Lying Media Bastards

April 20, 2005

I Was Watching You Watching Me

Some interesting thoughts on the nature of our new insta-media society, from the singer of the Dresden Dolls:

I do not want to live to archive my own life.

I see it everywhere around me, especially with the popularity of web diaries, forums, and cell phones that take pictures. I do not want to fall into the subtle trap of truly believing I Blog Therefore I Am.

I see this happening at our shows, as an alien army of fans in the front row hold their phones up to my face as if probing me for signs of life in some twisted Outer Limits martian ritual. But I understand this feeling all too well. The picture that you will take home, connect to the interweb, mail to your friends and offer proof positive that you had an experience is almost worth more than the experience itself. And as I realize that more and more people out there read this diary, it haunts me in my life. Each good deed, struggle, mishap and geuinely weird experience I have gets simultaneously logged into an unhealthy mental card catalog of Good for Web Diary.

My friend who knows me best has the perspective and advantage of being older than I am, he saw me grow through my teens. We used to talk about a moment that never happened, but was a perfect metaphor for my self-consious narcissism.

It is summer. People are outside. I am lounging alone under a shady tree, in a beautiful sundress, reading a book. As people pass, I am more aware of this picturesque vision of myself than I am of the book I am reading. I am sixteen, and I know I am the Poster Girl of Youth and Beauty and Freedom, and that the middle-aged men passing by me in their polyester jogging suits take a long hard look as I focus on the page, pretending to be unaware that they are staring at me, the icon of girl.

This intrigues me. The pre-emptive strike is so easy, to denounce that “live to blog” urge as wasted life or narcissism or dysfunctional sociality. One should live in the moment, not as prelude to a scrapbook page, right? But Amanda at least entertains the notion that the feeling of “capturing” the moment could possibly be a greater feeling than living that moment. She also mentions the power of presenting one’s self as an image, and how that power can overwhelm the alleged “living in the moment” altogether. Life as souvenir and life as illustration.

What does that do to a person, going about one’s day with the mind’s eye set to snap the next cell-photo? Or constantly spinning a narrative to post on the blog later? Are you a person? A journalist? A story-teller? A performer? And is something wrong with that?

Sorry, just thinking out loud.

Posted by Jake on April 20, 2005 11:42 pm


  1. It must not be forgotten that every media professional is bound by wages and other rewards and recompenses to a master, and sometimes to several; and that every one of them knows s/he is dispensable…

    Comment by mockingthemockerz — April 21, 2005 @ 1:00 am

  2. There’s a danger in that, but also a danger in thinking this is a new thing. I see no evidence that people in the past were any less obsessed with looking at themselves from the outside.

    Comment by Amanda — April 21, 2005 @ 12:58 pm

  3. Perhaps documenting your life is a way of examining it, of retaining a moment and perhaps getting more out of it in hindsight than you did when in the moment. Sure, I doubt this is the intent of the current Blog Culture, but it is entirely possible.

    Comment by King Mob — April 21, 2005 @ 4:29 pm

  4. Jake and those interested - 2 wonderful books on our infotainment/amusement culture express it best: Amusing Ourselves to Death by the late Neil Postman and Life: The Movie -How Entertainment Conquered Reality by Neal Gabler. The upshot of both is how our society is celebrity obssessed and the effect that has on our personal lives and democracy, etc.

    I always thought there was something strange about tourists photographing/videotaping the Grand Canyon, as if any screen could capture it. Rather than being and experiencing, it was about what? proving to others you were there? Reminiscing about a experience you should have been having but missed because you were documenting it?

    I had an insight into this at a Peter Gabriel concert in 1986. Gabriel - a cult figure at best -was propelled briefly to superstar status after the MTV-fueled ‘So’ LP became his biggest seller and thus was playing arenas instead of the smaller concert halls. Philadelphia’s Spectrum is really just a hockey rink, so it was not a quality experience: neuvo Gabriel fans stood on their chairs the entire night, singing along with the songs they recognized, drowning out Peter, to the point where he actually asked for quiet and when that didn’t work, he cut some songs a verse short. It was 2+ plus hours of listening to what amounted to the City of Philadelphia Sings Peter Gabriel’s Greatest Hits. During Solisbury Hill, as the audience continued singing and swaying their arms in unison, some young guy behind us shouted to his friend “Wouldn’t this make a great video?” My friend Ethan, who had had it by that point and was no longer able to contain himself, whipped around and retorted “Yeah! Almost like the real fucking thing!”

    So there you are, at the concert, actually seeing the event, and you mind is on some later electronic replication of same. Is it any wonder Fox News and ‘reality’ TV is successful? We’ve an entire generation who quite literally cannot think outside the idiot box.

    Comment by Dead Civilian — April 22, 2005 @ 9:12 am

  5. Here’s the thing–recapturing and reinterpreting our experiences and thoughts is the basis of all art. Sure, a snapshot of the Grand Canyon isn’t really art, but you are treading in different waters when you talk about blogging. Some people use it as a tool, not an artistic medium, but some of us take our output seriously and try to exert creative energies into it. Where’s the line?

    Comment by Amanda — April 22, 2005 @ 9:53 am

  6. Being an observer in your own life is the curse of being a writer, no matter what medium you record it in.

    Comment by Terry — April 22, 2005 @ 10:16 am

  7. I’ve thought about this subject a lot. But it’s subtly revealed here:

    “Sorry, just thinking out loud.”

    We think in words.

    We sometimes even think in sentences.

    I know often I’ll get a mental “flash” of insight or understanding, but won’t truly comprehend it until I “speak” it out in my brain. It’s the curse of the overeducated and the media-saturated that our very thinking becomes parsed out into the modes of communication (writing, language, and increasingly, visuals–prolly due to the tv-saturation we all live in) that our society uses the most.

    With this being the case, what is ACTUAL experience and what is our careful internal arrangment of the experience, as we undergo it, but framing it with our own descriptors, our own inner language?

    What’s “real”, and what’s the story we’re writing for ourselves in our heads every second?

    Or are they both real?

    Comment by michele. — April 23, 2005 @ 11:26 am

  8. Interesting, because I don’t think in words/sentences/language. And it’s always been a real tough fight to adapt my thoughts to language, particularly while in a conversation that requires both thought and language.

    I think the topic here is not one of narcissism but nihilism. The nihilism of living through how other people (who ultimately may or may not exist) may see you. In this process one can get so wrapped in the exterior that they lose all semblance of self.

    Comment by William — April 24, 2005 @ 10:36 am

  9. (who ultimately may or may not exist)

    There’s a qualifier you don’t see every day.

    As I was saying to my buddy the other day, “Jeff, you may or may not exist, but no one can burp the alphabet like you.”

    Comment by John Voorhees — April 26, 2005 @ 6:17 am

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