Tuesday, June 5, 2012

David Foster Wallace on TV and "pretty"

 This is what I've been trying to say, said better by a more skilled writer.
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faceless ugly insecure paper bag cover face

"One of the things that makes the people on TV fit to stand the mega-gaze is that they are, by human standards, really pretty. I suspect that this, like most television conventions, is set up with no motive more sinister than to appeal to the largest possible Audience. Pretty people tend to be more pleasing to look at than non-pretty people. But when we're talking about television, the combination of sheer Audience size and quiet psychic intercourse between images and oglers starts a cycle that both enhances pretty images' appeal and erodes us viewers' own security in the face of gazes.

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 means 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 important 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. Not only does this cause some angst personally, but the angst increases because, nationally, everybody else is absorbing six-hour doses and identifying with pretty people and valuing prettiness more, too.

This very personal anxiety about our prettiness has become a national phenomenon with national consequences. The whole U.S.A. gets different about things it values and fears. The boom in diet aids, health and fitness clubs, neighborhood tanning parlors, cosmetic surgery, anorexia, bulimia, steroid use among boys, girls throwing acid at each other because one girl's hair looks more like Farrah Fawcett's than another's . . . are these supposed to be unrelated to each other? to the apotheosis of prettiness in a televisual culture?

It's not paranoid or hysterical to acknowledge that television in large doses affects people's values and self-esteem in deep ways. That televisual conditioning influences the whole psychology of one's relation to himself, his mirror, his loved ones, and a world of real people and real gazes. No one's going to claim that a culture all about watching and appearing is fatally compromised by unreal standards of beauty and fitness."
- from E unibus pluram: television and U.S. fiction // by David Foster Wallace

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