Chip owns Venice Beach. The Netflix original series Flaked follows Chip (Will Arnett) as he bikes through the streets of the Los Angeles enclave. The series favors street-level shots of storefronts, which never pull back to offer a wider perspective. Flaked is relentlessly told from up close, with Venice Beach as one of the main characters. It’s a modern-day fable, one that centers on a carefully formulated persona, even as it warns of the absurdity of trying to create and maintain false identities.
Chip has constructed a pretty good identity for himself—a gritty but relatable image. He’s the unofficial “mayor” of Venice. He drinks his free coffee as he gathers people in his shop, where he sells honorable mention-winning stools that he designed by stripping them down to the essentials. (Chip’s skill as a designer and carpenter mirrors his skill at crafting his image.) He presides over AA meetings where retells the story that has given him so much credibility in Venice’s eccentric community of broken people working toward redemption: some 10 years ago, Chip killed a young man while driving drunk. That’s how he came to Venice—“by accident,” or, as he corrects himself, “because of an accident.” That’s why he rides his bike everywhere. (“The state of California no longer thinks it’s a good idea for me to drive,” he explains.) And that’s also why people look up to him, as a changed man trying to help others and make up for a past he can’t quite escape.
But as we gradually learn over the course of the series, there may be more to Chip’s story. It turns out that Chip is not quite the sinner he claims he was, nor the saint he's pretending to be. He is constantly scheming to try to stay in control of the shifting circumstances around him, afraid someone will get close to the truth. And this has distorted him. At one point, Chip’s friend Dennis (David Sullivan) says, “I can’t even tell when you’re lying anymore. And I don’t think you can either.”
Chip reveals the universal human tendency to try to control how others see us. We all constantly engage in image management, presenting only the best aspects of our lives. Our carefully curated social-media profiles present collections of charming stories and airbrushed memories. We plaster this pleasant collage over the mundane details of everyday life. And the moments of true pain and poor choices remain conspicuously absent or safely in the past. We, like Chip, may even start to believe that we are the people we project. And we’ll fight and scheme with all our might to keep the dirt swept under the rug and the skeletons locked in the closet.
Ever since the Fall, we’ve hidden from each other and from ourselves. But all this image management and identity construction are exhausting. Lying on a bed in a mattress store, utterly spent and at the end of himself, Chip gives us the fable’s moral: “We’ve got to stop lying to each other.”
In Colossians, Paul extends the same challenge to us: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
To those exhausted by our attempts to construct identity and maintain our image, Jesus invites us to rest. To put on the new self he offers us, letting go of this constant need to hide behind the whitewashed walls of our managed lives. Come to me, he invites. Let go of your carefully constructed facade and receive your identity as a beloved child of God. Stop trying to manage how others see you and accept the gift of being made and redeemed in my image.
Echoing Jesus in John 8, Dennis advises Chip, “Just tell the truth. It will set you free.” It’s unclear whether Chip can do this. Can we?