Day Thirty-Five: Something About Social Media, Rian Johnson, and Paul Thomas Anderson in the Wake of Another Year of Oscar Nomination Show Disappointments

by Tom Noonan

There are two of me in a state of constant existence.  One is sitting at a desk, typing these words, while the other was, not too long ago, ecstatically and voluntarily praised for his humor and general implication of being genuinely interesting.  It happened like this:

“Hey.”

“Oh hey, Tom, what’s up?”

“Surviving, you?”

“Same………. Hey, wait, by the way, you’re really funny on Twitter.”

That quickly, after what some may one day reflect on as a trivial exchange, there were two of me, with one seeming immensely more exciting than the other.  What this girl had said, essentially, was that she liked my Twitter id more than she actually liked me.  In that moment, I didn’t feel so bad about this fact.  It wasn’t until later that day, when I really considered what that fragmented interaction meant, that I realized what exactly was happening.

Before this all happened, I assumed that my social media id existed as an extension of myself, something like an especially sleek shadow.  Now it seems like these two things, both myself and my social media id, exist as two mostly separate entities.  They are, of course, vaguely similar as one is completely contingent on the other’s existence and is, technically, at its source, a creation of the “human” that I claim to be.  However, what happens, or, at least, what tends to happen, is that our social media ids become a projection of who we want to be or, even more than that, who we want other people to think we are.  They become not manifestations of how we see ourselves or even how we want to see ourselves, but instead exist as presentations of how we think other people should see us.  These ids play directly into what we assume people would enjoy the most or be the most interested in.  They reflect our perception of others’ expectations, and, because of this, become something completely separate from ourselves.

This is not a novel thought, I realize that, but what happens when someone is highly successful at creating a far more captivating id through social media than they could ever portray in their real life?  Even more than that, what if everyone only related to a people in the same way this girl related to me?  It seems as if great men and women can be created now, strategically put together at a desk and broadcasted to the masses.  We live in a time where elevator-pitch fame is normative, so why shouldn’t the next great generation exist in doses of 140 characters or less?  Right now, at this moment, we’re revising, again, the American Dream.

Let’s look to pop culture to help us with this proposed revision.  In 2012, there were two great films that both, either intentionally or unintentionally, grapple with the modern existence of man.  In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, humanity is a dynamic issue.  The film presents it as both beautiful and profoundly ugly.  For Joaquin Phoenix as the film’s troubled protagonist, there is a palpable struggle as the line between performance and truth becomes irreparably distorted.  The Master is immense, flawed, and, ultimately, utterly human.  If nothing else, it feels like an experience, leaving the audience burdened and bruised by the end.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Rian Johnson’s equally impressive Looper: a slick and nerdy genre mash-up about hit men and time travel.  With every part meticulously planned and steeped in cultural reference, Johnson’s film is the creation of a mad genius.  The film can also feel stripped of humanity, as if the actors are merely puppets in Johnson’s impeccably mapped-out world.  As a result, Looper becomes less about the characters at its center and tends to focus on the movies that came before it, the ones that allowed Johnson to arrive at this particular story.  This is not to say the movie isn’t good, it’s actually great; it just exists in the same way my Twitter id does, and while watching it, I couldn’t help but yearn for something as ugly as Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s now infamous bathroom scene from The Master to occur onscreen.

Maybe this is how we’ll exist soon, like Rian Johnson’s uber-cool hit men, with all the ugly stripped away, leaving us the ability to create a more appealing id.  For now, let’s enjoy all the ugliness we still have.  Uncomfortable handjobs won’t be around for too much longer.

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