They say – and this is a case where I think they may be right – that one of the worst things about pornography is that it reduces men and women to dissociated body parts (or functions) rather than full-fledged human beings.
I’m here to suggest that this manner of viewing reality is not limited to porn, but bleeds through into every sort of relationship and experience.
It’s obvious how this works when you’re looking at pictures or films in hopes of becoming sexually stimulated: there are certain things you want to see and certain things you want to see being done with them. Whether they’re attached to or being wielded by a good person or a bad person, someone who loves children and puppy dogs or routinely beats them with wire hangers, is not likely to enter your mind, let alone influence whether or not you like what you’re seeing.
Sadly, this proclivity for viewing people as fragments or representations instead of whole beings is not limited to porn stars; I don’t think it’s unduly cynical to observe that relationships, even marriages are often entered into based on fetishistic attachments to, for example, a certain “look” or manner of speaking. Sometimes it takes as little as the “right” pair of glasses or an affinity for the same brand of whiskey to set hearts fluttering and obscure what should be the obvious fact that the object of one’s affection is a pathological liar or a genocidal maniac.
Surely I overstate my case? Perhaps, but not by much. To paraphrase old whatsisname, a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest. And this may be even truer of women, especially those who continually enter into partnerships with neanderthals on the assumption that the power of “love” will magically melt away minor character defects like wife-beating, drug addiction, or serial polygamy.
Of course I don’t exempt myself from this assessment; in fact, I wonder if any of us, no matter how highly evolved, will ever acquire the ability to fully perceive another human being from the inside out. Hell, it’s doubtful whether we can manage that feat with respect to ourselves.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try; most if not all misunderstandings and misery occasioned by human interaction tend to arise out of people not behaving in the way we expected they would or thought they should. And I become ever more convinced that this is because when we focus only on the particular aspects that we find interesting or attractive in others, we blind ourselves to what makes them who they actually are.
Another example: pop stars, or famous people in general. Having been around for a while, and worked for a while in what could loosely be called the entertainment industry, I’ve met my share of celebrities. I’ve also had an opportunity to see how fans and admirers relate to said celebrities, and how I myself do.
It’s one thing if someone you’ve known for many years ends up becoming famous; their new position adds another layer of complexity to your relationship, but it’s possible to still be friends, and at least part of the time – when you’re away from the bright lights and madding crowds, anyway – to carry on the same kinds of interactions that caused you to become friends in the first place. It’s a little trickier if you’re introduced to someone who’s already famous, someone who you only “know” from having seen them on stage or in films.
I’m thinking, for example, of one occasion where I unexpectedly found myself in conversation with an extremely well-known movie star. I’d greatly admired some of his work, and was furiously debating with myself whether it would be appropriate to mention that when I realized that most of what he was saying was, well, pretty dumb. Dumb enough that if he had been anybody else, I would have either excused myself from the conversation or, depending on what sort of mood I was in, bluntly pointed out just how idiotic he sounded.
But instead I stood there politely nodding my head and, I imagine, looking pretty idiotic myself. On another occasion, I was at a get-together where one of the guests was a similarly famous film star, only this guy was completely different. Instead of dominating the conversation, he asked other people for their opinions. Instead of blathering on about Hollywood and his famous cronies, he talked about things that any and all of us could relate to. Apart from having an instantly recognizable face, there was nothing about him that said, “Look at me!” or “You do know who I am, don’t you?” He was, in short (and I never, ever use this term, so you know I mean it), a mensch.
So what happens next? A woman busts into the conversation, starts hounding him about acting and how to land film parts, and winds up literally chasing him down the street with pleas to be introduced to his agent. I felt like strangling her, and at the same time, sympathized deeply with him, realizing that far too many of his attempts to have a normal social life must end in this way.
Or did I? Was I really feeling his pain, or was I just identifying with my own fantasized projection of his character? After all, I’d never met him before, would probably never meet him again, and had spent at most ten minutes talking with him. Aside from that, he was just a guy I’d seen in movies and on TV. For all I knew, maybe he got a kick out of being hounded by starstruck admirers and opportunists.
What I really have the hardest time getting my head around is the mindset of the super-fan or, if you will, the groupie (and by this I don’t mean in the strictly sexual sense). If you really, really admire someone’s work, it’s understandable that you would want to learn as much as you can about them, to see them perform as often as possible, but what about beyond that? When you take to hanging around outside stage doors or homes just to catch a glimpse of them, when you take a passionate interest in anyone or anything that’s even remotely connected with them? What’s that about?
They say (and again, I suspect they are right) that you should never meet your heroes, that you are sure to be disappointed; having met a fair few of my own, I found this sufficiently true that it mostly cured me of having heroes. Not that they all turned out to be lame or unworthy, just that none of them measured up – nor could they have measured up – to the fantasy image I had constructed.
So you might ask yourself: if I ever do come face-to-face with that rock star/movie star/model/politician that I admire so much, what then? If it’s not about sex (and face it, most of these people will have spouses and/or families) and it’s not about gaining an advantage (no, they’re probably not going to ask you to join their band or offer you a co-starring role in their next film), what are you going to do? Stare lovingly into their eyes until they’re uneasily calling for security? Ply them with all the questions that interviewers and reporters have been assailing them with for years? Find out once and for all if it was in fact you they were thinking of when they wrote that song or created that character?
I’m not saying you should never try to meet people you admire, nor that you should never try to wangle an introduction to that cute glasses-wearing guy or girl who works in accounting, but perspective, people, perspective. Maybe we can never, at least not in our present earthly form, see the real Big Picture, but we could probably do a lot better than the fractured bits and fragments we presently engage with.