Xmas card evo­lu­tion

Once we fol­lowed the star, now we fol­low the stars, hop­ing that they too might fol­low us. it’s time for a re­al­ity check.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By GILES FRASER

CHRIST­MAS cards used to be about mangers, kings and shep­herds. Then they be­came about robins. Then about rein­deer. Now they are about us.

“Re­li­gion has gone away,” said the nov­el­ist A.S. By­att, “and all we are left with is our­selves, so we have to be in­ter­ested in our­selves. And we can be psy­cho­an­a­lyt­i­cally in­ter­ested in our­selves, or so­ci­o­log­i­cally in­ter­ested in our­selves, or in­ter­ested in why we wear th­ese clothes rather than those, or we can put our­selves in re­al­ity houses on the tele­vi­sion.”

On one read­ing of this phe­nom­e­non – call it the sec­u­lar­i­sa­tion the­sis – the change of the look of our Christ­mas cards re­flects a trans­fer­ence of in­ter- est from fan­tasy to re­al­ity. But re­al­ity, of course, is al­ways a slip­pery idea. Take an ex­treme ex­am­ple: the celebrity fam­ily, the Kar­dashi­ans’ 2013 Christ­mas card.

Cost­ing a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars to pro­duce, this ghastly orgy of celebrity self-in­dul­gence re­quired an ex­ten­sive stage set and the ser­vices of elite fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher David Lachapelle. It fea­tures glo­ri­fied im­ages of curvy bod­ies pos­ing next to huge gold dol­lar signs, set in some hideous pink and neon dystopia. Is this re­al­ity?

To be fair, it was ever thus. The first Christ­mas card was pro­duced by Sir Henry Cole in 1843. It too was nau­se­at­ingly self-sat­is­fied, show­ing three gen­er­a­tions of the Cole fam­ily look­ing pros­per­ous and well-fed, all rais­ing glasses to the card’s re­cip­i­ent. It too was pro­duced by a celebrity im­age-maker, John Calcott Hors­ley from Lon­don’s Royal Academy.

Flank­ing the cen­tral im­age of the fam­ily were scenes of phi­lan­thropy. This was how the Coles wanted to be seen: wealthy and gen­er­ous. What the re­cip­i­ent sees is smug.

For By­att, “The map of the world pro­vided by Chris­tian be­lief had gone and this means how you say who you are has be­come very, very dif­fi­cult”.

I’m not sure I buy this. I sus­pect it’s al­ways been dif­fi­cult. As the Cole card sug­gests, we have long been con­cerned to tac­ti­cally po­si­tion our­selves to­wards oth­ers, whether re­li­gious or not. But By­att is surely on to some­thing that those with a weak sense of in­ter­nal self-def­i­ni­tion find their iden­tity in the gaze they elicit from other peo­ple. It is not I think there­fore I am, but I tweet there­fore I am. In such a world, I ex­ist in so far as I am told that I ex­ist by the at­ten­tion of other peo­ple.

The French psy­cho­an­a­lyst Jaques La­can says some­thing sim­i­lar in his idea of the mir­ror stage. When the child be­comes fas­ci­nated with her re­flec­tion, she sees a co­her­ent self, a self that is to­gether and some­how in­te­grated as one. But it is a sense of self at odds with her own in­ter­nal in­co­her­ence and bod­ily dys­func­tions. This dis­crep­ancy be­tween im­age and emerg­ing sub­ject is of­ten re­solved in favour of the im­age. This re­flected self be­comes a con­trol­ling source of how we think about who we are.

All of which is turbo charged in the age of so­cial me­dia. As By­att con­tends: “The word Face­book is very in­ter­est­ing, be­cause it means it’s a mir­ror. And you need a mir­ror be­cause you haven’t got a pic­ture. You need a mir­ror to tell you who you are.”

In other words, so­cial me­dia is all about “exchanging con­stant re­as­sur­ances that you ex­ist”. So, as a sort of dig­i­tal fast­ing, I’m go­ing to give up so­cial me­dia for a while. The prob­lem is we have be­come ter­rorised by im­age, fret­ful to man­age the self re­flected back to us, check­ing how many fol­low­ers we have, at the mercy of other peo­ple’s sense of who we are.

Once we fol­lowed the star. Now we fol­low the stars, hop­ing they too might fol­low us. But maybe the star it­self is a bet­ter guide. And, best of all, it doesn’t al­ways lead back to me. Which is per­haps why I think, coun­ter­in­tu­itively, it may be more about re­al­ity and less about fan­tasy. – Guardian News & Me­dia

It was ever thus: don’t blame self­ind­ul­gent Kar­dashi­anstyle christ­mas cards on th­ese mod­ern times. Take a look at the world’s old­est card, or­dered by Sir Henry cole in 1843! — brid­well Li­brary, South­ern methodist Univer­sity

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.