The hypothesis on why men’s lives are more difficult nowadays post is still bringing comments, and yesterday Rocket Girl said,
this post reminded me of an article in Maclean’s (a Canadian news/current events magazine) a while ago in which the person being interviewed suggested that people like Oprah are responsible for the death of conversation, particularly in terms of the way men and women relate to each other. I think there is more than a little truth to it.
The article is Q&A with essayist and author Stephen Miller, Kenneth Whyte’s interview with Stephen Miller, author of Conversation: A History of a Declining Art.
Miller believes that conversation, not talk, but face-to-face conversation, is good for you. In Hume’s words,
it’s good for your psyche, you’re going to be more stable, steady, and you also get more pleasure out of life.
There are many impediments to good conversation these days:
1. we’re flooded with electronic interruptions
2. families don’t feel it’s necessary to have dinner together, when the dinner table’s the one place where most of us learn how to converse
3. many people can’t seem to differentiate confrontation from conversation
4. we’re all trying to come out ahead rather than listen.
Not that this is new: back in the 18th century, Swift was complaining “Good conversation is not to be expected in much company, because few listen, and there is continual interruption”.
While Miller talks about the “Oprah-ization of conversation”, where
SM: . . . And then people have to get away from this notion that conversation is autobiographical and you support somebody for their view of life. No, it’s not autobiographical. When you go to the conversable world you leave your personal, your inner life, somewhere else. That’s hard for people. We live in a world where everybody is psychological, and so I think a lot of women in particular see conversation as, you say something and then the other person . . . you share something and the other person is supportive.
KW: Supportive, yes. It’s like the Oprah-ization of conversation.
SM: Absolutely. I think it makes conversation impossible, because when people use the word “share” — after all when you share some food with someone the person isn’t supposed to say, “Oh, thanks for giving me this pie, but it’s terrible, I don’t like it” — it just casts a blanket of excessive politeness on the conversation, and then disagreement is seen as a personal attack.
Oprah certainly doesn’t bear the load by herself. Before Oprah there was Sally Jessie, and Donahue, and others. Nowadays we have truly awful programs like Survivor, The Apprentice, The Real World, Big Brother, and The Surreal Life where horrible, dysfunctional people come out ahead by being truly obnoxious. One can even find a horrible person, such as Omarossa, from one program (The Apprentice), in another program (The Surreal Life).
I watched for the first time the Surreal Life on VH1 while on the treadmill yesterday and I needed a shower afterwards, least of all from the excercise – even when I only watched for a few minutes. It is one dirty, awful show. The Omarossa woman treated one of the housemates, named Janice, most despicably. I can only hope the whole thing was staged. That is the kind of programming teen-oriented channels like VH1 are serving nowadays. Update: Just as I was posting, Maria sent this article on MTV’s legacy of glorifying for a young audience the eternal adolescence of the cheap, the vulgar, and the flashy over the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Indeed, programming like that is yet another reason why parents should never give up conversing with their children. In the dreadful-no-man’s (and woman’s) land of “reality TV”, only the Rolloffs stand out as nice people conversing with each other.
Political chat shows have done their part in the desintegration of conversation. I don’t know if many of you remember the old David Brinkley show on ABC on Sunday mornings, but Sam Donaldson, Coky Roberts and George Will managed to converse with each other and with other people week after week without resorting to the verbal WorldWideWrestling-type of abuse one finds in
most political programs. Stephanopolous simply doesn’t have the depth of a skill conversationalist.
Which I why I’ve become recently addicted to The Sanity Squad‘s weekly installments. The (Sane) Fab Four (yes, go ahead, groan), Pat Santy, “Siggy” of Sigmund, Carl and Alfred, “Neo” of neo-neocon, and Shrinkwrapped manage to converse about the issues of the week in a way that manages to bring sense to the news.
David Brinkley would approve, even when the (Sane) Fab 4 are not physically in the same room at the same time, and it’s taken four shrinks to come out with a good conversation.
Another thing about a good conversation is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a long conversation. You can converse for five minutes and enjoy a challenging, pleasant exchange of ideas with an interesting person, and you can be bored into making imaginary to-do lists when talking to a drone that carries on for hours.
One good setting for conversation with new people is a good book group. By good, I mean a group that focuses on discussing the book itself, and not your feelings about a book. With some books, such as Lolita, is it near-impossible not to, but there are many interesting books out there, as long as you stay away from chick-lit.
I’m glad September’s around the corner. Book group’s starting again.
Update, Friday, September 1 Survivor strategy
Ultimately, though, these shows are about more than the tackier aspect of popular entertainment. They are about the surrounding culture. The therapeutic ethos of recent years has encouraged each of us to get every thought off our chest, lest we suffer from the ordeal of civility. Think of all of those college orientation games in which freshmen are urged to be utterly honest about their feelings toward people of other races, religions and sexual orientations; those “trust building” exercises that are supposed to encourage open communication among business colleagues; those tell-all memoirs that dominate the best-seller lists; those day-time talk shows that spew personal family details; those grief counselors who flock to disaster sites and instruct victims to talk about their feelings over and over.
We mock the “repressed” denizens of 1950s America or Victorian England for keeping their feelings to themselves. But as Mr. DeGraff notes, there is a “dark side” to human psyches. We cannot root out the possibility of race-based loyalties from our innermost thoughts. But we need not encourage them either. And we can surely suggest that some things are better left unsaid.
(technorati tags conversation, TV, Sanity Squad, Surreal Life, Reality TV, Entertainment, Roloff family, Little People, Big World, Television)