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The Talented Mr Poe: The Truth behind the Lies

 article about The Talented Mr Poe: The Truth behind the Lies
2012-08-22 01:42:11
On Monday the 5th June during an audition for the latest installment of NBC's reality TV series 'America's Got Talent', aspiring 35 year old country singer/guitarist Timothy Michael Poe lied to the nation about various details of his life, including his war injuries, in an attempt to endear himself with the judges and the viewing public. Days later, as the truth about his military background emerged, Poe maintained that he hadn't lied about his past, but there were considerable inconsistencies in his story, and he was unable to back up his claims with proof. The recent online public reaction to the revelations about Poe's lies has mainly been one of shock and disgust. The common catch cry was: "He's a disgrace!" But there have also been responses of a more sympathetic nature; namely, expressing the need for Poe to seek psychiatric help. It is this more considered response to Poe that I feel we should adopt.

What drove Poe to choose to lie about himself? There is no doubt that he is a top quality performer who could have made it all the way on the show. Looking back at previous installments of AGT and shows of its type, it becomes quite clear that a contestant's chances of success are greatly enhanced if they have overcome some type of personal misfortune – i.e. they have a truly heartrending story to tell. An awareness of this must surely have been prominent in Poe's decision to conjure up his web of lies. From my perspective it seems that the age-old lure of fame proved too great for Poe to resist.

We need to drill down a little deeper into this 'lure of fame' motivation. During a Q&A session about his book 'Look at Me!: The Fame Motive from Childhood to Death' (The University of Michigan Press, 2009.) Orville Gilbert Brim, a highly respected scholar in the fields of child and human development, had this to say when asked: 'Why do people want to be famous?':-

'These millions of people who are so strongly motivated for fame are obviously different from the rest of the population. And what has happened is the fame motive has come out of the basic human need for acceptance and approval and when this need is not fulfilled because of rejection by parents, or adolescent peer groups, or others, a basic insecurity develops and emerges as the fame motive. Well, it turns out that fame is not the answer for the need for love and acceptance. The desire is never fulfilled. The search for fame remains, driven by that basic need.'

To lie as boldly as he did in front of a national television audience certainly indicates to me that Poe's motivation for fame is a strong one indeed. It is therefore highly likely that Poe did suffer from an acute lack of acceptance and approval during his teenage years. Powerful deep-seated insecurities arising from such experiences early in life are bound to drive humans to behave irrationally or in ways that we would consider non-ideal, but that does not mean that people such as Poe are unable to be rehabilitated. I think that through a deeper understanding of this particular psychological state we can be more empathetic and better able to tailor systems to help such people.

An interesting essay about the human condition titled 'Why Do People Lie' supports this idea stating 'we simply will not accept that we are a fundamentally bad, worthless species…', the inference being – therefore I will do anything, including lie, to make myself feel good, and prove that I am worthwhile and fundamentally good.

It must be tricky for the talented youth of our nation today who are just starting out on their chosen career path and are grappling with this fame motive, particularly if they don't have role models in their life that can help guide them. If there is one quote that I feel best sums up the true nature of fame, and its relationship with success, it would have to be this one from our own poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: 'The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do without thought of fame. If it comes at all it will come because it is deserved, not because it is sought after.'

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