Sartre/Timberlake: An Existentialist Dialogue

Jean-Paul and Justin lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, worn out by their hours of passionate lovemaking. Jean-Paul sucked away at his cigarette, which Justin figured he should find symbolic of something but he wasn’t quite sure what. Fidgeting uncomfortably, Justin contemplated the prospect of returning to the daily grind in the morning, awakening to a busy schedule of media appearances, wardrobe and makeup for a talk show, conference calls with his record company, and, in the evening, a sold-out pavillion show in front of thousands of screaming fans. He sighed angstily.

“What’s wrong, cheri?” asked Jean-Paul.

“Is this the real me?” asked Justin in turn. “When I go out there every day and put on this performance of a pop star, is that me walking around, or is it some fake version of me?”

“Well of course it is you, silly. Your existence precedes your essence. You are what you make of yourself.”

“But I don’t make myself, Jean-Paul! Every day, the record company, my publicists, music journalists, must be hundreds of people, every day those people are shaping my identity in countless ways. Hell, they’re all making money off of what is supposed to be my identity, all except those weird fan fiction writers. I’m not in here, Jean-Paul, I’m out there.”

“Mais non, mon ami. Do not succumb to the alienation. Other minds, they try to rob you of yourself. But remember that you are merely the basis for this image that your fanatics buy and that the capitalists sell, and pay you handsomely for. It is not your authentic self that they buy and sell.”

“Do I even have an authentic self, Jean-Paul? Those postmodernists you get so grouchy about, they don’t seem to hold much truck with authenticity. I have a better case than anyone else for being a culturally constructed bundle of interpretations, an unfixed text.”

“Who puts these ideas in your head, Justin? The authentic self, that is not for anybody else to decide. It comes from your own commitment to yourself, to live with integrity, to resolutely become what you are. By commiting yourself to your role as a celebrity, as an icon, you take away the power of the capitalists and the fans to alienate you from yourself.”

“But how can I really be myself when all these other people are marketing an image of myself that I have no control over to the whole world?”

“That is bad faith, mon cheri, bad faith! Of course you cannot control what it is that people see. But if you live authentically, it has no effect on what you are—for there is no essence that is you! The real you cannot be found by removing the media coccoon that seems to surround you. Underneath all that, there is nothing!”

“But don’t I underlie all those products I’m attached to? Doesn’t the power of each and every Justin Timberlake lunchbox arise from the idea that someday maybe the teenage girl carrying that lunchbox could attain access to the real me? Are all these fans really barking up the wrong tree, looking for me under all of that?”

“My dear Justin, what they seek is not you! They seek themselves! These writers of the fanatic fiction, how could they really want to get to know you better by making up stories where they fuck you or where your foolish bandmates fuck you? They seek always their own identities. Perhaps they are on their way to their own authentic selves, perhaps they are merely seeking excuses for the way they are. But you, Justin, you must find your own self for yourself, and if what you really want is to throw yourself into this celebrity life every morning, then that is what you are. Your anxiety is misplaced.”

“Jean-Paul, you always know how to make me feel better.”

Then they had wild monkey sex until dawn.