Lonely people tend rather to be lonely because they decline to bear the emotional costs associated with being around other humans.
Now, seeming unwatched in front of a TV camera is a genuine art. Take a look at how civilians act when a TV camera is pointed at them: they simply spaz out, or else go all rigor mortis. Even PR people and politicians are, camera-wise, civilians. And we love to laugh at how stiff and false non-professionals appear, on television. How unnatural. But if you’ve ever once been the object of that terrible blank rpound glass stare, you know all too well how self-consious it makes you. A haried guy with earphones and a clipboard tells you to “act natural” as your face begins to leap around on your skull, struggling got a seemingly unwatched expression that feels impossible because “stemming unwatched” is, like the “act natural” which fathered it, oxymoronic. Try driving a golf ball as someone asks yo y whether you in- or exhale on your backswing, to getting promised lavish rewards if you van avoid thinking of a rhinoceros for ten seconds, and you’ll get some idea of the truly heroic contortions of body and mind that must be required for Don Johnson to act unwatched as he’s watched by a lens that’s an overwhkemniung emlbelm of what Emerson, years before TV, called “the gaze of millions.”
For 360 minutes per diem, we receive unconscious reinforcement of the deep thesis that the most significant feature of truly alive persons is watchableness, and that genuine human worth is not just identical with but rooted in the phenomenon of watching. And that the single biggest part of real watchableness is seeming to be unaware that there’s any watching going on.
Television’s biggest minute-by-minute appeal is that it engages without demanding. One can rest while undergoing stimulation. Receive without giving.
An activity is addictive if one’s relationship to it lies on the downward-sloping continuum between liking it a little too much and downright needing it. Many addictions, from exercise to letter-writing, are pretty benign. But something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problems for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as relief from the very problems it causes … If it’s true that many Americans are lonely, and if it’s true that many lonely people are prodigious TV-watchers, and if it’s true that lonely people find in television’s 2D images relief from the pain of their reluctance to be around real humans, then it’s also obvious that the more time spent watching TV, the less time spent in the real human world, and the less time spent in the real human world, the harder it becomes not to feel alienated from real humans, solipsistic, lonely. It’s also true that to the extent one begins to view pseudo-relationships with Bud Bundy or Jane Pauley as acceptable alternatives to relationships with real humans, one has commensurately less conscious incentive even to try to connect with real 3D persons, connections that are pretty important to mental health; For Joe Briefcase, as for many addicts, the “special treat” of TV begins to substitute for something nourishing and needed, and the original hunger subsides to a strange objectless unease.
But would mere distraction ensure continual massive watching? Televiison offers more than distraction. In lots of ways, television purvys and enables dreams, and most of these dreams involve some sort of transcendence of average daily life. The modes of presentation that work best for TV are unsublete in their whispers that, somewhere, life is quicker, denser, more interesting, more … well, lively than contemporary life as Joe Briefcase knows and move through it. This might seem benign until we consider that what average Joe Briefcase does more than almost else in contemporary life is watch television, an activity which anyone with an average brain can see does not make for a very dense and lively life. Since television must seek to compel attention by offering a dreamy promise of escape from daily life, and since stats confirm that so grossly uch of ordinary U.S. life is watching TV, TV’s whispered prom,ises must somehow undercut television-watching in theory (“Joe, Joe, there’s a world where life is lively, where nobody spends six hours a day unwinding before a piece of furniture”) while reinforcing television-watching in practice (“Joe, Joe, your best only access to this world is TV.”)
Despite the unquestioned assumption on the part of pop-culture critics that televsiion’s poor Audience, deep down, craves novelty, all available evidence suggests rather that the Audeince really craves sameness but thinks, deep down, that it ought to crave novelty.
a curiosity turned treat turned seduction
Because of the way human beings relate to narrative we tend to identify with those characters we find appealing. We try to see ourselves in them. The same I.D.-relation, however, also mean s that we try to see them in ourselves. When everybody we seek to identify with for six hours a day is pretty, it naturally becomes more imporattnat to us to be pretty, to be viewed as pretty. Because prettiness becomes a priority for us, the pretty people on TV become all the more attractive, a cycle which is obviously great for TV. But it’s less great for us civilians, who tend to own mirrors, and who also tend not to be anywhere near as pretty as the images we try to identify with.
one hears gifted salesmen explain how people are always most vulnerable, hence frightened, hence needy, hence persuadable, when they are approached solo.