There is obviously plenty of talk on the media’s influence on our self-esteem, self-image, worldview, and on and on depending on how far down you scroll on your Facebook news feed. And I suppose it’s a relatively healthy discussion, if you can filter out the hysteria without letting it ruin your day. But the discussion is relatively by-the-numbers: media place an unfair standard on women that hyper-sexualizes them, demeans them, puts them in a secondary role, objectifies them, etc. It does the same to men, but in ways that are applicable to the sex appeal they have to women: values being money, “success,” stability, charm, humor, dick size, etc. It creates unreasonable standards for both of us precisely because it is the diametric projection of our collective insecurities. We are paying to watch people be not-flawed.
As a heterosexual man, how I relate to women is obviously affected by the distortion. Certainly I objectify women more because of the images I’ve absorbed -- be it magazine covers, TV shows, public discourse, or porn, etc. It’s possible my preference for white-skinned women is a result of media exposure. It’s possible that even my ardent clinging to heterosexuality is media-based. All of these things are present, most definitely. But I feel that perhaps a separate, more potent influence takes root, one that is often overlooked, ignored, or outright unseen.
I’ve been in those movie-like situations where you meet a new girl and there is a spontaneity between you that is so fleeting it’s as tragic as it is intoxicating. Where all you can do is lay entangled in bed, contorting your bodies based on the synaptic symphony conducted by your arrogant genitalia. There are moments like that in life that give hope to the idea that humans are capable of perfection. However, no matter how beautiful the girl is, how defenselessly attracted to her I am, no matter how “perfect” the moment or how poetic our whispers or how intimate our stares, this moment can never live up to the fantasy captured in movies because I’m NOT WATCHING IT. Rather, I’m very much IN IT. It’s ME in the bed. Those are MY feelings at stake and MY walls that could fall down and MY inner-child that is vulnerable. It’s MY fear. The discomfort and nervousness is MINE. The knowledge that true connection will require a complete disrobing of MY personality, the removal of MY mask, the baring of MY soul, it’s MY burden. It presents as much likelihood of nirvana as it does utter torment and those are possible outcomes for MY life. The safeguard of voyeurism has dissipated and left me totally naked.
And I can’t help but wonder if that’s not the more fundamental damaging effect that visual media have on our consciousness: it’s not so much that it puts unrealistic expectations on the other to be perfect; rather it puts unrealistic expectations on ourselves to be impenetrable.