Sunday, November 13, 2022

Self-branding: Noblesse Difficile as an example

The poster above appeared in 2008 for a woman posting her candidacy for the Beirut municipality as an independent. Her name is "Nabila Mohammad Saab" Fathallah (Fathallah being her married name). Her main slogan (in French mind you) was "noblesse difficile" - how come? Well "nabila" is "noble" and "saab" is "difficult" as a direct translation. Put 2 and 2 together or name/surname together and what do you get? "difficult nobility" or "noblesse difficile". Underneath there were plenty of hearts printed on pink papers.

"Faith in God and the country (heart) education and culture (heart) Love and affection 

A  complete building = man + woman"

The image above is obviously a composite from my archive. Actually I was so fascinated by this poster I tore it out and kept it. I always think of it as an intriguing relic. Both avant-garde and retro. Remember, in 2008 most politicians had transitioned to digital campaigning and images printed with large budgets and those who did not have budgets at least managed to get them designers (sometimes in the printing presses) to do layouts for their campaigns and all.

But Mrs Saab (Fathallah) put her passport photo all with shiny 80s earrings and a floral dress (florals for elections? groundbreaking!) and obviously her own copy because I doubt anyone could have come up with something so kitsch (and anyone who knows me knows I love kitsch) which is so totally her but also so totally out of this world.

If I am writing this today it is because the issue of self-branding is so fascinating for me. Just look at linkedin, the major outlet for self-promotion. I have a hobby, every so often I go there, look at the profiles the system is suggesting for me and see how they "brand" themselves. What titles do they give themselves - rational, totally out there, ego-based? Possibilities are endless.

Of course, most of the time I am not exactly impressed. I myself say I am a "think tank and multimedia artist" which honestly, means anything and everything and tries to blend the wacky artistic experiments I do with the fact that I do research most of the day (not always being paid to do it - this blog is a major example).

Still, sometime in 2016 I went on a major "digital restructuring" operation. I was spread too thin in sub-brands (my publishing arm had a name, the blog had a different name, my films had a further different nom de plume (or nom de director) and so on...). I simply tried to shed all these entities to agglomerate them  under the umbrella of - what else? - "Tarek Chemaly".

I know it seems obvious, but trust me for a long time it was not. Call it convoluted circumstances. But still, now that it is done, it makes - ahem - sense. Now before anyone starts assuming things - no, the "Tarek Chemaly" is not, Tarek Chemaly. And before anyone starts thinking I am talking philosophy - you know the eternal French conundrum of "l'etre et le paraitre" (the difference between what is, and what is seen) - I mean the "brand" is not the man behind it.

I let you see what I want you to see, and - again believe it or not - people think that what I am allowing them to see is what is actually behind the image. Of course, we all do that as humans. Project and imago which is not the person. But to many, image and person are one and the same with little distinction. In my case, it is a little bit more complicated. 

But this does not mean I am "lying" or "misleading". I simply divide myself upon my audiences. Very few people get to see certain aspects of me. Lately however, a student of mine who came back from France told me "you scared me the first day I saw you. When all of us were trying to hide behind masks, there you were, parading yourself unafraid of who you were". Does this mean I told her my utmost secrets and showed her sides of me only very close people know? No. But it also means I was not trying to be someone I was not or projecting the image of someone who is not "me" (or the "me" I wanted to project to students).

Well, there are numerous books, treatises and articles written on self-branding. This one does not pretend to solve the riddle. But to me "noblesse difficile" will always remain that fascinating exhibit. A testimony of someone who knew who they were and what they wanted to portray and how to portray that. And in itself, this is self-branding.