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Friday, June 1, 2007

Invasion of the body snatchers…

In the first decades of my lifespan people listened to the wireless and went to films. Also, they read books. Certainly they gazed at art. And then they became enraptured by the early days of television. Even at that point it didn’t change much. What? Oh, sorry! The distance. The distance was that palpable membrane which separated people from what they viewed, read or heard.

It seems, in retrospect, as though it was a solid, reassuring distance. They, the media people, knew what they were doing. We, the audience knew what was required of us. Even when we edged, a little shame-facedly, across the gap by reading articles in the Radio Times, weekly comics like Radio Fun and Film Fun and those Christmas-time film annuals, hoping to discover what went on over there, in their exotic land, we realised absolutely the difference between our own world and theirs.

We did, of course, identify, fixate, romanticise, swoon, obsess. But it didn’t feel unhealthy because we knew each emotion for what it was and the objects of our desire were unattainable. It all had a sort of gentle, self-inflicted irony.

Now, with virtual communities like Second Life developing all over the Internet, so many people become involved in huge, interactive fantasy worlds. Their daydreaming is not the wistful momentary passing of self-aware hallucination but contains passages of time when illusion matters more and appears more real than their physical every day universe. It takes precedence.

This month, an every day, pretty, female US pole vaulter has been transmogrified by hungry web users into a sex object, her image repeated endlessly and comments added from the laconic to the lewdly distasteful. Like the mythical native Indian who felt his soul had been taken by the camera when he saw his photograph, her sense of self is daily being wrenched from her, as the virtual wolves tear at her relatively innocent being and reconstruct her how they will.

In other words, the membrane between audiences and their media is hardly there at all. They intermingle. Big Brother, talk shows and the rest of the unnerving and deeply unsatisfactory business of ‘reality media’ is eroding the very edges of people’s being. These edges are the bits we have to fight for because they tell us where we stop and others begin. And, if people don’t maintain their boundaries and their roles, then, as our mothers always told us; “It will all end in tears”. And it does. Lose your sense of being in the here and now and you live only in la la land.

On the other side of the disappearing membrane are barely controlled, foraging alter egos leaving their physical selves as vaguely shaped personalities that can exist in anything from a blank torpor through to carrying guns and knives on the streets.

Give us our bodies back!


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