Monday, July 13, 2009

Shame without Shame

 Nine out of ten frontier psychiatrists agree, the internet is only 1/4 real.  The parts that swirl around money, crime, and politics are the only places that have a true and calculated effect on the tangible world.  The rest is all intangible newness, a pillar of smoke doing impressions of Ricky Ricardo through Charles Taylor on its way to becoming solid.

The intangible pieces of the internet seem hinged on fulfillment of desires.  A better source for design inspiration, an endless tunnel of porn, a place to shout, a place to snark, a better way to stay in touch with family and friends. A portion of this intangibleness is hinged on the way the media used to interact with us.  

Censorship created a nest of odd desires. The arbitrary shape of certain slices and standards works like an inverted Tourrettes and manufactured some odd desires. The holy grail of a nipple, the strange cloisters of sexual performance.  The choreography of violence. The absence of true feelings and in all the total dismissal of difference and the assumption of agreement and conformity.  These absences provide for what I'll call the Chandler effect.

Chandler from Friends always seemed to be pulled through some abject horror.  His tone was acerbic and sarcastic, but the content of that tone was always bland, petty observations and his life was more or less fine. Yet the horror in his tone rang true.  As a viewer of late- 90's-00's sitcoms, one had already wandered through an odd conceptual landscape, the already buggered notion that every idea has already been done (don't get me started on the splatterhouse of Jerry Seinfeld's voice).  I like to think that Chandler, instead of simply replying to Phoebe's latest confession of anodyne quirkiness,  was in fact reacting to what wasn't there, what would show up a half-hour later on the evening news, what everyone else in the world seemed to be watching.  

The viewer fills in logical gaps.  Without thinking about it.  The characters on TV lead torturously abrogated lives.  Our brains fill in everything unseen and the unspoken.  In such a way TV interacts with our sense of normalcy, decency and perversity at the same time.  Depending on how willing we were to make the leaps in judgment that would allow us to believe that people act the way Chandler acted whenever he walked into a room, TV was interactive.  The interactivity was just subliminal.

The interactivity of the internet historically fulfilled the need for army bases to talk to one another should a thermonuclear attack wipe out phone and telegraph lines. But the mass appeal for the internet's interactivity is the direct result of that mute, one-sided TV interaction. The subliminal unsprung, the viewer unbound.  In the unconscious catch-all of American TV, the desire for normalcy was the viewer's true object.  Every show designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, watched by millions and always pregnant with the notion that this was what everyone was watching.  And with family oriented programming, those among us with working imaginations, libidos, etc managed to back fill each antiseptic set with the nesting oddities of our unconscious drives. See the early years of South Park for the overture to the unhinging. Conversely, if the networks had decided to program porn, non-stop everyday, perhaps we would back fill the stories with our own impressions innocence, bathos and sentiment and feel flayed all the same.  Either way TV's basis of interaction produced a demiconsciousness that relied on the viewer's subliminal mind.  

Racing to the ever more liminal, our lives have come to include the unconscious of the collective to an unprecedented degree.  The internet today presents itself as an ad hoc system where individuals have the same thrall and power as multi-national corporations and governments. I wish to speak of systematic tendencies and not of scary end game prophecies (though I'm aware the template for non-affiliated internet essays is the conspiracy theory and so proceed with that baggage in hand).  There is a gigantic negotiation underway in the growing communities, one might hear the murmurs of Babel, one might see the outset of a multi-lingual means of communication.  As a friend pointed out to me recently, the use of extreme videos online is a means of communicating without words.  It is a way of effecting dialogue in an equalizing manner for those who do not come from English speaking countries.  It is also a way of bringing about quorum, if we can agree upon the extremes we can then move closer in.  

The internet as a system has potentially all other media as a reference point.  It is a place of rhetorical extremes, establishing a vocabulary based on new adjacencies. For the haves perhaps this could be called the creation of a flat language.   It is a vocabulary of search and discovery, skewed by the high prevalence and availability of material once defined as shocking or uncommon but that is now brought more and more into the semi-public discourse of online life.

We entertain ourselves now by questioning social mores with more and more of an acerbic and sarcastic tone.  We are Chandlers racing towards our epiphanic moment.  When this phase of the internet stalls and takes a final shape, when that last grandma watches Two Girls One Cup, and the rest of us grow bored with everyone else's sexual and social strangeness (i.e. when the next great platform arises and we forget or are distracted from this vein of thought) we will be left with a de facto system of American ethics.  Shame without shame because nothing is ever quite real until it is.    

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