Saturday, 4 May 2013

Be Quiet, Kevin

"Okay, it's like this. 
You wake up, you watch TV, and you get in the car and you listen to the radio. 
You go to your little job or your little school, but you're not going to hear about that on the 6:00 news, since guess what. 
Nothing is really happening. 
You read the paper, or if you're into that sort of thing you read a book, which is just the same as watching only even more boring. You watch TV all night, or maybe you go out so you can watch a movie, and maybe you'll get a phone call so you can tell your friends what you've been watching. And you know, 
it's got so bad that I've started to notice, the people on TV? Inside the TV? 
Half the time they're watching TV. Or if you've got some romance in a movie? What to they do but go to a movie? 
All those people, Marlin," he invited the interviewer in with a nod. 
"What are they watching?"

After an awkward silence, Marlin filled in, "You tell us, Kevin."

"People like me."

- Lionel Shriver, We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Be quiet, Kevin, Big Brother XIII is on.

This kind of idea has been articulated before - most notably, I might suggest, by Fight Club, though, I confess, Fight Club did absolutely nothing for me. I haven't yet read the book, though it's been suggested that I do.  Kevin Khatchadourian, both in the pages of the novel and portrayed so beautifully on screen by Ezra Miller, creeps me out.

But the point here isn't Kevin: the point is this idea of the television. A simultaneously wonderful and awful invention, I don't think I would be going too far to suggest that there is a struggle to fill the clock with wonderful and interesting programming. We've probably only enough for maybe a couple of days. What Kevin says here is both completely right and completely wrong - though, in case some of my readers aren't familiar with his story, I shall put no spoilers here. We do watch the world go wrong. It's bound up in vicariousness, yes, but also in a strange and almost indescribable sense of morality of witnessing, in a need to witness. It's also exciting, and because it's not happening in our living room, directly endangering our lives, we are free to be excited and horrified and saddened and relieved without a great deal of real consequence. That is, perhaps, another essay altogether.

However: how often do we find ourselves watching other people watching TV? How often do we find ourselves flicking through channel after channel of reality TV shows during which we can watch other people living? (Just to clarify: that isn't a value judgement. People are really very interesting, though I personally don't really want to watch them living through a TV screen). Kevin is wrong because we can actually press the button at pretty much any time of the day and see people going to work and listening to the radio and watching the TV. Whilst we spend a lot of time watching people like Kevin, we also spend a lot of time watching people like ourselves (that is assuming that we aren't like Kevin, of course). Perhaps that is partially as a comfort measure, a ward against the sense of the need to witness - or even an extension of it, representing a need to reassure ourselves that whilst That is happening There, People Like Us are living Normally, thank you very much, Here. But again, I think that is another essay. Susan Sontag covers some of it in her volume Regarding the Pain of Others (2003, I believe).

Here's the crux: How much is Second Life an example of these ideas? How much of Second Life is watching reality? How much of Second Life (and its washing machines and sinks and toilets and houses and beds and showers) is a reproduction of reality? How much of Second Life is an awareness of this reality, these ideas of Kevin's, and an attempt to enliven them all? How much of Second Life is a platform for people to carry out desires and ideas and actions that people like Kevin carry out (that is to say, things we consider extreme and unnecessary in the extreme) without having the consequences? Are we watching our avatars? - and if we are, does that make them people like Kevin? Do we wish they were people like Kevin? - people of interest and import, worth interviewing on the TV?

I'm going to stop now.

[If you'd like to see Ezra Miller deliver that strange, horrible, and utterly on-it speech as Kevin in We Need To Talk About Kevin, please click this link here - here!. If you haven't see the film, I would advise that you stop watching the clip once he has said the words "an A in Geometry" (about one minute in), though there are actually few spoilers in the rest of the clip.]

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