Exhibitionist or Voyeur — Which Are You?
Although I don’t hang around with a lot of psychiatrists, I certainly have met a lot. Some of the most famous and powerful had “subspecialties.” That means, they had pet theories which they had developed and written books about. They had simple ideas that they thought described the entirety of human behavior. They did a lecture circuit.
After their academic book had sold the requisite less-than-ten copies, mostly to their immediate families, they were sometimes able, by tying their findings to the popular and moneymaking arts, to write a “popular” equivalent of their learned meanderings.
One of the more successful was an older guy I knew back in New England, who had me visit a campus outside of that august “6-state area” regarding an opening that never materialized. He had a whiff of “Harvard” about him, so I have no doubt that if such an opening ever materialized, it was filled with a person of that same origin.
My job-seeking life was filled with similar experiences, which explains a little bit of how I became a “renegade” doctor.
This great thinker believed that everybody’s behavior everywhere was primarily motivated by shame. He took painstaking care to explain this using as an example the plot of “Les Miz“ on Broadway then. I think he may have even played some recordings in his lectures. (He actually sang me some of the airs from that same show in my interviews with him, and very badly.)
“Shame” is not a bad concept. I am certain that riding the coattails of the then popular “Les Miz” was a good move. I did not know then and will not now whether it was his own idea or that of a publicist. I think “Les Miz” is one of the great stories of all time and I have certainly heard of careers built on worse. But one of the few words I said during that depressing interview had something to do with my perceived greatness of Victor Hugo.
But whatever comment I made was lost in the waves of the master’s discourse, which I think was about something he had to do with those uneducated TV hosts when his book came out. No, I don’t even remember his name. I do remember thinking that “shame” is external. I refused then, as I refuse now, to believe that human beings are somehow just bags of passive entities that respond to external social demands — even if such an entity can seem to explain the entire wonderful masterful plot of “Les Miserables.”
It seems the English translation was so popular in the U.S. during the Civil War that our southern friends jokingly called themselves “Lee’s Miserables.”
A far less famous psychiatrist, whose books were very unpublished — last I checked — was a professor at a state university and cruised the Midwest with his theory that everything humans did was either an act of exhibitionism or an act of voyeurism. He checked his French pronunciation on me (not bad, then, for the Midwest) and he expounded with examples. No single example as powerful as Les Miserables but lots of common everyday ones. He was convinced that everyone either wants Them (with a capital “T”) to see you do it, or you want to see someone else do it. When generalized, this hypothersis can cover Cinema, Peep shows, community theater, and the entire porn industry, not to mention my own bilingual operetta type singing and listening. I have lost touch with this august psychiatrist. I hope he has figured out how to expand his theory into reality shows.
We love to see people take unspeakable and horrible risks, which they claim they are doing for the “thrill” and which they probably are doing for cash. We may lack the body conditioning. Many are all too happy to show off what they have built. Maybe we just can’t get away from the salary or the spouse “who must be obeyed.”
Perhaps our voyeurism is a simple explanation for all celebrity. We live vicariously through those who do things that one or another social taboo says we cannot. Some sort of bizarre corollary for this consists of those fame-seekers with the thinnest of rationales.
Grabbing publicity as an end in itself; nothing, really. Like this lovable family. Not claiming to be scientific geniuses, mind you. Perhaps claiming to be worthy of being someone else’s ideal, someone somebody else would watch.
This is a really strange thing to want.
I still remember when the Loud family was a subject of PBS documentaries. This allegedly “normal” American family was ripped apart, ostensibly because it was being watched. When there was divorce and associated mayhem, people in the allegedly serious mental health community (my colleagues, I suppose) started raising the question that there could be some sort of human Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Maybe the very fact of watching things on the human level very closely could somehow change the dynamic of those things, quite clearly doing it for the worst.
Since then, it seems that people have clamored to be on reality television. Maybe the human factors that are strained seem unimportant compared to any money involved. It hurts me to think that we are that materialistic, but I really think that we could be. Maybe the “payoff” of fame is seen as so great that it is worth whatever else it takes. I hope not, but we may be that inhuman. Is it simply the easiest way to make a living in a perceived “depression?” Maybe eccentricity pays. If such is the case, I may have a better career coming than I thought. Or maybe we are exhibitionists. Some of us may believe that we are simply so “good” at doing life that every word that comes from our learned faces should be documented on You-tube. I am guilty of this. I am there.
My old psychiatrist friend could certainly expand his theory into presidential gate crashing — one of the more bizarre recent examples. Is fame so precious that we seek it by spurious association? Is this the first step to a gig on “Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.?” I do not think that these “stars” realize that this most fleeting form of exhibitionism may be purchased at the extent of a loss of control, for I think that directors and editors own the reality media.
The star who achieves the requisite 15 minutes of fame (The time estimated by Andy Warhol) is maybe more likely to be famous as a buffoon than as a social icon, if the editor and director get their druthers? People seem to be so hungy to exhibit themselves that they abandon higher concerns. People want to be famous so badly that the hypothesis of the “Les Mis” psychiatrist, shame, falls by the side of the road. If you really want to exhibit yourself, you may want to show how hard you worked on your body. You may not care if anyone thinks you took any time at all to work on your mind.