Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Loving things (10 Dec 2009)

Lisa Katayama, who writes nonjudgmentally and often about the apparently growing phenomenon of people falling in love with objects (pillows, computer game characters, dolls, the Eiffel Tower, etc.), had this to say about the practice in a recent BoingBoing post:
The idea of a person developing an emotional attachment to an object is easy to ridicule, but it's actually common. Whether the object of that affectionate bond is a teddy bear, a cardboard version of your hubby, or an imaginary character etched on a body pillow doesn't really matter. But within the spectrum of objects that people can have feelings for, some anthropomorphized things tend to make spectators feel more uncomfortable or weirded-out than others. The fact that some "love objects" are okay, while others stigmatize, challenges our notions of acceptable human behavior. As inanimate objects increasingly take on roles that humans used to fill, those challenges are likely to become more common.
Yes, but can't we agree that this is a bad thing? Shouldn't social policy, or at least the cultural conversation, aim to prevent this from becoming "more common"? I wouldn't want to ridicule adults who love dolls, but I hesitate to condone such behavior, even though it is ultimately none of my business (though when it is reported upon, it does seem to invite readers to have a response of outrage or condescension). Affection is wasted on objects; there is a shortage of affection out there for actual people. (Objects are never lonely.) It would seem sort of selfish to love an object as though it were human if it didn't already seem pathologically insane. And that the phenomenon is, according to Katayama, growing means that the worst fears about dehumanization and reification under capitalism are coming true. We are just abstract labor, ot abstract consumptive forces. We are so little developed socially as human beings in our culture that we can easily and more conveniently be replaced by things in the formation of emotional ties. Consumerism has brought us to a point where emotional ties are not expected to be reciprocal, that we can play out both sides of the relation ourselves in a sustained act of vicarious fantasy. Why go to the trouble of having human friends if we no longer want spontaneity or the unexpected or the responsibility of mutual obligation -- when we just want to be passively entertained? Why not enlist a pleasure robot instead?

I have always assumed that when we say we love an object, we are using a safe proxy for expressing a love for something about people or for something in ourselves that we want others to recognize. The object itself is just a sign; it can't partake in an emotional relation. This is my speculation: If I claim to love an object, I am merely being stubborn about admitting to the people I am trying to love through that object. That, or my ability to be human has become so severely compromised that I can't handle mutual relations with others of my species. I don't think there is anything liberating, revolutionary or transgressive in it.

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