Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Art of Exhibitionism

"Did you hear about the woman who gave birth in an art gallery?" my daughter asked. "Can you imagine that? She acts as if this has never been done before, I mean, Queens have been giving birth in front of an audience for hundreds of years to ensure that no one switched the heir with another baby."
 "Well, at least that's a valid reason for having an audience," I said. Having given birth four times, I didn't even want to be there, much less expect anyone besides my husband and the paid medical staff of the hospital to show up.

But this kind of exhibitionism shouldn't take anyone by surprise, it's simply another way that we as a society  have deteriorated. I'm sure there are many who disagree with me. After all, the gallery gave this woman a generous amount of space that she converted into a lovely birthing room. She was present in the weeks before the birth chatting it up with attendees and discussing the beauty of birth as a natural process. About twenty onlookers attended the live event, and I'm willing to bet that none of them had ever given birth.

In the era of reality TV, Youtube and tweets it seems as if the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol had predicted has turned into something much longer and more ominous. Remember Rebecca Black? 167 million hits on Youtube and a Wikipedia page--we despise her,deride her, but we all  know her. For every celebrity that has earned their status through their hard work, talent and accomplishments, shying away from unwanted paparazzi and press, there are pseudo-celebrities whose only fame is achieved through their self-propelled publicity machine. They live their lives in front of the camera, choosing to live in a manufactured world that exists only if someone else is watching. If a tree falls in the forest...

A home should be a sanctuary, a place where a family member can go at the end of the day and feel comfort. It should be a place of love and support, a place where the boss or the teacher or the co-worker can't reach inside of you. Imagine if it isn't that. How could every move be measured and affected in order to get optimal reactions from total strangers--viewers who have earned the right to comment on someone else's family situation We are all aware that there is nothing real about reality TV, not the emotions, or the relationships, but when one sibling is giving some honest, heartfelt advice to another family member and it is viewed as suspect and self-serving, well, that's just sad. I find it equally troubling when an entire family unanimously chooses to live their life out in front of millions of viewers. That's just pathetic.

Years ago when we attended family gatherings, my husband was always ready with his video camera to record all the adorableness of our children and our nieces and nephews. Invariably there were a few kids who loved the attention and a couple who simply didn't feel comfortable with it, choosing to hide under the table or behind a wall. No amount of coaxing could cajole the reticent children into cooperation and in hindsight I have to applaud their ability at three years old to have more sense than people ten times their age.

We are not voyeurs. We have been invited. We are beseeched to watch the train wreck of other people's lives and even if we choose not to, the information is so ubiquitous as to be unavoidable. It screams at us from newspaper headlines and Op-Ed pieces in The New York Times and our nightly news. We as a society are responsible for allowing and applauding this odd behavior. It is revolting and unnerving to think we are on a first name basis with every character who shines a spotlight on themselves, yet very few of us could summon up more than a couple of names of the thirteen awardees of the Nobel Prize that were recently announced.

As a country we used to admire hard work and achievement. Let's try to remember that.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn't find a contact email for you.

    I recently put out an ebook of my writing, called The New Death and others. It's a collection of short pieces, mostly dark fantasy.

    I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a review on your blog.

    If so, please email me: Let me know what file format is easiest for you, and I'll send you a free copy.

    You can download a sample from the ebook's page on Smashwords:

    I'm also happy to do interviews, guest posts, or giveaways. Just let me know what you'd prefer.