Secret identity

From Academic Kids

A secret identity is the practice of hiding a person's identity so the actual identity of the person is not known or suspected.

Legal uses of secret identity include people placed under witness protection programs to protect witnesses in criminal trials from retaliation from the criminal organizations they inform against. Law enforcement and intelligence agents often use secret identities in undercover operations in order to infiltrate criminal or foreign organizations for the purposes of investigations. Entertainers like professional wrestlers sometimes hide their identities beyond simple stage names in order create an appealing mystique for the audience.

Writers also often use pseudonyms in order to hide their identity. In some cases, such as with James Tiptree, Jr, the writer will use a pseudonym because the image required by the genre does not match the writer's actual identity. In the case of Richard Bachman, Stephen King wanted to know whether his writing as an "unknown" writer would get as much interest as his non-pseudonym work. Finally, a writer who produces several independent series of works featuring different recurring characters (such as John Creasey) or who writes in different genres or styles (such as Nora Roberts) may use different names for each one.

In politics, the assumption of a secret identity is sometimes used to avoid adverse political consequences of an identity being publicized. Famous secret identities in politics include Deep Throat, the initially unnamed source for Watergate information and X, who wrote a famous essay outlining the United States policy of containment.

On the Internet, an alias or nickname is often used for privacy and abbreviation. (See also Internet friendship and Sherry Turkle's academic work.)

Secret identities of real people include:

see also: pen names

Secret identities in fiction

In fiction, secret identities are typical elements of crimefighters, vigilantes and superheroes who hide their identities both to preserve a private life and protect their loved ones from retaliation from their enemies.

The genre with which secret identities are most associated is the American comic book. Superman is generally considered to be the first modern day superhero (while not quite the first costumed crimefighter) and his alter-ego, mild mannered reporter Clark Kent, helped popularize the secret identity throughout the medium, while sparking several trademark superhero clichés. These included the adoption of a timid persona for an everyday identity, wearing of the heroic costume beneath the character's everyday clothes, and the phrase "this looks like a job for..." when switching between identities.

As costumed crimefighters fell out of fashion in the years following World War II, comic book and pulp fiction writers increasingly relied on 'shock value' stories (most of which would be resolved as being mere daydreams or other such 'imaginary stories') to prop up flagging sales. One gimmick frequently employed was a cover or opening splash panel which promised the final exposing of a hero or heroine's secret identity. But by the time the comicbook entered its renaissance in the 1960's the secret identity was either used more intelligently (as with Spider-Man) or not used at all (as with the Fantastic Four). Recent times have continued this trend, with the secret identity no longer having the same level of prominence nor function as in the early days of the superhero genre.

The artistic purpose of the secret identity on the part of the writers is that it allows the characters to have ordinary lives which can allow for human drama as well as create tension with the effort needed to preserve the secret. This can include challenges such as throwing off the suspicions of associates who suspect and the need to quickly improvise means to get out of sight to change identities. It has also been argued that some superhuman characters benefit from an 'everyman' aspect to their makeup, giving them a link to their audience. A prime example being early comic book superhero Captain Marvel, who's secret identity was a mere schoolboy named Billy Batson - a deliberate attempt to play on the daydreams of a young readership. (The same could be said for Peter Parker, Spider-Man's luckless teenage alter-ego.)

A costumed crimefighter might refer to their alternate identity as a "nom de guerre" (a literal usage of a French term for a pen name), and more than one supervillain has been punnishly referred to as having a "nom du crime".

The secret identities can be multi-layered; for example, Superman, The Shadow and Moon Knight all have real names, adopted identities and crimefighting codenames. Sometimes the distinction as to which identity is the "real" one is blurred; it has been said that Clark Kent pretends to be Superman, while Batman pretends to be Bruce Wayne rather than vice versa.

Famous fictional characters with secret identities include:

Sometimes, secret identities are used as a plot device, in order to introduce an identity crisis for dramatic reasons. A very famous example of this is in the Star Wars films, where Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker adopts the persona of Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, after falling to the dark side of the Force. Vader is introduced in Episode IV, A New Hope, as a cruel and merciless villain; however, during the climactic duel between Luke and Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, Vader reveals to Luke that he is Luke's father. Another secret identity in Star Wars is that of Palpatine, who is also Darth Sidious, the Sith Lord behind the Confederacy of Independent Systems, which under Sidious's encouragement begins a war with the Republic in an ultimately successful plot to make Palpatine the Emperor of the galaxy.


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