Friday, June 15, 2012

Modern Love

On the first morning of summer classes, my alarm clock/radio went off, tuned to the Minneapolis "alternative rock" station Cities 97 where the DJs were talking to an artist who remained unknown to me (as my alarm went off midway through their interview) about love and relationships. And instantly I wanted to roll over and go back to sleep.

The conversation was actually pretty good (focusing on self-love before rushing into romantic love; sound advice, really) but compounding that with all the ads about groups for singles and weight loss and getting rid of cellulite I keep hearing on this station, it ended up rubbing me the wrong way. And thus I found myself pondering the situation of modern love on my walk to class.

Because I feel like settling into this discussion kind of easily (also because I've been slacking off from some of my more "academic" posts), I'm going to get back into the groove easily with two musical examples.

There you go, modern love put musically. I've described this idea of modern love before, in "This is why we can't have nice things" and I kept meaning to come back and talk about it a little more in-depth. Except that I kept avoiding it. Because of reasons.

Okay, okay, so I should be honest with you. I've never had a boyfriend. I've never been kissed. I've only been on one real date (and I asked the guy out) (and why is it that "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" by the Moody Blues is playing in my iPod right now? I mean, I really like the Moody Blues but this is too much, iPod. Especially after listening to an hour of Badfinger). But now that I've said that, I'm going to throw this Tumblr post your way because I shouldn't have to say that like it's some sort of embarrassing admission. What does it matter if you haven't had been kissed by a certain age? Is there some sort of age limit that we have to adhere to? No, of course not. But, because we pinkish-brown monkeys called humans are weird, we judge each other based on our relationship statuses. And if you've never been in a relationship, somehow that makes your self-worth lower than someone who has.
You can guess my feelings about this. Especially as a feminist, basing someone's worth on romantic connection is... well, not so great. Beyond the fact that everyone develops at different time in the romance world, it's also an assumption that everyone wants the same sort of relationships and that it should be the focus, the scope of their entire life. If that was the case, then we'd end up with a bunch of Bella's who don't want to go to college because they can't bear being separated from their obsessive boyfriends (OMG Twilight, the things you say...) I'm NOT saying relationships aren't important; of course they are. I just don't like that society presses that relationships are SO important that if you don't have one, something from your life is missing and you're not living your life right (basically, I'm saying this, just not as concisely). Because focusing too much on relationships can turn into this, "What else is there?" mentality.
(Thank you, Swan Princess, for having Derrik be a total douche and say ridiculous things I can take out of context.)

So all of this makes it more difficult when you are single, living on your own, and perpetually pondering the meaning of life. We're obsessed with romance and dating. Not just focusing on the important issues, stressing the need for love and such, but totally all-out obsessed. Nearly ever magazine I see in stores has gossip or stories about people's love lives. It's one of the first questions interviewers throw at celebrities. Every year, my grandmother asks if I have a boyfriend. WE'RE OBSESSED.
(Quick side note - this gif comes from the movie The Room. It is the worst made movie in the history of humankind. It might also be the funniest.)

Again, it's not that I don't think love and romance are important; it's that we think about them in very concrete ways, in very precise definitions. I don't think these definitions should be so important that we focus every aspect of our lives around them and judge others based on how these definitions are carried out in their lives. And this is where I'd like to introduce a guy named Erich Fromm. He's a psychologist and a social philosopher who wrote the book The Art of Loving. Now, I don't agree with everything he says in this book (especially on some things regarding women and homosexuality). But he does say some really good things about relationships in general. Like this quote on responsibility at work in the act of loving:
Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for a third component of love, respect. Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere = to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in this own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me. If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use. (26)
To love someone just the way they are, not objectifying them and turning them into an ideal. Hard to do in a society focused on Prince Charming and finding perfection, is it? Frequently, the idea of respect gets left out of the picture in many portrayals of love (*cough Twilight cough*) (sorry, I'm in am "OMG this is not okay" mode with Twilight. I apologize for the repetition) though I think people are generally better about this in everyday life than Fromm might think. At least I hope people are more like Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are."
But oh, behold, the voice of doubt speaks. For I began thinking of a different sort of objectification - that which we put celebrities in. Think about it - our culture is in awe of them, objectifies and often exploits them. All of this is on the surface of my mind because I recently watched the documentary Miss Representation (it's fabulous; look it up. Obviously there were things they could have done better on but it was clearly not created for someone who's rather on top of feminist issues). They spend some time discussing how women's bodies, especially those of celebrities, are viewed in the media. And with these thoughts in mind, along with the Fromm passage I saw months ago, I sat down to write this post. But wouldn't you know it, Tumblr threw a curve ball at me last night and threw something else at me (seriously, I don't understand how these things fall into place just so, but they do).

I was scrolling through posts last night when I came across this about Benedict Cumberbatch. And not long after,  I saw this follow-up post from shmem-the-pem (which is a damn good post in my opinion). I did find the article this quote is from (Tumblr, the fact that you occasionally have better citations than some of my textbooks scares me) which means:
Okay, so even though I found the legitimate source for the quote, I've been wanting to use this gif forever, so here you go.

(You know, I was wondering after I found this story whether I should admit to biased source-finding as this is the umpteenth time I've used a Cumberbatch quote in a post, or whether Cumberbatch just happens to be a human being that happens to heavily relate to the content of my blog. Because, you know, for a blog named after Martin Freeman, there is a crap-ton of Benedict Cumberbatch on here. I've tried balancing it out and it just keeps happening. So, as long as Cumberbatch keeps saying things that relate to things I'm writing about, this weirdness is going to keep happening. Sorry, sir.) (The good news is I have a totally Martin Freeman-related post coming up. If I ever finish this one.)

Pretty much how I feel the universe is reacting right now.
The follow-up written by shmem-the-pem (God I love Tumblr user names) really says it all. We're really rather bad about treating actors like human beings. When culture shows us the way to express our appreciation for them is to be obsessed, objectification becomes all too easy and maybe it's only when we get reflections from actors or people who want to be actors, like shmem-the-pem, that it becomes move obvious how such expression of respect isn't exactly what we think it is. Fromm would say it's not respect at all. But it's hard to deal with your feelings when obsession is easily confused with love. And it doesn't help when love stories don't always show great representations of people.

I was just talking to my friend Ashley about this last Friday. We were talking about feminism and how difficult it is to find really great representations of women in books and movies. It's hard to find portrayals that capture women as strong, but also show their weakness. There's a really great TED Talk I stumbled across today (many thanks to or I never would have known of its existence) that I totally recommend watching that discusses this:

Isn't that brilliant? Tavi Gevinson understands things at fifteen that I couldn't understand until I was twenty. Incredible.

The thing is, as Ashley and I were discussing, there's this problem with women portrayed in movies and books (and thank you, John Green, for this). It's almost always a love story; even in The Hunger Games where people argue, 'It isn't about the love story!" there's still very definitely one present. Which is understandable, to a point. A lot of life is about love. But why does it seem like the principle storyline is always about romance, about finding a man, about finding "the one." The Hunger Games, at least, doesn't have this focus; it's about survival. But Twilight - Twilight is nothing without the love story. Take it out and there is no plot at all.

Not that there is anything wrong about love stories. It's just the sort of love stories that I'm beginning to see - so many like Twilight, where women sacrifice everything to be with a man who doesn't seem authentic. Because as we need more complex representations of women, we need the same for men. And we're back to showing the "what else is there?" view on relationships, that we need this all-consuming, obsessive love in our lives. But if we're going with Erich Fromm on this, that obsessive love, that objectifying love isn't really love. It's just obsession. And if this is the love we're seeing throughout culture, then we're just obsessed with being obsessed.

Oy. This post got much longer than I expected. I was planning on just talking about how convoluted the dating world is (as in, according to the Village Voice, dating may be dead) and how love is such a convoluted term and it's really hard to deal with in society, when relationships are all supposed to be a certain way and you're supposed to have had your first kiss by X year and dating and etc. etc. etc. I sort of got there. Mostly I was sidetracked by feminism and Cumberbatch. (Well, that speaks multitudes, doesn't it?)
The things is, love, much like feminism as Tavi Gevinson described it, is a process. There is no rulebook, no right way to do it. There are, however, things I think we could do better. Curving away from the focus on obsession might be a good place to start. How exactly we'd go about that... well, easier said than done, the fangirl knows. But I also know that if for some ludicrous reason I was a celebrity, I wouldn't want people freaking out when they see me trying to figure out where the hell the bread is in Lunds. As always, I have lots of opinions but no clear answers. But I do have this:
The Swan Princess and a reference to The Room all in one. Perfection. Exactly what I need in this already very convoluted post.

Sorry, I'm a bit short on hedgehogs on the moment. But I felt that this otter was more fitting anyway.

PS: I just started reading Fifty Shades of Grey (because how can I NOT read that book with my interest in culture? And because it's based off Twilight) and I think Fromm's ideas on possession and objectification suit it perfectly. And I'm only on page twelve.

Note: All citations are from - The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. Harper Perennial. 2000. (originally published 1956 by Harper and Row).

No comments:

Post a Comment