Why You Care About (insert celebrity here)

celebrity obsession, fans, reality tv, media hypervigilance, celebrity worship, celebrity idols,

The distance between a baby in arms and nursing mother is eight to 15 inches, perfect for the focusing ability of a newborn. Even the youngest babies speak with their eyes. They hunger for eye contact and tell us how to respond to them by looking delighted, looking away, watching intently, or drifting off to sleep. When babies are cared for by people who are nurturing and responsive they learn to trust.

When a baby is a few months old,  he or she is held upright in a parent’s arms, still in close facial range. Such young children, still new to speech, pay close attention to a parent’s expression especially in new or unsettling situations. Eye contact is paired with the comfort of close body proximity. The child’s nerve endings continually input the sensation of being held safely but gently while correlating movement, smells, tastes, and sounds they experience.

celebrity worship explained, eye contact through tv screen, depression linked to tv, relationships versus tv, screens and mental health,  Close proximity to loved ones. (dhgoodman's flickr photostream)

Close proximity to loved ones. (dhgoodman’s flickr photostream)

As children get older they still are in close proximity to caregivers and family members, but also become close to friends. Face to face contact is likely with a few close friends as the child matures, and perhaps some face time with a disciplining teacher or coach also makes a pretty strong impact.

I’m not heading in the direction you suspect. This isn’t about growing up with insufficient eye contact, although when everyone is distracted by handheld screens this may be an increasingly sorrowful issue.

There are cultural variations in personal space as we become adults but in general, close personal contact has a lot to do with close emotional connections. We care about the people we’re closest to, literally, and our emotional health hinges on whether they care about us. In fact, two studies showed that strangers who were asked to maintain eye contact for two full minutes reacted by not only liking the other person but feeling “passionate love” for that person. Talk about the power of eyes, up close!

We also have, whether we recognize it or not, close associations between their facial expressions and our own self image. Closeness to another person’s face also means sensory experiences—smell, touch, taste, and movement that helps us continually form a sense of ourselves in relation to other people. That may be why brief sexual encounters and bad relationships are so emotionally damaging, not enough time spent looking with affection at one another’s faces along with insufficient eye contact. We’re left feeling as if we aren’t fully ourselves in the relationship, we’re not SEEN for who we are. That may be the case in unhealthy family dynamics too—-not enough face time or face time associated with unresponsive nurturing (either inattentive or intrusive). And inappropriate facial closeness, a screaming boss or threatening bully or dangerous intruder, can strip away this very essential boundary we establish early on that only welcomes those people who nurture us in some way to get that close.

How many people have you been in close facial proximity to over and over, so many times that their faces are more known to you than your own face? I’m guessing not that many. In childhood it was likely your parents, maybe a grandparent, and a close sibling or two. In adulthood it may be a partner (or several partners over time) and your own children. Tally that up. Perhaps a dozen people in total?

proximity and relationships, eye contact effects, eye contact affection,

I know, I’m slow getting around to my point but here it is. We are primed to care about and expect reciprocal caring from people whose faces we regularly see up-close, to know we have a place in each other’s lives. Screens change all that.

Movies, television, videos, and some video games bring other faces into personal range. You aren’t nose to nose with the screen but zoom shots bring those expressive lips and eyes up close, letting our brains experience an intimacy that isn’t there.  That’s the only way acting and filming techniques work, when viewers suspend reality by believing what’s on the screen. These screens have been around a scrap of time in the long expanse of human history. We’ve evolved to care intensely for and do everything we can to stay in touch with to those who have been repeatedly in close eye contact with us. They are, our bodies and minds believe, the core members of our tribe. Now there’s a good chance you see close-up faces of broadcasters, movie stars, and sports figures at least as many hours a day, probably more, than you do your close friends and family.

alienation tv, eye contact essential,

Feel connected? ( Bludgeoner86 flickr photostream)

I deeply appreciate the way technology allows us to learn and connect. I’m also a movie-watcher and fan of several TV series, so I’m not pointing any fingers. But I am intrigued about the way technology intersects with, perhaps intrudes upon, the unspoken essence of loving connection.

I wonder if this explains obsession with celebrities and absorption with lives of reality TV participants. I wonder if this relates to widespread problems in sustaining relationships, to general malaise, and to the fact that ten times more people are suffering major depression than than during World War II. (Yes, there are other factors.)

If we expect reciprocal attention and care from those whose faces are close to us, yet those faces can’t see us, it may very well reinforce a sense of loneliness and misery. It would drive us back to those screens, to look again and again at eyes that for the moment seem so close.

The concept seems laughable, but still I wonder. What do you think?

Healing Power of a Good Snort

end despair now, silly cure for bad mood, cure depression,

"Nimm dich selbst bei der Nase" ("take yourself by your nose")

 No one is upbeat all the time. Well, there are a few people but clearly they are NOT paying much attention to what’s going on around them. And admit it, none of us like their ridiculously peppy good cheer. I realize I have a lot to say about  listeningappreciating the dark stuff, the influence of our perceptions, the curative power of smiling, and dealing with life’s crap. But even the most dedicated optimist falls into a pit of despair occasionally. I’m assuming this is normal. After all, the human experience is all about contrast. Joy/pain. Elation/dread. Hope/trepidation. And we don’t come equipped with mood jumper cables to recharge us.

Or do we? Because I’ve discovered a cure for this common malaise. 

Don’t get me wrong. I know a positive attitude takes work. But sometimes all the saintly effort in the world can’t ease melancholy. And just past melancholy lurks despair. I don’t know about you, but I fall into that dreaded Pit of Futility on occasion. My efforts seem useless, my energy sapped, the meaning of life comes up for serious questioning.  I was there recently.  This was not a chuckhole of depression.  This was a pit. Until I was cured in an instant. Let me explain.

I was sliding down a precipice without the resolve to help myself.  I went on for days wearing a fake smile and false enthusiasm to cover my wretchedness.  I was so weary that I accomplished little.  I longed for a dark cave to crawl into, but found myself dragging the cave along as I went through the day’s tasks.

Then it happened.

I was out to do errands on a Tuesday in my usual hurry. The streets near our home were clogged with workers spreading that toxic stench known as asphalt. While waiting for the flagman to wave me on I developed an asphalt-related headache. I dragged through my stops without my usual energy, mentally lashing myself for not being more efficient. To top it off I forgot something on the way home and had to stop at one of those Waystations of Overpayment, the convenience store. Another confirmation that I couldn’t get my sh*t together. Great. At the convenience store I grabbed what I needed. Yes, it was toilet paper. Of course I’d forgot to order from the co-op, forcing me to buy the evil non-recycled version in a multi-pack appropriately giant sized to deal with our large household.

After my purchase was completed I began to walk out of the door. I was carrying my overstuffed purse plus the large bag with my purchase. As I stepped to cross the threshold an older gentleman hustled up in a hurry to do a kindness. He stopped directly in the doorway, awkwardly attempting to hold the door open for me from within the entranceway. That left his body in the way of my body which was already encumbered by aforementioned purse and large shopping bag.

Stepping past him involved a bit of reconfiguring. Instead of the normal space between strangers, this doorway maneuver placed our faces a few short inches apart from one another. I composed a grateful expression and prepared to deliver my depressed person’s falsely perky “thank you” when he said something.

It was a sentence, but I didn’t catch a word of it. Maybe it was garbled, maybe accented, maybe my hearing was addled by a crinkling 12 pack of toilet paper.

So I overcompensated.

I nodded and tried to look grateful while adding a cheery but short laugh to my intended “thank you.” (That cheery laugh was supposed to indicate comprehension.) I was also simultaneously turning sideways to accommodate him, my bag, my purse and myself in the door.

Somehow this was all too complicated in my low ebb state. I was performing too many exhale efforts without inhaling at the right moment. My words and my laugh got tangled. Saliva threatened to roll out. I made an effort to keep from drooling while smiling, still attempting to toss that “thank you” out.

While my facial and verbal contortions were getting mixed up, my body insisted on breathing. That inhale was unexpectedly violent.

Inches away from this elderly man’s kindly face I SNORTED. Not a delicate snort. It was a huge unintended nasal vibration with the typical horse-y sort of snort-related facial expression. It was so loud it seemed everything around me shuddered. If there were a Richter scale for vocalizations, this sound was at least a 6.9 in the scale of damage potential.

Shocked, I skittered away to my car without seeing his reaction to my nose-related doorway thuggery. I barely got the car door closed before I let loose with hysterical laughter. Tears burst out and sprung over my smile-stretched cheeks. I imagined snort echoes still reverberating in the small store. I pictured the cashier shaking her head in consternation. I practically heard this gentleman return home saying, “Mavis, the strangest thing happened…”

Urged by my imperiled continence I started the car and headed home.  I drove past the construction site braying with laughter.  The flagman waved me on with a curious look at my wide-mouthed glee.

Strangely, I felt great. The weight of angst had completely lifted. Everyone I told the story of my depression-curing snort felt great too, probably out of relief that they weren’t along on that fateful Tuesday.

It’s absurd.   Sure we grow in strength and character from our crises, but sometimes we have to shed our pretensions of strength and act like a character.  I’m telling you, there are untapped healing powers in a finely tuned snort.