Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Little Baudrillard... and Twilight

I truly, truly intended to write about feminism and gender and body image issues in media today. But of course, that's not what happened. No, because like every other thing I've ever written, this blog has become a living, breathing organism, feeding off my life and turning half of my lectures into fuel for whatever meandering point I'm attempting to make.

Today's lecture in my Comedy: Text and Theory class once again made a fateful connection to fangirling. It started with my professor saying something along the lines of liking "prefabricated posts and sharing them in a virtual community." I can't remember what this was in connection too but this, of course, sounds like Tumblr. Later he was talking about our search for meaning on the internet and how, after some event happens (his example was with Whitney Houston's death) we attack the internet, going from page to page trying to find out what happened. But he says, in light of the philosopher Jean Baudrillard, that this doesn't lead us to anything - just more and more images.

Jean Baudrillard is one of those people I've heard mentioned a thousand times in academia but only have briefly read. His theory (and I actually knew this, for some reason) is the basis for the film The Matrix, which is very loosely taken from his writings in Simulacra and Simulation. So, if you've seen that, at least you have  the "dumb Cliffnotes version" (as my prof called it) of his theory in mind (I think if I ever took a film class with my professor, I would learn a ton but end up hating him. There would be a smack-down over Midnight in Paris and that would be it).

Here's the simple gist of Baudrillard's theory: everything is based in relation to an image, in a world where images have replaced and exceeded reality (which he calls hyper-reality). The examples given in class goes as follows:
  1. In his writing, Baudrillard discussed that if one were to walk into a bank with an obviously fake gun and cry that they were holding a fake robbery, they would still be arrested by the police, because the act or intent is still taken as reality itself. Which is kind of weird, when you think about it.
  2. "The Avatar Effect" - People really had depression after seeing Avatar because they desperately wanted to belong to a world that didn't exist anywhere but on screen.
  3.  "Romance:" This almost made me cry in class. My prof was describing one of his younger brothers who planned on being married by 25 and being the traditional family man. From what my professor implied, this hasn't happened. He's in his 30s and has a girlfriend but he has such romantic ideals, it apparently makes things difficult. Example - he bought tickets to take his current girlfriend to Paris in the middle of the day. He surprised her and told her to drop everything and go. But she had a meeting in two hours that were absolutely crucial to her job and couldn't. The thing was, my professor argued, his brother - and all of us - have romantic ideals we've seen in the movies and want to live up to. But it doesn't work out so well in reality.
  4. The Holocaust: This one shocked me. In the next 5-10 years, all those who lived through the Holocaust will be gone, dying from old age, and all we will have to remember what it was actually like are texts and movies and Schindler's List.
  5. A lullaby: This one almost made me cry too. My professor was recalling how, when he was little, his mother used to sing the same lullaby every night to him and his brothers. And yet he can't remember a single word of it or even the tune. However, he can remember the entire McDonald's jingle that was on TV when he was little.
Remember that thing I said about how one of my professors told me that it was important I was a double major so I wouldn't become a become a cynical nihilist? Yeah, this would be why. It is things like these that make it really hard to study culture. The incongruities between what we see on TV and in movies and what happens in everyday life, along with our hopes and dreams being dashed by the cold hard fist of what is said to be reality. Dealing with what people are perceived to be like and seeing how they actually act while walking downtown. As a fiction writer (another hat I wear) I find it even harder to reconcile between what I think people act like and how they actually act. Yes, my characters are not real, but they definitely have glimmers (if not actions and story lines) of actual people. Sometimes, on my down days I wonder if writing is just me expressing the disjunction between what I want from my life and what I have.

Which weirdly enough brings me to Twilight. I was planning on discussing this fandom eventually but not here. But now it fits. So here it is.

I admit that I was once a pretty big fan of Twilight. They were the first real "teen" novels I ever read and the first modern romance books I probably read as well. At first, I honestly liked them. There was passion, there was supernatural activity, there was a main character I sympathized with (awkward, clumsy, and doesn't fit in; that's all it took for me to attach to a character my freshman year of high school). But as the books progressed, things started being less awesome for me. I didn't really like the love triangle aspect. I didn't like that Edward was so forceful and controlling, I didn't like that the Vulturi showed up but never really did anything. And I sure as hell did not like that a half-vampire, half-human baby tore its way out of Bella's uterus and got named Renesmee (What. the. actual. fuck. Renee is a wonderful name (it happens to be my middle name; so I'm biased). Esme is a beautiful name. Together it sounds like some sort of badly named medication). It took me a few months but after the last Twilight book came out, I realized I hated it. No, not hated. LOATHED.

All of the other complaints about the books aside, what really began to bother me was the writing. Not just the grammar or the writing style or the flaky plot, but the idea behind it itself. Stephanie Meyer is said to have written it based off of a dream she had. I'm not judging this; Lord knows I've done this plenty of times. It's just... well, as one of my acquaintances so roughly put it, she took a wet dream and made it a novel. You can read what Stephanie Meyer has to say about this dream herself here. What began to trouble me was that this wasn't just a young girl like me writing about what her ideal lover would be like while the main character is a representation of her (what Stephanie Meyer allegedly has done, according to some). No, this is a married woman with children. I often wonder what her husband thinks of all of this. Is it a problem with them? Does he ever wonder if she compares him to a sparkly vampire she once dreamed about? Is it a non-issue because she's a writer and that's that? Or deep down is there this sense that Meyer is totally unhappy with her life and always dreaming, Avatar-like, for an unattainable world or a romance that only exists in the movies?

I obviously can't say; I'm not Stephanie Meyer, and what's her business is her business. But what is interesting is what its led to. This is Fifty Shades Of Grey. I haven't read it; I've only heard about it. But what I've heard is that it began as Twilight fanfiction. It's like we're delving deeper and deeper down to in this weird web of... well, weirdness. And all I'm getting is a vibe of dissatisfied women who want to write sexy stories because life has not lived up to her expectations. And all the while, I'm sitting in my lecture hall uncomfortably (it used to be the old law building and the skinny, arched rowed-tables are still there) wondering, But why can't people get whisked off to Paris on a whim in real life? WHY DO MEETINGS HAVE TO MATTER? Are we really living in the Matrix? Is a spoon actually a spoon? OH MY GOD I CANNOT HANDLE THIS RIGHT NOW!

And that's where I'm at right now. So sorry about the delay on the body image post; I just have a lot of Baudrillard in my head and it's starting to make a lot of sense, but I don't really want to become a nihilist. Because I don't want "anything goes and nothing matters" to be the state of the world. I want to fall in love and I want to have a family and I want to believe in people. And if that makes me a romantic fool, then so be it.

Because if I can't make sense out of anything, if it's just going to lead me to more and more images, what's the point of trying to do anything? This makes the entire idea of this blog pointless. And as I found out I don't have to do a senior project for cultural studies, I'm now just doing it for fun and because I want to. I want my writing to be more than just my discontent with the world. I want to make a difference. I want to be the change I wish to see in the world; and I can't do that if nothing matters anymore.

And I really don't want sparkly vampires setting the standards for modern literature. However, it has led to wonderfully things like this:
And this is why I have the utmost faith in the human race; because someone was clever enough to come up with this. :)

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