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Anything But Feelings

Strangers' Stories
Photo: "Strangers' Stories" by Alyssa L. Miller via Flickr. 
Caption: "A superimposition of two shots from a short film I made in New York City about two strangers who form a silent friendship on the streets of New York. Inspired by the real people we walk past on the streets of this big city without a second glance, without wondering why or how they got there. We’re all innately connected, even if in our intrinsic lonliness. An yet, we forgot that everyone is the protagonist in his/her own story. And everyone has something to offer. It’s wonderful. Sometimes I think, 'life would be so much simpler if we didn’t have to make everything so complex.' Then again, I’m a culprit. Too."
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The Outsourced Self,” a new book by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, is about people who make money by selling friendship and love – think “Rent-A-Friend.”

The entire industry of branding today is exactly about this. Adding value to the transaction by pretending to care.

Remember that scene from “Home Alone 2,” where Macaulay Caulkin’s stage mom repeatedly insults Tim Curry, the hotel concierge?

When she abuses him he smiles. When she yells, “What kind of idiots work here?” he responds cheerily, “Idiots like us.”

Hey. It’s the Four Seasons. You have to take it with a smile.

(Her 1983 book was “The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling.”

Prostitution is the oldest profession. It has now widened in scope from the physical to the emotional.

Hochschild is not an objective social scientist. She hates how we disvalue emotional labor. The psychological effect on the individual – demoralization, exhaustion.

What is the impact on the ordinary person of turning sincere emotion into a kind of product?

·      An inability to feel authentically: Emotion is reserved for the pathetic (we feel sorry for them), the mesmerizing (celebrities), the shocking (news stories), and the potentially useful (as employers, mentors, “contacts,” etc.)

·      Lowered self-esteem: We see ourselves as products, and we hate what we see unless we measure up to some mythical ideal that was previously marketed to us on TV, in a magazine, etc. (Women and men equally by the way)

·      Craving approval “wherever”: We find community among people we don’t know (social media), people who want to dig into our wallets (marketers), people who want to exploit our skills (employers), and perhaps worst of all people whose emotional problems require other people as solace (“vampire” friends, relatives, significant others)

Everywhere in our society, relationships are glorified. Don’t clothing ads routinely show a bunch of friends together, having fun? Don’t we see endless portrayals in the movies of Hollywood romance?

But then again, those connections are sold to us as a product.

It seems to me that what we are missing now, and what we as a society need more than ever, are the kind of connections that are off the grid. That have absolutely zero chance of ever becoming commercial.

It also seems to me that we can’t admit how much we actually need those types of connections. We’ll do anything instead – go shopping, eat an ice cream sundae, take a trip to Thailand – anything except just sit down and talk and not look at the smartphone or check the time.

The world has grown so incredibly cold, and it’s not because we lack money. It’s because we have all been sucked into the world of emotional labor – either as peddlers or to consume.

The worst threat we face is not external. It’s the icicles forming on our hearts. As we’ve become steely to each other. And to ourselves.

Think about it - have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

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