Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Honey, it's Wonderful

At the height of Chowhound's popularity, my niece asked me to look at the web page she was building for herself. Despite the humungous squeeze I was under - working nine or ten fulltime jobs for Chowhound, unpaid - one doesn't refuse a niece. So I dropped everything and gave it a careful look, shooting her a few pages of suggestions.

There was no response, and none of my suggestions were implemented. I eventually came to realize I'd bungled my line. This had been, I failed to realize, a movie scene, and in that scene, the uncle is supposed to say "Honey, it's wonderful."

I hadn't realized I was playing the role of the blandly adoring uncle. I was living in a slightly more filled-in reality of a nationally-known (at the time) Internet entrepreneur kindly sharing his expertise.

If, god forbid, this posting were to go viral, a majority of commenters would sagely observe that "people don't appreciate criticism!" To most people, everything's a shallow dramatic arc, so one deviates from the standard script at one's peril. Just say your damned line! What sort of nasty prick hands back a mansplained list of criticisms when someone's obviously looking for supportive adoration?

I wouldn't even quarrel with this framing. Hell, I'd have spoken that exact line if you ever sent photos of your flower arrangements, or your new gaming headphones or motorcycle exhaust pipe, or your Ukrainian haiku, or your clog dancing, or your Instagram feed of crowd-sourced photos of pets that happen to be named "Clyde". You'll get some version of "Honey, it's wonderful", because what the hell do I know?

But if your uncle plays with the Knicks and you send him video of your bounce pass, asking what he thinks, and he takes time to write you four pages....well, that seems reasonable to me (or even fantastic good fortune). But framings are like that. Everyone's framing feels sensible. If your thing is to watch yourself starring in a movie in your head, you naturally expect the other characters to speak their correct lines. It's their job!

As with the toddler and the steering wheel, the "I'm-in-a-movie!" perspective - the most popular framing in the rich First world (where there's enough headroom for the optional narcissistic loopback) - ensures nagging unease (the Buddhist's term Duḥkha is usually mistranslated as "suffering", but "unease" is much closer). You really can't control any of it, so an asshole's born every minute as people keep messing up your scenes. Cinematic people recognize the delusion at some level, yet the pretense endures because when results do randomly happen to click into place it feels so darn satisfying ("Fleeting instances of seeming control keep the toddler locked into his fantasy and eager for more").

Lagniappe: this two line computer program is guaranteed to ensure low-friction social ease in this world, and uninterrupted good vibes with minimal effort:
See? This life stuff's not hard!

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