My friend and I went to an event last week that ended up being like a group therapy session; it was rather odd and unexpected. It was for PostSecret, a really fantastic online art project that’s been going on for five years. Each Sunday new secrets are revealed. Everything is totally anonymous. I really like the idea behind this project–people reaching out in the dark, trying to connect and not feel so alone. People with something they need to get off their chests, so they choose to send out their secret to the universe–maybe it’ll get posted on PostSecret, maybe it won’t, but at least they know they’ve released it. People read PostSecret and see secrets they’ve been keeping and know they aren’t alone anymore. I find really great value in the whole process.
But at the event, things took a turn for the strange and identifiable. The creator of the project was funny and entertaining–very sweet. A Mr. Rogers type of persona. I get the impression that he wants to use this project to help as many people as he can, even if he didn’t start the project with that intention, and I think that’s very cool. He shared some funny stories and funny postcards, and his presentation was enjoyable. But then he said there were two microphones in the audience for people who wanted to share something with the crowd. A line formed very quickly at the microphone next to us. I was surprised; I didn’t think anyone would get up to say anything considering the whole idea of this project is anonymity. But no. Soon there were tears flowing as young people (this event took place at a college and most people who got up to speak had to be between the ages of 18-23) revealed their names and their hidden secrets. As soon as the first person started crying at the microphone, my immediate response was to recoil a little and think, “oh, christ.” I’m pro-therapy, pro-talking things out, pro-crying, but I’m anti-public displays of drama. For me, even if the feeling is sincere, if the crack-up is happening in front of a group or an audience, I begin to question its authenticity, and wonder if it’s more for the sake of attention (particularly if the venue is one of entertainment, as opposed to a group therapy session where such displays may be expected). I’m perfectly aware that this is not always the case, but I’m also aware that sometimes the need for attention is the case. So, my friend and I sat there as people wept over horrid events that had happened in their lives.
When we left we were both asking WTF? My friend made the valid point that the idea behind this project is anonymity and to encourage folks to get up and share their secrets with the crowd seemed counterproductive to the spirit of the thing. I was more amazed that so many people got up to share, and attributed it to how reality tv permeates youth culture; everyone’s expected to get up and reveal everything about themselves to everyone. It was more than a little uncomfortable. It was downright ridiculous at times. Some of the secrets shared were damn heavy too, and I hope those folks are seeking out more help than simply announcing their secret to an audience and weeping over it at the microphone.
One secret I’ll retell: A girl stood up and said that when she was learning to drive, she backed out of her driveway and accidentally ran over her neighbor’s cat. She didn’t know what to do about it, so she placed the cat at her neighbor’s front door with a post-it note that said “I’m sorry.”