“Self-portrayal is thought to be a part of self-realization, yet it has nothing to do with personal awareness,” I wrote in my French essay. “It is almost always instigated and shaped by how others perceive us, pushing us to construct certain narratives to hide, or at least blur some of our less ideal qualities.”
It wasn’t until I watched Mankiewicz’s “All About Eve” (1950), however, that I started to question the hypocrisy behind some of those “less ideal qualities.”
For those who haven’t seen the movie, Eve is an aspiring actress who is so passionate, and dare I say so obsessed, about theater that she watches every single performance of a play. She then starts working for a big actress, studying and mimicking her every move. With her excessively humble nature, she is liked by almost everyone in the sector. Yet this outer persona soon proves to be a mere act, as, in order to achieve her dreams, she cunningly plots against the people who help her. In the end, she gets what she wants as she prepares to leave for Hollywood. The person beside her, though, is another Eve, another young girl studying and mimicking her every move. A recurring cycle.
Our society is full of Eve’s, Mankiewicz tells the audience. There are always people who would do anything to reach their goals in life with an “ends justify the means” perspective. He scorns that, portraying Eve as always the murderer, never the champion. He admires the naturally talented, already famous actress that doesn’t change herself for fame, that knows when to stop, that has the mature self-awareness. This is the ideal: success that is not stained by mere ambition.
Mankiewicz’ ideal holds true even now, even at Yale. It is so rare that one of us describes themselves as ambitious or even hard-working. We prefer to downplay the inner urge that keeps us awake at night, that pushes us to study harder or to submit an application. It is so rare that one of us talks about how challenging the recruiting process is or the slightly twisted truths we say in our interviews. Saying “I got the job” with a confident smile is much more inspiring than admitting how many emails we sent to get that job. None of us wants to be Eve. Yet, there is a bit of Eve in all of us. We don’t have to be as cunning as Eve herself. We don’t have to, and certainly shouldn’t, be as damaging and corrupt as Macbeth. But at some point in our lives, we all have or will act in a certain slightly-pretended way until we achieve what we want. Flatter the supervisor, fake a smile or two, play the politics of the game. Not the ideal; yet the fact.
Why are we so unwilling to admit this then? Why do we try so hard to hide our Eve’s? Why are we told to disapprove of our strong ambition or criticize the “wannabes”? It may be true that there is no limit to doing “anything” to achieve one’s desire, and people’s disapproving eyes upon hearing about those “anything”s act as the deterrent. Yet this becomes another way we let others’ perception of us dictate our self-portrayal, widening the gap between who we really are and who we want to be seen as.
Of course, my contempt for this hypocrisy comes from another ambitious desire for self-actualization. But there is a reason why Maslow regarded this as the highest level in the hierarchy of needs. It is only after we reach our goal, achieve our dream that we usually take a step back and question the Eve in us. Perhaps not addressing the hypocrisy itself renders the success pure, unstained and ideal. What is the solution then? Disregarding Eve? Killing her? Coming to terms with her? I don’t know. Only one thing is for sure: it really is all about Eve.
SUDE YENILMEZ is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Her column, ‘Piecing Together,’ runs every other Thursday. Contact her at email@example.com.