Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Pleasure of Opinionating

Among other uses, gossip affords us the pleasure of judgment and opinion.  To talk about others is to invariably engage in evaluating their acts.

"What a creep!", "Such a slut!", "Of course he would have said that,", "she deserved it,", "That's not fair.", "Lucky bastard." ...

When one's social circle is not wide or interesting enough to provide this pleasure, one can turn to mass media or social media.  TV serials, all over the world, excel in this.  The pleasure of judging characters in a movie is relatively mild, because the movie is soon over and one doesn't have to wonder for long what happens to this or that character.  On television, however, the settings are more familiar, the characters are slowly developed, and the situations are more intimate (friend, mother-in-law, business associate, dinner outing, bedroom fight).

After having seen two US TV series ("Mad Men", and "House of Cards"), I am convinced that "drama" on television means creating situations in which some egos clash, some outrageous act or word is involved, and in which we are asked to feel some sympathy or antipathy towards a character.

To judge others is no small joy.

That is also the reason why Reality TV, live competitions (x-Idol, Who wants to x Whom?, etc.) are so addictive.  You are made the judge, and it's a heady trip.

That's why most people can't seem to enjoy non-judgmental cinema or literature.  "What's the point if I don't get to approve or condemn?"  Post-modernism is strictly for those who are getting their fix elsewhere, say, by condemning the lesser mortals who find their pleasures in Jerry Springer.

This is also why reading news which is unrelated to one's life is such a prevalent pastime.  The reason tabloids, including Times of India, are booming and real journalism is declining is because in the absence of an active family or community life, we are turning to news for stimulation and intimate gossip, instead of information or elucidation.  The more shallow the news, the easier it is to have an opinion about it.

Opinions about shallow stuff are almost instinctive.  One doesn't have to think about them too much.  Involved discussions, about privacy or global warming, are boring.  Nuances are for nerds.  The pleasure has to be quick for it to win.

The pleasure of watching criminals, trials, sentencing, police chases, emergency rooms, infidelity in action, is now big business.  Media executives have elevated knee-jerk reactions to an art-form.  I am not sure if these shows are scripted, but it is a genius of media depravity to capture on camera, and then sell, people's emotions about their sex lives.

That is also why celebrity news is so incomprehensible at first glance.  An intelligent human must think it is a waste of time to read about who has had a wardrobe malfunction, or where Kim Kardashian is having her baby.  One can scowl, shrug and move on, but understanding requires effort.  Why does celebrity news and gossip continue to flourish?  In what way does it make the lives of humdrum drones less empty?

I think celebrities evoke a measure of envy, jealousy and a desire for ruin. Very little of it is admiration.  So, when they see a candid shot, or hear about a drug haul, or read about some divorce, or see a nip-slip, it makes the drones happy.  "Their lives aren't that perfect, after all!"

The most newsworthy celebrities aren't those who are toiling at their art.  But those who have nothing to show in terms of art, and everything in terms of spectacle or loudness or chaos.  Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Sherlyn Chopra, Rakhi Sawant, Chris Brown; the bottom of the barrel, in other words.  The more chaotic their life, the more interesting it is to read about it and to shake one's head.

The appeal of opinion-based social media websites and engagement frameworks such as Yelp, FML, AmIRite, news comments, comments on blogs, reddit, Quora, Liveleak, is not just that they keep us informed.  Most of them offer no useful information.

Their primary reason for existence seems to be that they offer us space to express our opinions.  "With nobody else to listen to us, might as well click upvote/downvote, or publish my likes and dislikes for the world at large!"

Humans have a need to opinionate and to be counted for their feelings and thoughts.  In the absence of meaningful engagement with the community and public institutions, vacuous channels of opinionating occupy the turf.


Wild Chrys said...

Of course I'm entitled to my opinion :-)

Good one, Harman.

Anonymous said...

Some of us opinionate on blogs :)

pankaj said...

although expressing opinion is one part of it, i think there's a lot more to be said about the subject. it is one of the most pressing realities of our age - media driven, relentless entertainment. chris hedges has written about it "the empire of illusion". note that its not just the catty version of reality tv which is popular. you see a repeated theme of "obscure poor person rising to fame" in x idol shows.