Sincerity in ‘My Appearance’

“My Appearance,” the story of a TV actress’s interview on Late Night with David Letterman, provides more commentary on the effects of TV on culture and allows Wallace again to riff on sincerity and self-awareness.   Here, however, DFW provides fresh insight on topics that he consistently treads.   It appears that genuine expression is possible in a world dominated by TV, and that there may exist such a thing as too much self-awareness.  

His characterization of ‘Late Night’ is especially notable in that it goes to great lengths to establish Letterman as the opposite of true expression, true human emotion.   He is said to be “in on the joke,” and has even attached labels to parts of his body and surroundings, just to remind the audience how self-aware and clever the show is.   At one point Ron says, “Forget all the rules you’ve ever learned about appearing on talk shows.   This kid’s turned it inside out.   Those rules of television humor are what he makes the most fun of…. He’s making money ridiculing the exact things that have put him in a position to make money ridiculing things” (188).   Letterman, because of this, strikes fear into the hearts of the old veteran TV execs Rudy and Ron, and the two of them spend days preparing Edilyn for her segment and fearing the worst.   They work with her on not being sincere, as they call sincerity “the cardinal sin on ‘Late Night.’   That’s the Adidas heel of every guest he mangles” (182).     It’s this idea of sincerity in pop culture that DFW highlights and suggests may be possible, though Rudy and Ron throw it out the window.

Thing is, Rudy and Ron base their advice on the old rules of TV, where nothing can be sincere, whether it’s self-aware or not.   Edilyn admits to Rudy that she was in fact sincere with Letterman, saying, “I wasn’t acting with David Letterman…. It was more you and Ron that I had to handle…. And [says to herself] I’ll say that I felt something dark in my heart when my husband almost nudged me there.   I felt that it was a sorry business when my own spouse couldn’t tell I was being serious” (199).   Rudy thinks that he’s in on the same joke as Letterman, but it seems that Edilyn has formed a different concept not only of sincerity but also of its expression.   Rudy and Ron are trying to groom what they call an ‘anti-guest’ on an ‘anti-show,’ but Edilyn ultimately rejects that level of self-awareness and just answers Letterman sincerely.   She leaves satisfied with her experience, and believes that Letterman is as well, a notion that leaves Rudy skeptical.   Edilyn, though, is convinced enough that speaking her mind (201) is the right choice in the face of TV and pop culture, that she may have hurt or even ended her relationship with Rudy.   In trying to be too self-aware, people may lose some concept of sincerity, which is certainly essential to basic human connection.   Can you be too self-aware?      


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