The Problem of Audience: Because I’m a Cynical Bitch

Valentine’s Day is only a day away and love is in the air! Correction: love is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc., because it isn’t romance until you’ve put it up on social media.

Public displays of affection, PDA, is most often groaned at. No one wants to see two high school kids making out on public transit because their parents are home and don’t know that their child is maturing into a young adult who has hormonal needs. While PDA elicits a general consensus of embarrassment for the couple, social media displays of affection, SMDA, generally don’t.

In fact, it’s usually encouraged as indicated by the number of ‘likes’, ‘hearts’, ‘views’ and comments that the display has garnered. Sure, SMDA is usually a token of affection instead of visceral physical affection, but they’re both intimacy made public. So, why do PDA and SMDA differ in the reactions they produce? The key word is right there: media.

SMDA mediates the affection so that it is somehow pleasing. While PDA is people bluntly physically expressing their desire for each other, SMDA differentiates itself by taking away the immediacy of the affection and cultivating it into a product. Indeed, SMDA is essentially marketing your love. Your product is love, and the various filters available via different channels of social media allow that product to be manipulated and touched up to show just how great the product is. SMDA is an advertisement of a couples’ love. The barometer of its consumption, how well the product does in the marketplace, is indicated by the feedback the social media allows.

Now, I know I am sounding like a crusty-old-Valentine’s-Day-hating-cunt, but hear me out: PDA is gross because you just don’t want to see something so intimate happening right in front of you. SMDA is, in my opinion, gross because I don’t want to see something so intimate being marketed and shown off to me. I don’t want to be right there in your house with your significant other, watching you eat that homemade meal as the flowers you received are placed in a vase ‘just so’ , next to the oh so enigmatic secret that is in Victoria’s pink striped bag. And I don’t want a collaged picture of it either, especially with the hashtag “spoiled”.  After all, who was the intended audience for all these tokens of affection?

If your significant other did this all for you, then they did so with the intended recipient being, well, you. Yet, romantic gestures seem to be trending (forgive the pun) towards actualization as legitimated by social media. In other words, if you didn’t put it up on social media, then it didn’t happen because nobody else knows it happened… Except you and your significant other.

And this leads me back to the question of audience. Why is affection and intimacy being made public when it was only made for you?

Perhaps the worst offender is the “look what I did/got for my significant other!” types of SMDA. To me, this is self-indulgence and narcissism disguised as selfless thoughtfulness.  In this case, the person is showing off not how thoughtful their significant other is, but how thoughtful they are. “Look at what a great boyfriend/girlfriend I am”, which is arguably far worse than, “look at what a great boyfriend/girlfriend I have”. The audience, in this case, is disguised as for the significant other, but really it’s for the person doing the apparent giving. It’s the person’s own ego being inflated as their thoughtfulness is validated with every thumbs up they get.

Within this category is the YouTube marriage proposal.  Some of these viral videos are filmed by a third party, and the person proposing never had any intention of making the proposal public. But there are some that intended on making the proposal public from the very beginning. Am I watching a marriage proposal, a person asking another person if they would spend the rest of their lives together despite all forthcoming challenges, or am I watching a very well marketed product of love that always had a public audience in mind? Some of these viral proposals are over the top—but had the person proposing never intended to put it up on YouTube, would it be such an ostentatious display of one’s apparent love for another? Was the proposal planned for the significant other, or was it really planned for the consumption of the world wide web?

Most of us who have ever been in a relationship within the past, let’s say five years, has probably put up some SMDA. I am guilty of this too. But this Valentine’s Day, if I’m actually doing something, then the only people who are going to know it are exactly two: my boyfriend and I. Other than that, I’ll relate the details to my friends who are privy to the intimate details of my life. These are also the same people to whom I relay my bowel movements: because you haven’t pooped until you’ve told your best friends.

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8 comments
  1. Rain said:

    Reblogged this on True Me and commented:
    How accurate is this…

  2. Rain said:

    I am so glad that someone shares my feelings on this subject. I wonder if we didn’t have the technology that we do what will happen to our relationships. What happened to privacy in the bedroom and love letters (written on paper) with the message FYIO ( For Your Eyes Only) context. Yes computers, cell phones, tablets, etc. are a Godsend but its becoming to make us lazy and we are losing how fun it actually can be to put forth an effort to make someone smile without typing or posting something. Just a thought…

  3. This is a really great post, Laina. It’s definitely something I’m guilty of, and I’ve been working on holding back from sharing intimate details about my life/relationship online (essentially with strangers). Thanks for the reminder — especially during this time of year.

  4. Cynical and cunt are 2 of my favourite words

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