While watching the news report on our president, the image of Raphael’s, “Sistine Madonna” came to mind. Now bear with me for a moment, as this painting is probably best known for the cherubs at the bottom of the image. The thing that made me think of them was not their cheeky demeanor but the fact that the cherubs are downright chubby. Like many representations of cherubs in paintings of the time, they are notoriously well fed. Later I discovered that the reason for that was that in a time when most people were starving the idea that there might be more than enough food in heaven did add a certain level of interest that a blushing Madonna’s or pious saints wouldn’t have- the elusive robustness was to be valued, prized even idolized. In this time when we think of social media as a new form of religion, why are we surprised to see the parade of characters cast before us every waking moment? From the earliest days in television, we were presented with ideal visions of family and life that were far from anything most people had known or were even possible. Today we watch the Kardashian’s in the hopes that we could also be famous and valued for absolutely no reason. We watched “Friends” living in an absolutely amazing New York apartment with they paid for with jobs and paychecks that they never seemed to work for projection a similar fate might be possible for us too. Perhaps we should not be surprised that we have projected our most precious desires into a world that seems real and yet attainable only through a miracle or some miraculous transformation. It seems we look to these media icons to allow us to dream a world that we cannot or don’t live in. A world where we will be fed to the point of plumpness, rewarded with adulation and attention for no reason, or be able to act and say whatever we want, no matter how hateful, contradictory or detached from reason. Perhaps it conceals a certain desire in all of us to act as if our actions had no consequences, other than those that would be resolved by the final credits. I mean, wouldn’t we all like the opportunity to act like children – even if only chubby children with wings?
The thought that some things are too complex to be explained simply is one of the reoccurring thoughts in Adam Curtis’ brilliant “HyperNormalisation”. It seems that now we find ourselves in a world where everything must be able to be explained in 140 characters (or better 120 allowing for the precious retweet) and that the idea of complexity must be shunned at all costs. How else can we explain the prevailing descriptions of antagonists on the world stage as, Bad Dudes or Bad Hombres? It seems that our current rush to the latest technology is creating an inverse colorization in our world. We seem to have to take vibrant colorful issues and reduce them to simple almost childlike realities so that we can regurgitate them on our Twitter feeds. And since when did a tweet become an appropriate media for a condolence letter? Have our emotions become so bite-sized that they warrant no more emotional room than a postage stamp? The world is a complex and colorful place and will continue to be so in spite of our tweets full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The world will not reduce itself to meet our small-minded needs and will only leave us behind with a handful of tweets, unable to understand.
It was an honor just to be asked. I was a first-year masters student in the opera program and a very well respected accompanist asked me to sing on a recital of the songs of Hugo Wolf. The songs had been selected and I was ready for what was to become a pivotal event in my musical education. Among the songs was one, Abschied (there is a link to a performance below) that described a critic coming to the poet’s house and criticizing everything from the shape of his nose and going on from there. The poet listens and nods until finally he has had enough and on showing him out, kicks him down the stairs as the music turns to a waltz celebrating the speed to which the critic rolled down the stairs. This uninvited criticism has been on my mind for while with the incidents of body shaming that seem to be everywhere on the internet. Now, I firmly believe that everyone has the right to express themselves and if that means putting a large body into a very small swimsuit and posting pictures of myself on the internet- that seems to be my choice and by putting myself in the public sphere, I invite public discussion. However, discussion seems to be beyond the pale when people suggest that for my act of public exposure that I should instead, kill myself or be so horrified by my own existence, that I should somehow know better than to allow myself to be seen or exposed. How did we get to this point where everyone seems to have the right to say exactly what they feel whenever they feel it but no one has to take responsibility for their actions. It seems that we can say all manner of hate speech but that it is negated and indeed made all better when we apologize or in the case of 45 keep saying it more and more forcefully until it takes on the mangy robe of social media truth. Have we come to a gradation of truth- truth with a small t that can be altered with the shift of a hand like a magician making the ace of spades disappear. Indeed, perhaps we are at blame to give anyone’s words the mantle of truth. In the works of the Burton and Learner song, “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?” perhaps we must take everything with a proverbial grain or block of salt, believing only what we can confirm either in person or by volume of critical sources. Maybe the best approach is that taken by Wolf (and by extension Eduard Mörike the writer of the poem) that while we allow such comments to come in the front door- we also have the choice of which window to throw them out of.