Friday, March 11, 2005

Instant intimacy

Popular entertainment tends to reinforce a notion that emotional states are easily accessible, identifiable, and instrumentally manipulated. A film's score swells and the camera pulls in for a close up and we start to feel our eyes well, as though a switch was thrown in our tear ducts. We hear the music of confessional singer songwriters and revel in their authenticity (or blush at their shamelessness). We watch crime drama and we have an immediate sense of who we're supposed to think is guilty, and a sense of who probably will be. We watch The Real World and the way the show is edited with its musical cues and so forth lead us to believe we can instantaneously judge what's going on in these people's heads (aside from "not much"). In short, our entertainment prepares us to expect emotional immediacy, and then reasonable accuracy in our snap judgments of how people feel. It trains us to read others in specific ways, to attend to certain sorts of cues. It leads us to expect an astounding level of intimacy to be instantaneous.

In this, entertainment is doing its part to accomodate pressures brought on by the time squeeze everyone feels under capitalism, the sort of thing Juliet Schor describes in The Overworked American. The time squeeze is exacerbated by the elevation of convenience and of mass-quantity consumption as values in their own right. We don't have the time to respect the complexity of other people's feelings, or even our own. We are acclimated to immediate legible emotions that can be processed the way Monsanto processes chicken feed. Identity itself becomes based on convenience, on the most expediant stories we can tell to ourselves about ourselves. This makes conformity has a high value, because it is by far the most convenient identity, with all its nuances pre-packaged.

The definition of intimacy changes in response to its immediacy. It is no longer a matter of deep understanding but a matter of quick pigeon-holing. It becomes a management process where by another's feelings are dealt with, expedited, pumped through a system, spent like petty cash. A natural love for convenience, above and beyond that which is motivated by natural human laziness, engrains itself deep in our character. Our most intimate relationships become ideally the ones that cause us the least trouble, which makes the ones we really have perpetually frustrate us. And that frustration only reinforces our fantasies of simplicity, of emotional processing that is much more efficient.

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