Frequently I find myself struck by questions of communication, and among those questions is the relationship between the messenger and the message. Some years ago when people still cared about the music that Demi Lovato made, she released two singles in close proximity that managed to undercut the emotional message of each other. In “Let Me Give Your Heart A Break,” Demi muses on a guy whose personal experiences keep him from trusting her, and then in “Heart Attack,” she sings about her own unwillingness to open up to a would-be lover. Nor is this an isolated occurrence. Musicians whose audience base expects songs of a sensitive and romantic nature can often be heavily affected by the reality that they are not nearly so smooth and so sensitive as their songs suggest. Recently I commented on this phenomenon with another artist who recently released a great song that nevertheless does not rest easily with his own persona.
Issues of persona are complicated. I recently interacted with an author of one of the books that I reviewed and I commented heavily in that review on the fact that the author’s persona detracted from my enjoyment of the book. It is not that the author did anything wrong, or that I have any hostility to the author or to her work, it’s just that something rubs one the wrong way. That happens easily enough, most of the time without malice on anyone’s part. At times the effect is even positive, where the persona of a particular person helps a message come off easily. When Wilford Brimley talked about diabetes, for example, he had some credibility as a warm and friendly advertising persona known from his Quaker Oats commercials. Without having to know much about the man’s personal life it was possible for him to have credibility nonetheless because of his warm and friendly persona.
Many times we wish that people could regard our message without paying attention to us as messengers, but frequently this is a vain dream. The quality of our message is very often tied up in our own status as messengers. This can work for us or against us, depending on how things work out. When people speak or perform and it is clear that they do so from the content of their lives, one can get a sense of who the person is behind the mask. At least that is the hope of those who observe. On the other hand, there are times where our message is actively undercut by our persona, and whether or not that persona is just or fair or not, it is something that has to be dealt with. It is simply an aspect of reality, and if we are wise we can use our persona as a means of talking authoritatively about things that would otherwise be more difficult for others to relate to.