I want to download Whisper. I won’t. Because the idea of it also makes me a little sick to my stomach. It’s like a trainwreck. Impossible to look away from and yet… do I really want to know? Do I need to know? Is my life going to be better for knowing?
“I’m a college professor and I’m sleeping with one of my students.” (From Whisper, via BuzzFeed)
In an article about their fundraising from TechCrunch, they talk about the gap in the market. Other social media sites have a permanence and are tied to an identity, and this somehow discourages people from telling the truth about who they are. SnapChat, Whisper, platforms like this allow you to be brutally honest in a disposable way that isn’t necessarily linked to your real life.
It isn’t that I object to the truth. It isn’t that people should only be allowed their shiny representations on Facebook or Instragram. It’s that other people’s misdeeds, their risks, the other side of that story, I just don’t want to have to carry that around. I can’t unsee. That college professor – there are probably thousands out there right now with the same secret. Whether your reaction is “that’s hot” or a gasp of horror or judgement or whatever… When that’s your only interaction, it glosses the reality over, the risk, the fear, the consequences. Maybe the student is hoping for an A. Maybe the student is fully capable of navigating a relationship where the power is skewed. Maybe you can see it as a relationship of equals – one has the grades and the easily understood power of age and/or experience, and the other has the ability to ruin the professor’s life and all of the attraction that goes along with having youth to exploit. Who knows. All that is certain, or nearly certain, is that it isn’t going to end well. And something in me finds the idea of being a voyeur to this snapshot of a story just kind of icky. I don’t want to be the person that gets off (emotionally, sexually, metaphorically) on other people’s disasters.
It’s like taking pictures with the flash on. What you get is a flattening. All the depth is gone because there are no shadows, no nuances, no clues to the dimensionality, the reality of the subject. It all becomes a fetish, an obsession with some small component of the whole until the whole doesn’t even matter anymore. It isn’t about the woman in the shoes, it is about the shoes and now you can have an entire life built around a relationship with a pair of stilettos that never speak, never disagree, never want something new. It’s perfect control and it isn’t good for us – humanity, society, the soul – to have these relationships with mirrors made of tin foil and blow up dolls made of Mylar balloons. A fetish can’t be embodied by a person when that person has all of his/her dimensions, it can only exist when the object is ironed into a single definition.
True story. As a thirteen year old girl, I spent some time on AOL in their chat rooms. This was before people were talking about pedophiles looking for victims on the internet. I was contacted by a guy who wanted to know if I’d started to grow hair in my neither regions. I can only assume that there was a script, some way I was supposed to react that fit within the guy’s idea about how this was all going to go. Instead, I typed back out something along the lines of “what the fuck is wrong with you.” He said he didn’t know and he vanished. If I had known more, perhaps I would have called the police, but this was 1993 or so and I don’t know that the police would have known what to do at that point. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that I couldn’t be a fetish object with my big mouth and my incredulity. If I’d kept to the script he’d had in his head, I could have carried on being a construct of his imagination. Unreal and therefore undeserving of compassion or concern. Or interaction with technology only makes it worse. The body behind the words, body that is subject to hot or cold, food poisoning, bad hair cuts, bad days… None of that exists. Only the little words marching across the screen. “I fuck my students.”
This flattening, this quick dismissal of (or failure to notice) the completeness of the other’s experience, it’s what’s behind the idea that certain people don’t deserve the same things that I do. Universal civil rights, for example. Because when any individual gets flattened out to a single dimension in the judgement of an individual or a society, then cruelty doesn’t feel so cruel. You’re only your skin color, or your beliefs, or your weight, or your orientation. When everything else is a representation, a toy that ceases to exist when we are no longer looking at it… well, what difference does cruelty or violence make? It’s just a pussy. It’s just an orca (I’m looking at you, SeaWorld). There is nothing in this world that is disposable. No creature that comes without its own agency. A spirit, a perspective, a dimensionality. And to deny that, to facilitate that, to turn that into entertainment, to witness the flattening of another into a curiosity, a fetish…
It is a simple, easy crime. It feels victimless. A small thing, to take a secret as it stands and fantasize or laugh or thrill at its wrongness. So small as to be a little overblown and sanctimonious to talk about it at this level. I know, I know. I take everything too seriously. It’s just an app. Except I don’t want to create the habit, even if it is a little one, of seeing a world where everyone I meet is a paper cutout of themselves. There’s no reason to defend something that flat, no reason not to punch your way through it if that’s your mood, or set it on fire if you are feeling like a little flame, or crunch it up and dispose of it when it ceases to amuse you. And I really have an aversion to creating or amusing myself with someone (something) else’s pain. I don’t want that in me. Not even a little bit of it.