More thoughts on the problems of imitation: the ‘imitation suffocation’, ‘out-imitation’, and being genuine

Here’s a thought I had:

Recently, I have spoken a lot about what I call ‘imitation suffocation’.  This comes as a result of observing the prevalence of imitation, nowadays, and its effects.  I often speak of these times as the ‘era of imitation’ as a result.

Imitation has become so prevalent that it is causing, in my opinion, some problems for people.  I often speak of these problems as the ‘imitation sickness’.  Primarily, this is a condition where a person imitates so well that they are literally deceived in who they are and what they can do.  In this way, it creates a great deception or illusion about themselves and the world.  In some cases, this can be so severe that they lose sense of who they are.  I’ve written of similar things in articles such asThoughts on the ‘era of imitation’ – the ‘learning deception’ and the ‘imitative culture’” and “Interpreting the ‘blind spot’: death, the self, the problem of imitation, and other things associated with it“.

‘Imitation suffocation’ is a condition where there is so much imitation that it literally suffocates or strangles anything “genuine” from appearing.  The main emphasis is on imitation and any “success” is determined by how well you can imitate.   Usually, for this to happen, the thing that is imitated must have some special “power” or “influence” which is why it is imitated.  As a result, in ‘imitation suffocation’ the thing that is imitated is actually sought for this “power” and “influence” not what is actually done.  Because of this, the thing imitated is degraded or devalued as it only becomes a means for “power” and “influence”, a stepping stone.  This degradation and devaluation tends to destroy the thing imitated . . . it becomes “suffocated”.  In this way, one can see that that the ‘imitation suffocation’ is primarily a manifestation of “power” and “influence”, the actual motive.  Despite this, a great show is often made about what is imitated and how well they can imitate.  This type of orientation creates a condition where imitation becomes a desirable trait.  In fact, it is often developed and practiced much like an art.  This society, in particular, is doing such a thing.  I often speak of a culture like this as the ‘imitative culture’.


Though I have recently defined ‘imitation suffocation’, closer reflection shows that I actually spoke of this in the late 1980’s, though I did not have a name for it.  Back then, it was only an observation.  If I recall right, it came about as a result of my observation of people in art.  While at Technical College I had a friend and relative taking art classes.  I, also, have been involved in art and, as a result, took a particularly strong interest in it.  Because of this, I noticed what was going on and watched people.

I’d often meet my friend in his art classes and saw a lot of what was going on with the other students.  It was while watching this that I noticed something interesting.  I often saw people who did art very well.  They could draw things but, I noticed, only in a certain way.  Typically, it reflected a certain specific style.  When they had to do an original work, though, they failed miserably.  Often, they’d resort to doing the style they are good at.  In other words, they learned how to draw in a certain style or way and that would be the basis of everything they did.  This style or way always had this uncanny “knack” at being the “accepted” way (which, of course, made everyone like it, especially the teacher).  Because it was “accepted” everyone tended to view it as “right” and thought they were great artists.  In short, their “imitation” of the “acceptable” way gave the illusion of ability.  They, as individual artists, weren’t very good.

As I watched this it became clear that much of art consisted of this form of “imitation”.  In other words, they weren’t really “genuine”.  The art looked “good” because it “imitated” the “accepted” style.  This tendency to imitation in art may be why art tends to be so much alike in certain areas and eras . . . a style is “accepted” and everyone imitates it making it all look alike. 

What this shows is that people have a knack at imitation and are skillful at it.  Some people, in fact, are exceptional at this ability.  But, as I said above, people who are skilled at imitation often fail miserably at doing anything “genuine”.  This tends to be overlooked as, being that they stayed within the “accepted” style, no one can see their inability to create a “genuine” work.  People only rave when things are done in the “accepted” way.

Many people, I noticed, seemed to have a drive to do the “accepted” styles, as if this was their only motive in art.  In fact, some people seem to think that this very drive is what made people “artists”, of doing things in the “accepted” way.  I disagreed with that.  I would be inclined to say that people who do that are “artists of style” where the style imitated is what’s important (which, really, is most of art).  But there’s another art form in which it is a genuine work of the artist not based in style or imitation.  We could call these people “artists of genuine form”.  Interestingly, “artists of genuine form” tend to not be viewed highly.  This is because their art is of a form that is not necessarily “accepted”.  In fact, it may be shunned, criticized, and condemned.  As a result of this condition, it causes a general tendency to discourage being genuine and to promote imitation in art.  In this way, it destroys a tendency in artists to seek being genuine.  In some respects, this is one of the great difficulties in art . . . of being genuine and, at the same time, being “accepted” for it.


Because some people are so good at imitation I began to speak of what I called ‘out-imitation‘.   Basically, in ‘out imitation’ a person learns to imitate so well that it appears “better” than the original.  That is, they “out-imitated” the original oftentimes making it seem to be even better.  Regardless of this, they often can not do anything that is really “genuine”.

Typically, people who do ‘out-imitation’ are seeking what is “accepted”.  In short, their intent is to be accepted, not to do things.  Because their intent is to do what is “accepted” they tend to focus on accepted qualities.  This usually becomes their mind-set.  This quality is as if added onto the original technique.  That is to say, ‘out imitation’ tends to take an original technique and add the addition of “more accepted” qualities.  This ends up making it more appealing which gives it the illusion of being “better”.  It also gives it a social power of acceptance.  Because of this, the “accepted” qualities make it a social matter and the gaining of social acceptance.  In this way, its like they “dress up” something that’s already there to make it look better in order to receive a social power.

Because its “more accepted”, and has social power, it tends to displace “genuineness”.  In so doing, social acceptance becomes more important than genuine technique, which it can displace, sometimes to the point of making it non-existent.  In this way, people who do genuine technique tend to be pushed aside, ignored, and even ridiculed.  This is one of the problems of ‘out imitation’, that it undermines genuine technique even to the point of destroying it . . . ‘imitation suffocation’.

So we see this pattern in ‘out imitation’:

  • A person see’s a technique they like.
  • They learn to imitate this technique.
  • They add “more accepted” qualities to it, which often makes it look better (but, hidden being “more accepted” is an inability to do anything “genuine”).
  • Because its “more accepted” there is a tendency for “genuine technique”, and the people who practice it, to become ‘pushed out’ and undermined.  The genuine has been suffocated.

In this way, ‘out imitation’ tends to destroy the thing that created it.

‘Out imitation’ is really an illusion.  In fact, it may very well be one of the great illusions of humanity, as its seen throughout human society.  Things are made out differently than they really are and do not appear as they really are.


These things reveal that there are actually many different ways of doing things, that is to say, there are different techniques in doing things.  A person doesn’t just “do things”.  How and why they do things is very critical.  We can say that there are actually three “techniques” in doing things:

  1. The “genuine technique”.  This is the technique a person develops on their own.  Because of this, it is usually unique and original.
  2. The “imitated technique”.  This is the imitation of “genuine technique” that, typically, another person has developed.
  3. The “more accepted technique”.  This is the addition of adding things that are “more accepted” to make it appear more appealing.  These additional qualities gives it greater “acceptance” and, accordingly, more social power and, oftentimes, it is this power that is sought.  This becomes ‘out imitation’.

The technique used, and the motive for using it, can have a great impact on its effect and its usefulness, such as:

  1. The “genuine technique” – This tends to reflect the person, deep down, but tends to have little impact socially and little social power.
  2. The “imitated technique” – This tends to make one conform and fit in to an already existing system, which can benefit a person.  It tends to not reflect the person deep down.
  3.  The “more accepted technique” – This tends to give a person more power in a system.  Typically, this dominates the motive for this technique.  As a result, it generally has no meaning, for the person, deep down.

What we see above is the importance of social influence and power.  It shows that a lot of how we do things has a basis in social influence and power.  Typically, if it does not give us some standing in society it is not done.  In other words, we tend to only use the technique that gives us some form of social standing.  This is not true with everyone.  A small proportion of the people will seek things that have meaning deep down . . . the genuine.  These people, though, are not that prevalent.  Because the genuine does not tend to give any social standing, people who seek the genuine tend to be “off to the side” of society and, sometimes, are shunned or do not fit into society.  This only shows the power of social standing in all this.


The question of imitation and ‘out-imitation’ bring up the question:

What is ‘genuine’?

I can imagine this can be debated until the end of time.  But, what it does, is bring up the issue of imitation versus genuine.

Several things, it seems to me, make something “genuine”:

  • Origin.  To me, “genuine” would be something “truly from ones deeper self”.  The more superficial it originates (such as in imitation, which does not come from deep within) the less “genuine” it is.  The deeper the more “genuine”.
  • Expression.  I would also think “genuine” means an “expression of ones self”.  The less it expresses the self the less “genuine” it is.
  • Unique.  Something “genuine” reflects “forms unique to ones self”.  Being unique, it cannot be imitation.  It also means that each person is different and that there really cannot be two exact forms, though there can certainly be similarities.

Imitation, of course, does not display these characteristics.  As a result, imitation creates a narrow, restricted, and limited situation.  Imitation, though, can give the illusion of these qualities, though, even to the point that the person believes that it reflects them and who they are.  My own personal observation has shown that many people think that they are “genuine” but are really only imitating.  Typically, they are imitating something that has social standing (which is why its viewed so importantly).  This fact reveals that there is a tendency to confuse social standing with the “genuine”. 

Imitation is a part of everyday life.  It gives qualities such as:

  • A direction, a beginning.  It gives a person a place to start.
  • A base, a framework, a support.  It gives example.
  • A consistency, a unity.  It makes things similar and manageable.

One could say that these are passive in orientation.  As a result, imitation is ‘limited’ because it is a “staying within bounds” and is based in established “accepted” forms.  Its like a “staying within the lines”.

The genuine, on the other hand, is active.  The genuine is a “doing”, which often entails “going beyond” established forms and “accepted” ways.  It entails experimenting with occasional failure.  Oftentimes, its not “accepted” at all.  Its like a “meandering around” which can be aimless at times.

In this way, we can see that imitation and the genuine are actually not diametrically opposed to each other, they are really opposites Typically, when things are opposites they compliment each other.  It is no different here . . . imitation and the genuine compliment each other.  Its because of this that there, really, needs to be a balancing of imitation and the genuine (see my article “Thoughts on my saying: “everything is a balancing act”“).  We need both imitation and the genuine in the right places and in the right way.  Too much of one or the other is not good.


Being genuine is very critical in the development of the self as only in being genuine do we find out who we are and become what we are.  In fact, one could say that the genuine is a discovery of who we are.  In this way, the genuine is critical for the development of our self.

Imitation hinders the development of the self if it is too excessive.  This is because it is opposite to the genuine and is its contrary.  Too much imitation destroys the genuine and, accordingly, undermines the self.

Imitation, though, is almost too easy.  Its much easier than the genuine.  Because of this, it tends to be preferred and focused upon, the path of least resistance.  In doing this, though, we tend to forget the genuine and do not develop it.  Its because of this that imitation so easily strangles the genuine.


Its becomes clear that imitation can became a skill.  Learning how to do things is really nothing but imitation (or, at least, it begins there).  Typically, learning is imitating the “genuine technique” someone else created.  In this way, we can gain the benefit of that technique.  But, in so doing, we are standing on their shoulders . . . it is not genuine.  Despite this, we often tend to take the “genuine technique” as “ours” and basically take the credit for what another person did.  In this way, a lot of skill is not, in actuality, “our” skill but another persons skill that we perform by imitation.

Because imitation can become a skill it often becomes a desirable ability.  It creates qualities such as:

  • A consistency, without variation
  • A successful technique that has been “tested” and “proven”

These traits are particularly desirable in the working world, hence showing that work promotes imitation as a desirable ability. 

Often, imitation becomes a base for one to develop a “genuine technique”.  It can put a person on the right path and direction.  It establishes a beginning for a person to add their genuine qualities.  My observation is that this is not as prevalent as it may seem.


The ‘imitation suffocation’ can cause a variety of problems which I call the ‘imitation sickness’.  These are things caused by too much imitation.  These problems include:

  • A lack of growth of self
  • A loss of a sense of self
  • An illusionary image of ones self
  • A confusion of self with others

In short, it tends to cause what can be called an alienation.

These problems, though, are often difficult to see.  This is because, as described above, most imitation is imitation of “accepted” things.  As a result, people are doing something that is “accepted” and, because of this, it is viewed as desirable.  This tends to give no hint of a problem.  In fact, in many cases, they are praised or looked at highly for doing it.  This condition creates something like a “mask” that covers these problems making them, oftentimes, appear nonexistent.  In this way, “the self disappears behind the accepted” . . . no problem is seen This is one reason why people who are doing the “right” or “accepted” things often have hidden conflicts and dilemma’s.


There are a number of situations where ‘imitation suffocation’ is prevalent, such as:

  1. A strong cultural tradition and ways.
  2. Schooling and education.
  3. Female life.

1. A strong cultural tradition and ways

A culture that is too strong, with defined tradition, ways, and beliefs can cause ‘imitation suffocation’.  This is because the lifestyle demands excessive imitation just to be a part of it.  They must think, act, do, feel, etc. a specific way in order to be a part of the culture.  In this way, the culture forces imitation to happen.

Imitation, of course, gives a unity in society.  In fact, it can define, delineate, and make a culture as an entity.  In this way, it can give security, identity, and purpose.  But, if this imitation is excessive, it can become strangulating and suffocating and undermining to people, even causing mental problems.  This is one of the reasons why some cultures can become “repressive” to people (such as we saw in Victorianism).

Imitation is what makes a specific people unique, a distinct people.  This, though, can even alienate them from other people.  Imitation can become so strong that it can become a wall between you and others.  This wall can become a means for many bad feelings too.  This, it seems to me, is what happened to many Jewish people (see my article “Some thoughts on the possible nature and origin of anti-Semitism???“).

Sometimes, imitation also makes people become “rigid” or “solidified” in their identity and unable to change.  In this way, they are unable to escape or get out of their cultural pattern, identity, and ways.  This, to me, seems to be one of the dilemmas we see with black people in the U.S.  They have so solidified themselves in the identity of being slaves that they see no other way of being (see my article “Some thoughts on the identity of black people: An example of identity misalignment???“).

2. Schooling and  education

Nowadays, schooling and education have become nothing but a form of imitation.  In fact, as a general rule, ones success in school is based in how well one can imitate whatever is needed in the class.  The better one imitates the better one will do.  As a result, schooling and education actually promote imitation as a necessity.

Nowadays, kids spends hundreds of hours in the attitude of imitation as a result of school.  An effect of this is that it creates imitation as an attitude of life.  This attitude can become so rooted in a person that they will not overcome it.  Their life will be an endless act of imitation.  Because of this, they never become genuine and, accordingly, never know who they are.  In this way, one can see that schooling can be damaging to a person (see my article “Thoughts on the ‘squashed mind’ – the impairing effects of formal education“).

3. Female life

Imitation is a part of the female character and is a naturally appearing phenomena.  In fact, one could say that a lot of female life is nothing but imitation in one form or another.  Its so prevalent that I often speak of the female as the “great imitator”.  In fact, I’ve often said that “females imitate so much that I cannot tell if they are being genuine or not”.

Typically, the female imitates other people in some way or another.  This includes things like trends, clothes, attitudes, mannerisms, beliefs, etc.  Some females are so imitative that they will change whenever the person they are imitating does . . . and without knowing it.  This impulse is so strong that they will literally lose their self in the other person.  This excessive tendency to imitation of other people I often describe it as the ‘blurring tendency’.  When it creates problems I speak of it as the ‘blurring sickness’.  I’ve written of things related to this my article “Thoughts on the ‘failed sex’ – how many female traits have failed – a hidden crisis of the American female“.  In actuality, the ‘blurring sickness’ is a form of ‘imitation suffocation’.

Many females will have problems with their self because of excessive imitation.  For some females, this will be a lifelong battle that never ends.  Because imitation is part of the female character females tend to be prone to this dilemma.  This is what I call the ‘self dilemma’.


Imitation is a part of life but too much imitation can be harmful and work against us.  In fact, if it is excessive it can undermine our self.  Its for this reason that we should avoid too much imitation and seek to be genuine. 


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Education, learning, and over education, Imitation, imitative illnesses, and such, Male and female, Modern life and society, Psychology and psychoanalysis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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