types of occupations that exist; we put on different “hats” at a given time as part of an effort to accomplish goals, or as a means to survive. Whether a person earns money at a strip club, through prostitution, or as a pimp, there is no retirement plan in the game, and sooner or later, that stage persona, that was managed so successfully before, will overcome the real self. The Punks can rebel and define their own lives by counterculture style, self-destructive nature, and music, but in the long run, the societal concerns that they find troubling are the same issues that will still be there when they exit the punk life. In order to affect real change, our role must be that of the social advocate, and our stage has to be within the mainstream process where we can utilize our performance abilities, and deliver a message of hope and transformation.
Fox, K. J. (2009). Real Punks and Pretenders: The Social Organization of a Counterculture. In
Adler, P., & Adler, P. (Eds.) Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context, and Interaction (pp. 395-409). Belmont, CA: Thompson Higher Education.
Pasko, L. (2009). Naked Power: Stripping as a Confidence Game. In Adler, P., & Adler, P.
(Eds.) Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context, and Interaction (pp. 476-484). Belmont, CA: Thompson Higher Education.
Williamson. C., & Cluse-Tular, T. (2009). Pimp-Controlled Prostitution. In
Adler, P., & Adler, P. (Eds.) Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context, and Interaction (pp. 537-547). Belmont, CA: Thompson Higher Education.