Oilcan Harry Says: Time to Peek Out from Behind the Mask and Just Have Fun

Following on from what I just said in a previous article:

“But of course the self-serving bias would have me merely focus on what others do, right? And not on what I do or don’t do, n’est-ce pas? Such is the operating principle of the ego, is it not? I know you’re not fooled but I enjoy watching myself fool myself. The ego’s secretive ways can be amusing.” (1)

I had coffee with a friend yesterday. The subject was recent events which saw me take a new direction in some matters which are not that important to relate unto themselves. (Who cares, huh? Except us?)

But I suggested before I spoke that she watch me render events self-servingly and suggested some of the ploys I would use: primarily, to play up my part in all aspects of events that served the groups’ well-being and lay at others’ doorsteps the responsibility for events that promised to have things go awry; to suggest that I knew what was right and that others were confused or uncooperative; to adduce evidence that supported my own role as the group’s savior and ignore evidence that pointed to my own culpability.

Often, if I do a good enough job of describing the zinger I’m about to spring on someone, I may even skip the manipulation and settle for the fun we just had looking at it. A good time was had by all. And skipping it saves me and everyone else much time and energy.

And so it was here. We skipped the manipulation and just had a good laugh. Spare me the performance, huh?

You know, as Andrea (lead mod of the 2012S mod squad and co-owner of the 2012S discussion group) was saying recently, we really don’t have to take ourselves as seriously as we do. We can actually sit back and enjoy – and even appreciate – our own foibles and manipulations. And in fact life improves if we do.

We don’t have to be a slave to the ego unless we want to, unless it serves our purposes. And even then we can do it from a point of enjoyment and awareness.

I actually love the craftiness of my own manipulations. Some can be a work of art. I’ve worked hard on polishing my own image over the years and the mere product of all that social construction of reality is itself noteworthy and entertaining.

Steve Martin made a career out of demonstrating that, did he not? And Robin Williams made a career out of doing it consciously and then destroying his own impression with a wave of his hand by lampooning it, much as Tibetan monks erase a carefully-crafted mandella with one sweep of the hand.

There’s a certain way I feel when I know the ego is about to spring itself on me. It’s a devilish, conniving feeling. I’m almost twirling my moustache in the way that Oilcan Harry used to do on those Saturday morning Mighty Mouse cartoons? Anyone old enough to remember those?

It’s superior craftsmanship, as far as I’m concerned, to catch oneself in the midst of that feeling and share what one is about to do with others.

Growth-movement circuit riders used to say that the power of God is tied up in our secrets, in our withholds, in the cards we hold close to our chest. We could be magnificent and instead we choose to hide behind our petty manipulations, which everyone else around us sees clearly and are just afraid to raise to our attention.

Withholding those ploys then becomes what we dedicate our lives to. Instead of being transparent and marvellous, we settle for becoming crafty and small. I mentioned Lucille Ball in other articles who made a career out of the gambit of hiding her own white lies so innocently. (2)

Is it not a favorite comic ploy, to inject a note of self-awareness into situations which are traditionally represented on TV, say, as going tickety-boo but which are really just attempts to sell us a bill of goods?

Like most detective shows on the tube today? Masking the cabal’s attempts to sell us the impression that a terrorist or criminal lurks behind every bush and that Big Brother’s interventions are good for us? Behind every Bush perhaps…..

Hey, I want to look good. I want to be well-received. I’m not going so far as to earn lots of money so I can surround myself in the symbols of success. Not that interested in managing impressions. But I’m not above selectively remembering, telling the story self-servingly, and excusing myself where I might not excuse others.

I enjoy watching myself gear up for selling my self or my own part in things to others. The dress rehearsals are fun to watch. The endless repetition of the lines I’m gonna use (oh, you don’t do that?), the way I’ll dress, how I’ll hold myself. Mad Men. Maxwell Smart. Preedy going for a swim. (3)

Speaking of Preedy, Preedy’s creator, Erving Goffman, stated his approach in writing The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life this way:

“I shall consider the ways in which the individual in ordinary work situations presents himself and his activity to others, the ways in which he guides and controls the impression they form of him, and the kinds of things he may and may not do while sustaining his performance before them.” (4)

He then goes on to consider masks, performances, region behavior, discrepant roles, communication out of character, and other situations of image management. Truly half of what we do we never raise to the light of day and it must be the most entertaining side of life: how we manage how people will receive us, keep our mask from slipping, and recover from dropped balls. Everyone of us is a supreme comic and just doesn’t know it. Time to peek out from behind the mask and just have some fun.


(1) “Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel Discuss Disclosure Scenarios, SETI, etc.” at

(2) “Lucy in the Chocolate Factory,” in and “The Polar Opposite of Self-Awareness: Image Management,” at

(3) Erving Goffman, “Introduction” to The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City: Doubleday, 1959. Preedy carefully scripts every move in taking a swim, to present himself maximally as sexy, in charge, sensitive and wise.

(4) Ibid. xi.


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