Voyeurism & Exhibitionism

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Voyeurism & Exhibitionism

Post  VicarJoe on Mon Jun 15, 2009 3:14 pm

Ha, that got your attention!

Anyway, I just wanted to jot down a few notes about an experience I had yesterday and relate it to some other topics we've discussed.

I was sitting in the car, flipping through the radio pre-sets, and I hit NPR, where it was Ira Glass' show This American Life. It was a special father's day edition (a week early), and of course all the fathers were dysfunctional, as one would expect. God forbid any normal, happy parent-child relationship be celebrated. But that wasn't what got under my skin.

What bothered me about the one story I happened upon was that this man, in his fifties, was receiving the DNA results that would confirm whether or not the man who had raised him as his father was really his father. And as he narrated his feelings, you could hear the fear in his voice, and you could hear the tearing open of the envelope, and you could hear this huge sigh, and then he read out that the man he thought was his father was statistically eliminated from the possibility of being his biological father. So the man he'd always called dad, who'd died two decades before, was not in fact his biological father, and he stumbled about on tape talking about all the feelings that were rushing through him--from abandonment to relief to a sense of I-told-you-so to sadness. It didn't seem to be an interview: it had the feel of someone alone in a room going through a deeply emotional experience but recording it all on tape to be played back to a national radio audience.

So here's what my reaction was. I felt icky for listening--like it was voyeurism. I had no business knowing this family's secrets, and I didn't even know this man. I felt like there wasn't a whole lot of difference between this celebrated and cerebral NPR show and Maury Povich's shock tv show. I wondered how people could sneer at Springer and then sit voyeuristically through this kind of confessional monologue on NPR, as if it were so different. How is Ira Glass any different than reality TV? And I thought of this huge new sub-section of publishing now, the memoir. It seems like more writers make it big these days by telling their family's secrets than by inventing a plot and fictional characters. And the stories are always about dysfunction and drug use and incest and on and on.

So at first I'm sickened by how voyeuristic we're becoming as a society. And then I'm abashed by how exhibitionistic we are. How family secrets are for sale. How every last feeling gets blogged or twittered. How the most emotional moments in life are recorded for broadcast.

And I wondered too what it would mean to be so alone that you would open the envelope on your paternity with no loved ones in the room, while at the same time you record the event so that a million total strangers can pry into your life.

The whole thing made me wonder what's happening with our culture.

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I've been thinking that for awhile...

Post  stihl on Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:36 am

...it seems that is basis for most of the reality shows, to peek in on people at their most vunerable moments. I am not sure why folks are driven to watch this stuff. Is it the titilation of the vouyeristic nature of such programing or, is it becauses it gives us that it gives us that "moment of pride", when we can look down on somebody and feel superior.

The radio piece you are talking about, the man probably was not paid. Unless they provided the free testing. The thing that struck me is, in such moments of our lives when we are punched in the proverbial crotch, the flood of emotions don't really reflect the depth of the experience. How useful is that for otheres to see? What would really be significant is to interview the man after he gets control of himself and has time to think about it.

I am not a stoic but, I think it is important to recognize emotions for what they are and honor them in their appropriate place and, not to put them above that place. We have become emotional junkies looking for the next cheap thrill.

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I posted a long response to this yesterday

Post  cradlerc on Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:46 am

and then something bad happened in the transmission, and I was too disheartened to write it again,

But basically, my thoughts are along these lines:

1. The difference between Ira Glass' show and Springer has more to do with style than substance. It's like the difference between buying your sweatshop clothes at K-Mart of Nordstroms.

2. Yes, we do have this voyeuristic/exhibitionist streak,

3. BUT, I think we can correlate it to our lack of community, as well. Joe mentioned the facebooking, twittering, blogging, phenomenon, and I know that for me, facebook provides a way to know what's going on in a daily way with freinds whom I love but who are scattered all over the country. It provides a casualness that's closer to real daily interaction. And blogging--there are some blogs that I love, and again, for me, it's the community aspect. In spite of the fact that my kids attend Catholic school, I know very few adults who share my same interest in Catholicism and are interested in the same questions about to live out my vocation as a mother. At least, we don't ever have time to talk about it. But the Catholic-mommy-bloggers offer great insights and resources. They aren't friends, but they offer another kind of community that in other times was probably more immediately available.

Having said that last point, I have some other things to say about Catholic-mommy-blogging, but I'll save them for another thread.

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