Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Leaving the Parlor: Facebook and The Exterminating Angel

I saw Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel" two nights ago, an intense and draining film considered by many to rank among the best of all-time. It left me a little cold, but it provided me with very profound insight. The situation in the film, that of people who psyche themselves out of leaving a parlor and who go on to consider the simple act of walking away impossible, strikes me as relevant these days. After about a year and a half (with a couple of breaks in between), I tossed my Facebook account.

Excuse my heavy-handedness when I say that Facebook is the veritable Parlor of the Internet. It works much the same way as Bunuel's, based on the same "herd mentality" (as Zadie Smith noted) and desire to keep the status quo. It's hard to quit: why leave when no one else is leaving? To stay may seem innocuous, as Facebook is "free." But is it really? Monetarily, yes. But there are other things one can lose by continuing to be a member of the site, such as time, and, most disturbingly, dignity. For the latter: consider Facebook Stalking. This is defined by as "a covert method of investigation using; good for discovering a wealth of information about people you don't actually know." Would a good person do this in real life? Probably not. But Facebook is transformative, just like Bunuel's parlor, and people aren't who we think they are. It is tempting to say that they "aren't themselves" online, but who is to really know? Maybe this is the "real them." When the options are available, people are capable of a lot of things.

Friends have seen Smith's New York Review of Books article "Generation Why?" and Gary Shteyngart's novel "Super Sad True Love Story" as effective anti-Facebook advocates. But I find the parallels between the website and Bunuel's film especially chilling. There are people who fancy themselves casual users of the site. Of these, there are some who actually are. But then there are those who say that they are just staying the morning, and who end up there a whole lot longer. For them, a wake-up call (or a piano piece played again) is necessary.

1 comment:

S. M. Rana said...

I have not gone on Facebook (I dropped out after two days with some vague apprehension). But I did relish this movie so I find your parallel rather intriguing.