Writing is revealing one’s self and exposing one’s self for all the world. The writer makes themself vulnerable, especially if what is written is intractable.
It is enough that I have exposed myself, laid bare my private life, through my blog. If I’ve written anything stupid, if I’ve made any mistakes, they’re out there for all to see, unless I shut down my blog site, which is unfair, really, because writers never have the luxury of retracting their words once they’re out there. Good writers have an editor.
Somehow, though, I feel less vulnerable when I expose myself through the written word. I cannot say the same about images.
Self-doubt is common. Confidence comes in knowing that despite your fear, you push through anyway. Self-doubt, lack of confidence, and the fear of humiliation are feelings most teenagers know all too well.
When I was a teenager, I was terrified of humiliating myself. Once in Ms. Schmidt’s English class in the 10th grade, I yelled out “Hey, Tim!!” through an open window at a boy who was outside on the school lawn. I didn’t even know him. One of my friends did and she had been trying to get his attention. I yelled out his name for her.
Apparently, I didn’t know the power of my voice. All the class turned to look at me. Ms. Schmidt turned red with anger and kicked me out of the classroom. As a shy adolescent already being self-conscious, this was a humiliation that stung me for the rest of my high school years. It wasn’t until I was in college and had much more confidence, that I looked back and thought how silly I was for feeling so ashamed. But the damage to my cellular tissues was already done.
Odd that to this day, I remember his name, though I never met him. “Hey, Tim!!” is burned into my memory.
When we expose ourselves, we risk humiliation. I suppose last night I was still feeling a bit exposed because I had been interviewed by a local news reporter for a march I had attended. As soon as he turned the camera off, my gut reaction was “Please don’t air that!” I wasn’t ready for my sound bite, not the least bit ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille. I’ve never hesitated to speak publicly about things I believe in strongly, but the physical aspect of self-consciousness that lays buried in my body tissue re-surfaces.
I suppose last night I was still feeling a bit exposed, feeling it in my body, when I decided to watch Brian De Palma’s 1972 film, “Sisters”. It is an homage to Hitchcock, as many of De Palma’s films are. There are elements of “Rear Window” and elements of “Psycho” (which I’ve yet to see simply because I want to watch it on the silver screen). It’s funny that I chose “Sisters” because only last week I watched Michael Powell’s 1960 film “Peeping Tom”.
The commonality of these films, as well as De Palma’s 1984 film “Body Double”, is the aspect of voyeurism, and to some extent the aspect of exhibitionism. It is the aspect of both voyeurism and exhibitionism that crept into my waking consciousness this morning.
Having been the victim of a peeping Tom on a few occasions, the idea of voyeurism to me is very creepy. In those films, it is meant to be creepy. And if the audience derives pleasure from their “voyeuristic intentions”, that fact makes the life-that art-is-imitating all the more disturbing.
Then the reality hit me hard. Social media has turned us all into voyeurs and into the striking counterpart: exhibitionists. Suddenly, the feeling of vulnerability from exposure surfaced from deep inside my body.
What the hell am I doing on social media?? I asked myself. I have become both exhibitionist and voyeur. And it makes me feel creepy. I feel creeped out that someone is “watching” me via Instagram. Even more creeped out that I am watching others as they expose themselves. Although we are all doing this knowingly, it doesn’t make it any less disturbing. I have always felt uneasy about using social media, and now I’m beginning to understand exactly why.
In my own defense, I will say that I have posted far fewer photos of myself than perhaps the average Instagram user. Out of my 242 posts, 43 of them are of my face, mostly with other people. Ten of these photos are of me alone. Why would I feel the need to post photos of just myself? I know what I look like. My friends know what I look like. Strangers? Well, I think all of those photos are enough to get an idea of what I look like.
Nonetheless, even with those relatively few photos, I feel exposed. Over-exposed, perhaps. Worse yet, I check to see who’s liked my posts. Insecurity? The need for reassurance? Isn’t the exhibitionist in constant need of reassurance? Worst of all, is when I check someone else’s posts. This puts me in the position of voyeur. Acknowledging that I have become a voyeur through social media makes me feel uncomfortable. Acknowledging that I have become an exhibitionist also makes me feel uncomfortable.
Disturbing is the fact that most users of social media feel not the least bit of discomfort about the built-in exhibitionism and voyeurism of it. When Hitchcock made “Rear Window” in 1954, while the audience reveled in the voyeurism, they were disturbed by it as well. Audiences were so disturbed by the depravity of the killer in 1960’s “Peeping Tom”, that the film pretty much ended the career of the director, Michael Powell. Brian De Palma, in the 1970’s and 80’s, parlayed his reverence for the voyeurism of both Hitchcock’s and Powell’s films into a successful cinematic career. I doubt those films, though they are exceptional in their art form, would still have the same relevance today.
Those films had the power to shock because of our natural fear of how vulnerable we become when we expose ourselves. By the 1990’s this natural fear was starting to disappear when television turned its lens on “real people” in their private lives. So-called “reality shows” became the norm. The natural tendency towards modesty and privacy has been all but erased with Youtube and Instagram and Facebook. We have become unashamed voyeurs. We have become universally narcissistic. Yet our exhibitionism reveals our lack of self-confidence.
We can take a cue from Hitchcock, De Palma and Powell. It doesn’t make us well people. It makes us a little sick.
I need to close the window