Monday, January 19, 2015

FROM Intrusion of Public Pressure into Private Life TO Protrusion of Private Life into Public Sphere.

One of the healthiest development in the history of mankind was the conceptualization of the private space from the public sphere. In some ways, more important than the separation of church and state has been the separation of private life and public power. Without it, the development of Western Civilization would have been inconceivable. Though all cultures developed some degree of the sanctity of private life, it was the West, especially the modern West, that not only made a clear distinction between the public and the private but ensured the right of privacy to every individual.

Without the concept of universal right to privacy, privacy would only be a matter of privilege for the powerful. In a nation like Cuba or North Korea, only the uppermost elites enjoy privacy. But any Cuban or North Korean suspected of harboring wrong thoughts or indulging in questionable behavior can be visited by the police any time of the day or night. It was so in Stalinist USSR and Maoist China. Though individuals do have moments of privacy in communist or totalitarian states, it is not ensured or protected by law. At any time of day, the state can choose to barge into any home or spy on just about anyone. So, even though every Cuban or North Korean has his or her private life behind all four walls, his or her privacy can be intruded upon or violated at any time. In the old Soviet Union, anyone could expect to hear the knock on the door at any time of the night; the not-so-secret-police have come to arrest you. And they could ruffle through your papers and belongings, and there would be nothing you could do about it. It’s like the private life isn’t ensured in the German film THE LIVES OF OTHERS. A revolutionary character in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO says, "The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it... The private life is dead - for a man with any manhood."
But lack of privacy could also be a matter of culture, and indeed that was the case for most of history. For one thing, primitive people lead communal lives, and there’s little time for privacy, especially as their dwellings happen to be simple and make-shift. How much privacy can one have when homes consist of huts made of mud or straw? Also, sexuality tends to be more brazen and open in primitive societies — with some people even running around naked — , and so there’s less need to feel shame over nakedness or sexually charged behavior. In African tribal societies, if a woman accused her husband of being a bad lover, the elders would watch them having sex. If the elders sided with the woman, she could go with another man. If the elders sided with the man, he could beat her.
But even in more developed, more complex, and sexually more repressed societies, the concept of privacy could be weak by our contemporary standards. Consider the frontier folks in John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS. When Laurie Jorgensen(Vera Miles) receives a letter from her boyfriend, her parents expect her to read it out loud. It’s especially disconcerting to Laurie because the man who delivered the letter is also in the room strumming his guitar. (He has sights on Laurie too.) But, Laurie’s parents see nothing wrong with her reading the letter out loud so all could hear. To Laurie, it’s a personal letter, but to her parents, it’s just a source of news that should be shared by all. Besides, the parents, as good Christian folks, don’t believe children should have anything to hide from their parents.
There’s a similar scene in the movie THE GREAT WALL IS A GREAT WALL(directed by Peter Wang). When a Chinese-American and his Americanized son visit mainland China(undergoing reforms and opening up to the world) to reconnect with relatives, he soon discovers that Chinese values are different from American values. In the Chinese family, the parents open their daughter’s letter without her permission, and the daughter sees nothing with it. As a ‘good girl’ of the family, why should she have anything to hide from her parents? But after she hangs with the Westernized Chinese-American son, she begins to appreciate concepts like privacy and later has a row with her mother over invasion of her privacy.
In James Ivory’s film MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE(with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward), there’s a scene where the mother confronts her son about his possession of a nudie photo(that looks totally staid even by today’s standards). She seems to think there’s nothing wrong with her having rifled through his drawers to find the material, and the son just seems shame-faced. Today, most parents wouldn’t dare to look through their children’s private material, and even if they found something, they would respect the privacy of their children and say nothing about it.
In many cultures around the world — and even in the West not too long ago — , the concept of privacy wasn’t particularly valued as something positive. After all, didn’t an insistence on privacy imply that one had something to hide? Now, everyone could understand and appreciate the need for privacy while someone took a crap or had sex. But for what other reason should someone insist on their rights of privacy? What does he or she have to HIDE? If people are good and upright, shouldn’t they have nothing to hide? Thus, the cultural mind-set of people even in relatively free societies wasn’t all that different from that of a totalitarian state that believes that good citizens of the state should have nothing to hide from authorities. It’s like Nurse Ratched in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST insists that the inmates spend more time together and care less about their privacy. She sees it as therapeutic for people to come together and relate/confess their problems so that everyone can hear and discuss things. There should be nothing to hide. Besides, how can patients be treated for their problems that aren’t aired out? And yet, there’s a contradiction in her approach. On the one hand, she seems to suggest that there is no need for anyone to feel ashamed of anything. If anyone has a problem, he should speak freely so that she and others can discuss what can be done about it. And yet, her cold and judgmental stare suggests that everyone belongs in the mental ward because he’s a hapless loser with problems he should be shamed about in the real world. So, for the patients, it’s damned if you, damned if you don’t. Nurse Ratched asks them to confess their private problems. But her stern coldness makes them feel judged and shamed for having the kind of problems they do.

If Nurse Ratched’s problem is she intrudes into privacy of others — even as therapy, she’s a bit extreme — , Randall McMurphy’s problem is he shamelessly spills matters of his privacy into public space. Ratched sticks her nose into where it doesn’t belong, and McMurphy sticks his dick out where it doesn’t belong. Though Billy Bibbitt is meant to be seen as the victim of Nurse Ratched, he’s actually the victim of both Ratched and McMurphy as he’s caught between a rock and a hard place between Nurse Ratched’s bitchy intrusiveness and Randall McMurphy’s son-of-a-bitchy protrusiveness. McMurphy’s recommendation to Billy is that he should shamelessly pull out his dick and just hump some slut. Ratched’s admonishment is Billy should be ashamed of what he did, especially the way he did it with a loose woman in the mental hospital where that sort of thing is simply out of order.

It was really after World War II that our standards of privacy became more or less universalized all across America. With families moving to the suburbs and owning their own homes, each family could enjoy more privacy and space than in crowded urban tenements, some of which had shared bathrooms for all the residents on the floor. Consider the shared toilet room in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Consider the crowded house in Woody Allen’s RADIO DAYS. (Indeed, Allen often contrasts the crowded environments of ethnic folks with the dry arid spaces of privileged wasps who seem to have fewer kids. It could be ethnics were more competitive and charged in relation to Wasps in the postwar era because they grew up in environments where everyone has to scream and shout to be heard.) Consider how the family in RAISIN IN THE SUN have to share the shower room with other families on the floor.
Also, privacy was less possible even within the apartment because there were too many people in too few rooms. In many cases, children had to share the same room. But with the housing boom of the postwar years, many American families owned their homes for the first time. And if the house was sufficiently big enough, each child could have his own room. And as youth culture developed separately from adult culture, children wanted their own cultural sphere apart from that of their parents. If the parents were listening to Frank Sinatra or Perry Como, the kids wanted to listen to Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly in their bedrooms. Consider the Beach Boys’ song "In My Room", a pop paean to the beauty of privacy.
And yet, in some ways, the development of youth privacy in the postwar years — especially in the 1960s — was counter to the true meaning of privacy. Young people weren’t so much shutting themselves in privacy to do their own things as connecting with the wider cultural phenomenon of pop culture taking over concert halls and even the TV sets. They weren’t staying in their bedrooms to think their own thoughts and read their own books — and write their own ideas — (though some did do that) but to indulge in the fantasy of pop culture that was becoming the collective shared expression of their generation. It’s like the homo son in the great French-Canadian film C.R.A.Z.Y spends an inordinate time in his bedroom listening to David Bowie and other rock music. Thus, the bedroom became less a private space apart from the public than a fantasy portal to the public dreamland of Rock n Roll.

What’s interesting about TWILIGHT is the near-absence of pop cultural references in Bella’s bedroom. The walls are not cluttered with posters of rock stars or movie celebrities. Bella really spends time in her bedroom for her private thoughts and dreams. To be sure, it’s not so private because Edward Cullen keeps coming and going, but Bella’s private life is mostly about her fixation on Edward.

Of course, privacy was a part of humanity for all its existence. Indeed, even animals have some primal sense of proto-privacy. They seek shelter and hide from other animals. Many creatures are secretive. But with animals, their sense of proto-privacy is more a physical than psychological matter. They fear dangers all around and instinctively know that their chance of survival improves by hiding from dangers. With humans, privacy isn’t merely a matter of self-preservation but guarding one’s psychological space from others.

Though secrecy and privacy are related, they are fundamentally different in this regard: Secrecy is more a matter of strategy whereas privacy is a matter of habit. We hide secrets because it’s to our interest in business and politics. There is a clear purpose and objective about secrecy.
Though privacy is also important in a social sense, there’s a lot of things we keep private simply because they are personal matters; there is no further agenda. Hiding corporate secret is a business matter. Keeping one’s feelings about someone is a personal matter that may have no political or economic advantage.

Paradoxically, the development of religions, especially something with omnipotent deity or deities both narrowed and expanded the sphere of privacy. It narrowed one’s sense of privacy because all-powerful God or gods may have the power to watch over you at all times. His gaze would follow you everything. You can’t hide anything from Him, not even your most intimate thoughts. On the other hand, through faith in such a Deity, you could create a vast inner space apart from the world of men. By developing a complex relationship with the Deity of higher truth, one could feel within an inner world independent from the intrusion of human power. A political dissident whose privacy has been violated by political authorities might seek solace in his private communication with God in his jail cell.

To the extent that people cannot read other people’s minds, everyone has had some degree of privacy. Even in Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China where rights of privacy were weak, people could still be private in their minds. They might hate Stalin or Mao in their hearts but still pretend to be ‘good loyal comrades’ and say all the right things. In George Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith maintains a private realm in his mind. The great horror is that totalitarian authorities aren’t merely content to take away his physical freedom but resort to torture and psychological manipulation to make him surrender his deepest recesses of his mind to Big Brother. He is driven to the point of madness where his only survival strategy is to completely surrender to Big Brother with utmost sincerity for an ounce of mercy.

In America of the 1960s, the kind of privacy that we’ve all grown accustomed to bloomed into fullness. And generations that grew up afterward enjoyed even more privacy because post-boomer parents — at least whites — had fewer kids. Though boomer kids enjoyed unprecedented freedoms and ersatz rights-of-youth, many of them grew up in large families, and so, they had to share rooms and stuff with siblings. Also, many middle class homes back then were a lot smaller than houses built today.
Still, the kinds of privacy and freedoms enjoyed by boomers was unprecedented, especially in contrast to what their parents had experienced for cultural and economic reasons. As for the later generations, many children had their own rooms and indeed expected such almost as an entitlement. Also, because of America’s privacy rights, everyone’s privacy was guaranteed by law. Authorities couldn’t just barge in whenever they pleased as in communist Cuba. Also, the cultural values and habits had changed drastically. If parents of an earlier era had been more prying into their kids’ affairs, boomer parents believed that their children should be allowed their own privacy. After all, didn’t they have issues with their ‘Greatest Generation’ parents who hadn’t been so sensitive? Also, the Freudianization of American culture normalized the notion that parents shouldn’t be too hung up about matters of sexuality. Parents should freak out about finding some smut in the bedroom... though I suspect a lot of parents would still be alarmed if they found a sex toys, condoms, or birth control pills in the kids’ rooms.

In the film PEOPLE NEXT DOOR, there’s the issue of drugs. The film is admiring of how a parent(school administrator played by Hal Holbrook) finds drugs in his son’s bedroom and calls the police. ‘Greatest Generation’ parents were very worried about drugs, but boomer parents have been more ambiguous about the matter. Since many of them indulged in drugs and continued to do so — especially marijuana — into adulthood, they wouldn’t be too freaked out about their kids using that stuff. On the other hand, some boomers who excessively indulged in that stuff and messed up their lives have turned even more anti-drugs than their parents. Having been to hell and back thanks to drugs, some boomers became born-again Christians and tried to protect their kids from any kinds of drugs. As for ‘Generation X’ parents, they are also divided on the issue of freedom. Many grew up with a lot of freedom and want their children to grow up free too. But they also feel that maybe they enjoyed too much freedom and wasted too much stuff on stupid stuff. So, some ‘Generation X’ parents have become ‘helicopter parents’ who are always trying to direct their kids to constructive activities. If earlier generations of parents tried to enforce what kids CANNOT do, ‘Generation X’ helicopter parents try to emphasize what kids SHOULD do. Since kids are raised this way from an early age, many don’t realize how much they’re being shaped and guided by their parents.
Parents are especially worried because capitalism is geared to make kids feel closer to corporations than to their parents. As pop culture and fashion industries tirelessly try to persuade each generation of kids that they are so very special for being different from the earlier generations, young ones come to see their own stuff as ‘cool’ and earlier stuff as ‘uncool’. Of course, ‘their own stuff’ isn’t really their own stuff since it was created and marketed by cynical corporations that mostly hype untalented hacks like Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Kanye West, and Justin Bieber(instead of a genuine talent like Cady Groves). But the entertainment industries create the impression that whatever happens to be ‘hot’ at the moment is what youth is all about. On the one hand, parents are worried and even alarmed by ‘what kids are into these days’.
On the other hand, as even parents grew up under a culture of ‘what is hot and what is not’, they are afraid of being seen by their kids as ‘uncool’. Of course, coolness is just a brand and has no value in reality. Indeed, nothing of any worth in reality is ‘cool’. Movie stars may look cool on screen, but it’s just a false impression created after many takes, retakes, and bloopers that are left on the editing room floor.

The great positive development of the modern concept of privacy is it has allowed a breathing space, an emotional respite and sanctuary, from the public life. For healthy living, people have a need for both shared social/public space and private inner space. Though Japan was hardly a liberal society, it had long ago developed the concept of the official and the private. As long as certain things were done privately away from the purview of public life, it might be tolerated as long as the proper methods were followed. This partly explains why there was a lot of weird stuff in Japanese culture. As long as the weird stuff was indulged in the private sphere, it could be ignored by the public realm. Shohei Imamura’s PORNOGRAPHERS is an interesting film on this subject. Of course, as Japan is a small nation with limited space, it wasn’t easy to provide ample private space for everyone. Therefore, Japanese made do with a elaborate system of walls that could be physical, symbolic, or psychological. Some walls were literally paper-thin, but as long as they existed, one was supposed to respect the privacy on the other side. Also, the wall could be psychological. In Japanese subways, one might see men reading lewd comic books. But as long as they read that stuff quietly, you are supposed to pretend that there’s a wall between him and you and that you don’t notice what he’s doing. Japanese have a way of doing things discreetly even in public.

Anyway, keeping public stuff public and keeping private stuff private was a great compromise that made for psychological, social, and cultural health. Ideally, people should be mindful of propriety in public and should be free to do whatever in private.
Indeed, this was good for homos and the rest of us too. If homos wanna do funny homo stuff in their own bedroom, what business is it of ours? We have no right to pry into their affairs. We would leave them alone, and they would leave alone.
Sicko fruitkins acting tutti-fruity, but at least it's in their own bedroom.
So, what has happened that messed up the balance/equilibrium between public life and private life? If the problem in the past was that public authorities too often intruded into the private lives of individuals for reasons of political, religious, ideological, or sexual ‘correctness’, the problem of the present is that private indulgences and fantasies protrude into the public sphere where the norm should be proper behavior, self-restraint, and basic decency/dignity. To be sure, the issue has been complicated because of the vast grey area that is neither exactly public or private. The mass media of course. Prior to stuff like TV, Radio, and TV, it was easier to distinguish what was public and what was private. Public was what happened in the streets and town square, and private was what happened in your house.
But what about movies? Is that private space or public space? While one has to buy a ticket to enter a theater, watching a movie is still a shared public experience. So, if an erotic movie is playing in a theater, is that public or private? And what about TV? While most people watch TV in their own homes, they all share in the same images and sounds watched by millions of other Americans. And then the internet really changed the nature of the game. Is cyberspace a private realm or public realm? If any child can access all sorts of porny images, is he or she exercising a form of privacy or taking part in some public ‘exchange’? If some boy or girl, in the privacy of his bedroom, makes a ‘vlog’ video for Youtube, is it a private or public activity? So, the issue today is no longer about the public intruding into the private but the private protruding all over into public space.

And no group has done this more irresponsibly than homos and Negroes, with the help of Jews who control government, media, academia, and courts of course. It used to be that homos wanted to come out of the closet into the bedroom. And most of us were fine with that. Now, homos wanna come out of the bedroom into the streets. They demand that all of us celebrate and praise their lifestyles, sexual activities, and indulgences of fecal penetration as if a penis getting smeared with feces of man is akin to some ‘rainbow’. As for Negroes, they now dance in porny ways. In the 90s, they were into bumping and grinding, a form of dancing where women stuck their butts out to be rubbed by groins of men. If men and women did this in their bedrooms, no problem. But this became a public thing on the dance floor. To be sure, one could argue that dance clubs are private spaces. But for all practical purposes, dance clubs are really public spaces owned privately. And kids were acting like that in schools as well. As if bumping-and-grinding publically wasn’t lewd enough, Negroes came up with a form of dancing called ‘twerking’ where women flap their butt cheeks up and down like they’re having woman-on-top sex. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem in one’s bedroom, but it’s done openly in public. And thanks to the internet, idiots on Youtube video-record their ‘twerking’ activities in the privacy of their bedrooms and share it with the entire world. And now, women are ‘twerking’ publically all over the world as if public space is their bedrooms.

If it was wrong for the public sphere to intrude into the realm of the private sphere, isn’t it also wrong for the private sphere to protrude into the public sphere, indeed to the point where we can’t watch a TV show or something on the internet without coming across some lewd, vile, gross, foul, or disgusting behavior? Must the public sphere be polluted with the likes of Lena Dunham who acts like Miss Piggy in heat? If Dunham wants to boff a bunch of guys, why does it have to splashed all over TV?
Why has the semi-public sphere of TV become so saturated with the kind of behavior that should be reserved for the bedroom or some private space? Why must Femen bare their breasts wherever they go? Why must Pussy Riot make a spectacle of themselves in public?

It’s one thing to binge-drink in one’s own home. Why are so many young people binge-drinking in public? Why act like barbarians in front of other people? Why do they dance like they’re having sex? Why are they so shameless, acting like chimpanzees and orangutans in zoos who freely have sex or masturbate in full view? Whatever happened to maintaining appearances? What’s next? Open door farting, pissing, and shitting? Hey, it’s natural, nothing to be ashamed of!!

People need to grow up. Leave unto privacy what is private, but stick with propriety in public.
Otherwise, we are no better than apes with no sense of shame and no means of discerning what is public and what is private. Some might call it a form of ‘empowerment’, but do we want dignified power as humans or debased power as shameless apes or canines?

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