Saturday, March 28, 2009

Identity and the Peabody Hotel

The Peabody Hotel is pronounced "Pea-body," as opposed to "Pea-buddy." Not like the town of Peabody, Mass. This is a fancy hotel with a big conference center in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Check out this quote printed on a Coke machine on the 4th floor of the hotel, observed 3/28/2009

"The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel. If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby... [ultimately] you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta..." (David Cohn, 1935)
The interesting part is the phrase "everybody who is anybody." In the vernacular, "being somebody" may imply that you are famous, rich, or otherwise important.

If you are "somebody," there might be a biographical wikipedia article about you. This requires a strange, uncertain, and changing qualification process described by Danah Boyd on her blog here. Danah mentions an interesting dependence on mainstream media reports in defining "notableness."

Wyatt Cooper wrote an article in 1971 which points to "uniqueness" as another percieved way to "being somebody":
"We will, generally, embrace any sort of recognition at all that promises to give us some sense, however frail, of our own unique personalities...

" 'I had the worst appendix the doctor has seen in forty years of appendixes,' 'My head was the largest of any baby ever delivered normally at St. Rita’s,' 'My third cousin, once removed, was the first blue-eyed white man west of the Mississippi to die in the electric chair...' "
On a more somber note, some writers (such as David P. Levine) describe "poverty" as a "deprivation of identity," a lack which makes creativity impossible. Societies frame our roles, and individuals frame related and competing identities. When we are unable to fill these minimal roles, we are forced into a reactive non-creative existense, decreasing our humanity.

So, I suppose one could attack historian David Cohn's quote by claiming, "I know that many unique and creative people that lived in Mississippi in 1935 never stepped within eyesight of the Peabody Hotel." But David Cohn and his readers may not have agreed with this criteria for being "somebody."

If I'm not "somebody," then what is a "nobody?" Is it even human?

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