Monday, May 18, 2015

Emotional Guidance

"TV now tells you what to feel.

It doesn't tell you what to think anymore. From EastEnders to reality format shows, you're on the emotional journey of people - and through the editing, it gently suggests to you what is the agreed form of feeling. "Hugs and Kisses", I call it.

I nicked that off Mark Ravenhill who wrote a very good piece which said that if you analyse television now it's a system of guidance - it tells you who is having the Bad Feelings and who is having the Good Feelings. And the person who is having the Bad Feelings is redeemed through a "hugs and kisses" moment at the end. It really is a system not of moral guidance, but of emotional guidance.

Morality has been replaced by feeling.

That's what all the disorders are about. They are a way of oppressing and measuring whether what you're feeling is the correct feeling. Intellect and morality are intimately related but feeling is now predominant."

-Adam Curtis

The above quote is not the source material from which Forcefeel derives (the moniker preceded the quote in question), but reading this and seeing Curtis's Century of the Self gave potency and legitimacy to some of the ideas I had which had inspired the name.  (I still have a dormant plan to erect an entire album from Reality TV swells and incidental dramatic links, the real stuff of the Forcefeel. It'll probably never happen, but it's nice to dream).

I couldn't help thinking back to The Century of the Self when watching last night's Mad Men series finale; the repositioning of the empathetic/communal hippie spirit of goodwill into a struggle of the self.  Man vs. nature/man vs. society transforming into personal growth/man vs. himself.  In a way, I think this was part of the crux of the show, the central existential tension offscreen (and the vast majority of its tensions were offscreen), the idea that something outside yourself could permit you to be anything but yourself and thus lose yourself in the process.  Don's somewhat nihilistic take in early seasons was that there was no real self, just fantasies and fictions created by men like himself to sell to rubes desperate to chew up the bait.  But in the end, left with nothing but himself, it became clear that it was just as possible that he did have a core self and that core self was just kind of a piece of shit.

To the show's credit, it never provided instructions on how to feel, though in a culture where guided self-reflection is normative this ambiguity is just as intrinisically dangerous as the alternative.  Certainly, the show can count among its fanbase those who idolize or idealize the time and the characters, something AMC's own marketing never tried to dissuade.  When one's feelings have been conditioned in every other capacity by ideology, you can then be allowed to roam free in the marketplace of ambiguity, secure in the knowledge that the filter of the self will reflect back only your own one-directional biases and direct you to purchase the correct rendition of the status quo (ie, never the most threatening one).

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