Monday, March 31, 2008

Britney Spears is a bad mother! Or so I'm told.

You know, when someone lives in the public eye, like an entertainer or celebrity or politician or a traffic light, people have a deep rooted desire to read into everything that person (or traffic light) says or does. We invent a mental framework for that person based on little to no information - like Britney Spears. We assume she's nuts because she shaved her head, barricaded herself in with her kids, and was ordered to spend some time in a psychiatric facility. We don't know anything about her, despite having seen her cooze on various semi-legal websites. I mean, that's a level of intimacy I don't share with very many people in my life. (Some girls prefer the lights out.) But do I really know why she does the things she does?

Today I started thinking, maybe other people feel the need to read in to someone's actions even it they are not in the public eye. Maybe it's not unique to what we see in gossip magazines and intersections. When Sandy hands in that report about the costs and challenge of upgrading the computer network, do people think, "Oh, it must mean she's having problems with her marriage." Or if Chuck tells an off colour joke in the lunch room, do people say to each other, "He totally based that chicken on his latest ex." If Lisa sneezes a couple of times too many, does anyone worry about the kids? Who is going to speak for the children?

What about our friends? How many times do you find yourself asking suspiciously, "What does he mean by that?" "Is she really just joking?" " She drinks too much. Her whole family must have been raving alcoholic trailer trash." How often do we wonder about people's motivations? "Why did Dave pick this movie to go to? What is he trying to say to me?"

Ever read about J. F. K. conspiracy theories? Conspiracy writers can spin endless chains of theory because the more research they do into banal and insignificant details marginally connected with the assassination, the more questions we can raise. "Someone walked into a jading store at 10:15 and were seen walking out again at 10:17. Why did the Warren Commission never ask what they were doing in there for those two crucial minutes?" The more we know, the more we know we don't know. And the more we need to read in.

It's kinda like that with celebrities and then people we know well. With celebrities, we have just enough information to invent their entire mental state, but not enough information to ever really question it. While with people we know well, maybe we are always learning more about them, and we're always trying to reconcile this new knowledge with our entirely fictional idea of who they are. Maybe. I work really hard to take people as they come, whether I know them through intimate friendship or uncensored gossip sites. And not try to send all kinds of mental energy inventing fictional personalities for them.

Except those traffic lights. Who the fuck knows what they're thinking.

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