This is part II of this particular idea. See here for Part I.
Also, see this super-long article on the Age of Smarm by Tom Scocca on Gawker. It illuminates many of the consequences of our collective lack of honesty better than I ever could. Funny how that works.
Why Societal Expectations of Behavior are Mostly Counterproductive, Part II: I Probably Don’t Have to Tell You This, but the Media is Disintegrating Our Souls.
There are plenty of reasons to bash the Mainstream Media* these days, and I’m not writing this to add my baritone voice to that choir. Nobody likes baritones anyway. No, I’m mentioning the MSM to introduce the concept of the Best Possible Emotion For a Given Situation, because it would be hard to imagine one without the other.
Think about the way every level of TV News is delivered. A blandly attractive man or woman looks very serious when the story is about something commonly accepted as bad; when the story is about a surfing dog or a rescued baby, however, they express Christmaslike levels of wonder and joy at the sight. This makes sense, right? These anchors and reporters are just reacting naturally to the situations they are reporting, right? Anyone suggesting otherwise is the living incarnation of cynicism, and should be re-indoctrinated into the Universal Church of Earnestness again, right?
Ahh but this is exactly where the Best Possible Emotion For a Given Situation comes into play. If they always pick the emotion that societal consensus indicates, at what point does societal consensus stop and the news anchor begin? It is, after all, the news anchor’s job to reflect what they think the audience’s feelings are. They don’t really have a choice in the matter, if they want to keep being news anchors. Are we to seriously think that every single news anchor is made serious and sad at every crime story, and then instantly switches to happy mode when lighter stories come up? If this is the case, they must be either a) fantastic at coping with their wildly flying emotions, or b) not feeling any of these feelings very deeply at all. I mean, there are other, more cynical choices (they’re all sociopaths, for example), but allow me to suggest that for the vast majority of anchors and reporters, the choice is b). They have become immune to the feelings, and are mostly simulating the Best Possible Emotions because it’s easier (and more conducive to long-term employment) than trying to be authentically themselves.
The reason why it’s like this is that most USA TV News viewers only dip below the emotional surface level on occasions when they’re forced to, usually times of extreme joy or stress. So most days it can be comforting to see a bland and somewhat ideally attractive person emote in ways we feel are appropriate. The Societal Consensus is a real (so to speak) thing, and when we’re plugged into the illusion it can become something we believe in, as long as we’re not forced to think about it.**
Obviously, this is not a phenomenon unique to TV News; it’s just as obvious in other jobs, as well. We see the BPEFGS at play when the doctor gives us bad news, or when the hold message on the phone says “Your call is important to us,” or when the business executive writes in a mass e-mail that he has “mixed emotions” about firing a subordinate, or when a professional athlete tearfully apologizes after being caught cheating. Since we can’t see into other people’s brains, all we can do is give them the benefit of the doubt. And since we are also subject to the societal consensus of the BPEFGS, we may even trick ourselves into thinking that we know someone is being honest about their emotions if we want to believe it and the BPEFGS on display is particularly convincing. But deep down we always understand that we don’t know jack.
This wouldn’t be a problem except that no matter how uncynical we may want to be, everyone subconsciously realizes that TV Newspersons are simulating emotions rather than feeling them. And this makes us feel alone. In fact, when a MSM person breaks ranks and displays an emotion that’s not the BPEFGS, people go absolutely bonkers over it, even if it’s as simple as making public a petty dispute between co-hosts:
Or being forced to deal with an off-book situation for which they don’t have a ready canned emotion:
Ok, that last one seems fake. But that just proves my point, doesn’t it? When a Newsperson doesn’t follow the BPEFGS, it’s news. We’re fascinated by it. Why? Because we are starved for real human emotions in a world that rarely displays or accepts them.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that last sentence. It’s true, isn’t it? It’s not cynicism, it’s quite the opposite. It’s being earnest enough to say that sometimes I feel good about bad things and bad about good things. Sometimes I’m jealous of other peoples’ success, or happy at their misfortune, and this doesn’t make me a worse person. It makes me a real one. I sometime react in inappropriate ways, and I reject all judgments of those reactions. I’m not saying my emotions are perfect, but I’m saying they are me, and that’s the first step in actually dealing with them.
So we can see that the actual cynical ones are those displaying the BPEFGS without feeling the appropriate emotions. Maybe they’re even telling themselves that they really do authentically feel the societally correct way every time, or even worse, maybe they don’t even know how to feel anything except the BPEFGS anymore. Maybe their souls have been actually disintegrated. It happens all the time. Please, please, don’t let that happen to you.
* Semi-recently acronymized as the MSM, it refers to any long-standing media outlet not affiliated with a particular ideology or group. So, CNN or a local newspaper would be MSM, but not, say, the AARP Magazine (what’s it called? Old People Today?)
** Sorry not sorry.