The photo looked too canny not to be staged, though by all accounts it was genuine: Mick Jagger, rock ‘n’ roll titan, sipping a beer in a tiny North Carolina bar unnoticed by anyone around him.
The 78-year-old vocalist for the Rolling Stones looks directly at the camera, bottle of beer to his lips, in an ordinary jacket and hat, a healthy-looking senior citizen out for a quiet drink.
Nearly everyone in the picture is turned away, backs to the camera, absorbed in their own conversations, creating an anti-halo about him. He is Inconspicuous Mick, one of the most widely recognized rock stars, here costumed as a non-celebrity.
The rocker published the photo on Twitter, where it caught sufficient attention that journalists who write about social media trends assembled stories about it, padded with embedded tweets commenting about this amusing moment.
Now I’m writing about it, too, enjoying how the photo reminds me vaguely of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” that famous 1942 painting looking through the window of some downtown diner late at night. Mick could almost be there, staring back at us from the canvas. (Someone will photoshop that soon enough.)
It is also because those stories generally did not explore how it is that Jagger would be unrecognizable when, to the rest of us, his face looks so familiar. A simple answer is: They didn’t see him because, for them, he wasn’t there.
It is not hard to disappear in a crowd when one understands how little people see.
A brief moment of regional fame as a young actor back east taught me to value invisibility. In a beautiful play by Bridget Carpenter (then a young playwright fresh from Brown), I portrayed an aging Labrador retriever who narrated the story of an elderly woman living alone with her dog (me). There was no silly dog costume, as it was a story about their friendship, yet I spent most of my stage time just being a dog.
The performance earned critical acclaim, prominent photos in newspapers, TV interviews, standing ovations and such, which I suspected was due to my reincarnating dogs spectators had loved and lost.
People waiting at the stage door, asking me to sign things, weeping over puppies from their childhood, asking for social interaction or even a romp in my bed, was unsettling, yet I quickly found that if I wore a baseball cap and eyeglasses, following other actors as we left, the crowd frequently mistook another actor for me and surrounded him while I slipped away to a nearby bar. This disappearing act became a recurring game.
“Vanishes” are among the first tricks magicians will teach you, if they are willing to teach you anything. The one who taught me began with an apology for what I was soon to learn. Indeed, it was disconcerting to absorb how much people ignore and how easily — because of our perceptual process, how selective and distorted it can be — our attention can be led.
By posting his picture, Jagger slyly shared his own vanishing act with millions of us, his invisibility made prominent. It was cute.
How could those people not have seen him? Well, they appear to have been immersed in one another, which is encouraging. Maybe they saw more than they missed. Maybe they weren’t missing anything at all.
The important lesson is not that a rock star might be hovering in your midst, but that someone in the vicinity may be hungry for contact; and that person, hidden in plain view, might even be you.
Here is a secret of magic: Invisibility is in the eye of the beholder.
This article is written by Algernon D’Ammassa from the Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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