[Another unfinished draft, written 2011-03-09 and published 2011-04-23]
Many times over the years I’ve written about the fact that my life is never easy. I never find anything to be easy when it concerns my interaction with the world. This is still true. However this post is about something that is easy. Something that happened very easily and not too long ago. Something I have experienced before but perhaps not as instantly or as strong. Anyway, before I get to this easy thing I have to discuss a rather abstract topic which has a lot of impact upon the easy thing that will follow.
We all know an image is an image. A representation. Something other than what it represents, something separated from what it represents. In this day and age we are all bombarded by images of all kinds through the media and simply by keeping our eyes open. Image has become very important. Our culture is very visual – how things look is important. To look right is important to many people. To wear the right clothes and so on. We like to look at things and people that we like, that attract our eyes. All of this are well-known facts.
I often think about the separation between the image and what the image represents when I try to make sense of the internet communities and the chat sites/rooms I visit and have visited for almost 10 years. At the sites I visit the communication takes place through electronically transmitted typed words on a screen and by streaming audio and video.
The live video feed transmits the sound and image of the person being on camera, not the real person. Sometimes that distinction is very easy to forget. Not everyone makes any distinction between the two. Why should we ? Perhaps because there isin fact a difference. The image displayed is not the person in itself, only the image of the person. The real person is not broadcasted, however the image of the real person is. We have no other way of knowing the person than through the words typed, the audio heard and the moving images seen. All of these can be manipulated, distorted and/or be part of a performance. They do not have to be “real” in order to be perceived as real by us – the audience.
Our perception of the person we see is limited to what the technology allows us to perceive. We do not see all of who the real person is. We only see and hear what the person allows us to see through the mediated image that is broadcasted. This means that without meeting the person, in person, in real life , all we really know of the person is an image of that person. That image can be and often is an exact copy of the real person’s appearance but it is still only a copy. This of course works both ways in any chat room situation. Sometimes all that one person in a chat room conversation knows of the person at the other end is what words they type in the chat window. Sometimes the other person is also broadcasting video and/or audio while chatting.
So, is it possible then to be attracted to the broadcasted, transmitted, printed image of a person ? Of course. Would there be any movie stars or super models if attraction wasn’t possible through the media ? Then comes the question of who we are in fact attracted to. The real person mediated through the image or the image of the person ? Can we even be attracted to the real person when all we really know is the image of that person ? My personal answer is yes and no. Attraction is certainly possible. Having a crush on a movie star, pop singer, athlete or super model is possible because it happens all the time.
But exactly who do we have a crush on ? The person in the image or the image of the person ? No way to be sure, but in most cases I’d say the crush is on the image of the person supported by other information obtained from printed or electronic sources. In most cases the person we have a crush on will never be made aware of our feelings.
This kind of crush occurs often during our teenage years and is often described as a kind of safe way of exploring and learning about feelings of love. It can of course occur later in life as well but then it is often associated with negative behaviour such as obsession and stalking. However having a crush on someone without them even knowing who you are or what your feelings are can’t be much of a problem for anyone as long as you don’t try to make your feelings known.
In a chat room situation where you are not chatting to a celebrity but a normal random person I’d say it still works much the same way. The attraction and crush happen the same way based on what we see and hear of the other person mediated through the audio/video streams and/or typed words.
Now, I wouldn’t define the feelings as false – they are of course real – but I believe that there is a risk of manipulation when feelings are based only upon mediated information. For a lasting loving relationship to develop I believe that the persons involved would have to meet in real life sooner or later in order to establish that the attraction they feel and the information they have obtained about each other through the mediated streams of words, audio and video are indeed true. Also to find out what hasn’t been transmitted and how that adds to what they already know about each other the only way to be really sure is to meet up.
Edit: There is of course more than one way to approach this subject. My perspective is based on my studies of Cinema, Media and Communication theory and my personal experiences. The danger of publishing an unfinished draft is that the thinking behind it also appears unfinished in some ways. However, I take that risk rather than having a lot of old drafts around to no use. Also, my interest in the matter of the distinction between the representation and the represented will continue.