I’ve been thinking lately about people’s relationship with social media, and I’ve noticed a certain asymmetry. So many of us lead our lives on social media now; the logic of social media exhibitionism permeates daily conversation. It’s not so much that Facebook should reflect our lives as they are, but our lives are now influenced by what is or is not Facebook- or Instagram-worthy. “That’s a profile picture worthy photo!” or “Hashtag (insert popular hastag here)” or any other strange thread of conversation where the media is our lives. The act of communication is exhausted in the staging of it. We are so exhausted with talking about what we do with our lives that we almost forget to lead them. And sometimes that’s where you see the asymmetry: the person taking a photo with a Vietnamese local to showcase her voluntourism when in fact that group of students only volunteered for one day and had R&R the rest of the trip; that person posting his Instagram photo with his #family when everyone went back to their rooms behind their computers after that photo was taken. Is the show of our lives more important than our lives? Is saying that you did something on Facebook more important than actually doing it?
And yet, how can I accuse others of inauthenticity? How dare I tell anyone what is real or not real in their lives? There are those, of course, where what is published online is more real than their real lives will ever be. So, there’s another direction of asymmetry: where your Twitter feed is the only true thread of consciousness because that’s where you confess how much you miss your dead father, and that’s what catalogues the only important emotions of your day. Perhaps it is your “real” life that is the masquerade; perhaps that’s where you put on your greatest show. Sometimes the greatest feat is to know someone the way they allow their social media pages to know them. The only thing I want to know is: how should we bridge this gap? And should we even bridge it at all?
Ah, Jane Austen. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when someone wishes to comment on Austen they should begin with this sentence about the acknowledgement of universal truths. It is only appropriate that she makes the list of my first alphabet challenge entry because I’ve been thinking about her so much for my thesis. For the uninitiated, I’m doing my thesis on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and it’s been an absolute journey (and I’m not just saying that to justify my research). People always say how difficult it is to bridge what they love in their leisure time and what they can do in their work, and my degree in media has managed to help me do that, so I’m a really lucky girl. To critically engage with a show that I love and have connected with is special, and perhaps I’ll never be able to do this (at this level and with this intensity) again. I’ve always believed in the power of fiction and storytelling and popular culture, but I suppose real life does get in the way; I don’t know how long I can honour these tenets I view to be important in my life. But, back to Austen.
It’s interesting because Austen has managed to capture the imagination of popular audiences and scholarly circles, and that is rather rare. She’s one of those authors whose works will never cease to exist in the collective imagination of people. For as long as I live, there will continually be adaptations of her novels. (Still crossing my fingers on a modern adaptation of Persuasion yes?) The truth is, Austen’s works refer to a very insular world specific to a particular time period in history and a particular class of people (white, landed gentry), and yet, her works are so universal. Her works are always about epistemology–the enterprise of knowledge. It’s always about how we can know people, and how we always fail at knowing people, but how we must always try. And I love it. Because what else is more important in life than how we relate to other people? For Austen, our attempts at knowing others will always be accompanied by our flaws such as pride and prejudice (whaddup title drop!), but also accompanied by passion. There is so much passion in Austen’s world, and all the more for the fact that it is not shown or honoured or belaboured upon. The passion exists in the interstices, in the pauses, in the glances, in the unspoken, the unkissed. Perhaps a certain holding back makes the best form of gratification.
One last note on Austen: she’s a champion of womankind everywhere. There are no doubt problems in saying that, because, as I said, she refers to a very limited kind of universe, but I’d like to think of her as a feminist. In fact, campaigns to get Austen recognised on a state level have received so much backlash, that it can’t help but remind me of how many women’s contributions in history have gone unnoticed and unacknowledged. Talk about truth universally acknowledged, huh.
We are living in a parody culture, said my professor the other day. And a large part of this parody culture is a youth thing. The youth subculture is huge now, what with superfandoms and social media and the general difficulty of being an adult. Our economic situation nowadays reminds me of The Great Gatsby–in that all the land and resources and opportunities have been exhausted. The fresh green breast of life has somehow transformed into the valley of ashes. That’s what human civilisation does to the earth and the world, perhaps, and the ones to struggle with it are the ones growing up in this sort of world. People underestimate how tough it is to be a youth in modern times, and it is no wonder why we react to everything with parody; the world sucks so much that perhaps the only way to cope is to joke about it. We are the generation taught to do what we love, but we are also the generation taught that the field is fairer for some people than others. We expect so much more–out of life, out of love, out of work, and that might just be the prime reason why we are so inert.
But at the same time, I’ve always believed that as much as our environment and upbringing have shaped us, we are responsible for who we are and how we act and change and be in the world. How we can contribute. And sometimes my generation never thinks about how we can contribute. Sometimes, people my age try to postpone adulthood. I mean, I totally understand why; I want to study at uni forever. But if we do not grow up, how will we ever solve the problems we inherited?
Living an artist’s life is never easy, but trying to be one in Singapore is downright insane. I have a friend who wants to do art, and we’ve been trying to help her find options. There’s literally no inexpensive and logistically probable one. Why, Singapore, why. Why have you conditioned a whole nation of people so afraid to fail that hardly anyone ever ventures outside of their comfort zone? Even my chosen path of wanting to be a writer (also an artist in the broad sense) is revolutionary to most. I’ve been accused of being idealistic–of thinking that I can change the world, or at least the culture, of trying to hold on to ideas unprized by our society such as creativity and pure goodness of heart.
Business invades everything, but instrumentalism finds itself plastered all over the sprawling skyscrapers of the Singaporean landscape. I’ve written about this before, but any attempt at trying to recover the arts for Singaporeans by the state has been for practical reasons. And a new generation of Singaporeans has been conditioned by this instrumentalist, mostly materialistic mindset. It’s scary just how limited we all feel.
I look forward to a truly ground-up burgeoning arts and cultural scene, but it sure can come sooner. I hope more of us step out. I know it’s against all the odds, I know real life requires responsibilities, but there must be a way. A way to honour who we really are.