Yesterday it was revealed that an internet identity that had gone viral was not exactly a flawless, earnest representation of the actual person behind it. While this could be just another typical internet hoax, it could also be, as The Guardian seems to say, a gigantic breach of cyber-trust. Tom MacMaster, a white, straight American living in Scotland, has confessed to be the identity behind Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, a gay, middle-eastern female and the main character in the Gay Girl in Damascus debacle. What is unequivocally true is that MacMaster, while not being the individual which he claimed to be, has created a completely engaging drama out of this otherwise lackluster ploy. And quite honestly these days, what is more likely to warm the cold heart of the populace towards human rights issues? Straight facts told from an unbiased perspective, or dramatic and moving (though not incredibly well written) fiction?
Of course MacMaster does have some explaining to do–but not the explaining he’s being asked to do, which is directed at him in preachy and dull. For instance, why wouldn’t a straight man want to assume the character of a gay girl to get their point across? And is it even so unique to be a moral crime?
Or is it actually part of what the internet is for–at least at historical moment. Leaving aside the implications of avatars and cyber identity, who among us has not adopted a different tone–even a different voice entirely–to make our point more clearly heard, a point which we thought might have been glossed over, or taken less seriously had it been expressed by nothing greater, more authoritative, than ourselves?
It’s a great theme, and a completely unoriginal idea that still somehow fascinates us to the point where, when it occurs, we have to turn it into an ethics debate and say: ‘how could he?’ how could anyone pretend to be something they’re not, what a base and inhuman desire!’ Hardly. Certainly not in literature, where masks are almost always a conflicting symbol of power: one is reminded of Cyrano, The Double, The Prisoner of Zenda, Woody Allen’s The Front. The great heroes of literature can almost never make conclusive points about life, art, or society without taking some kind of pose–often the pose is another person’s character.