Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Huge Sunglasses and the Ipod: A New Urban Modesty

What was modesty, before its meaning was shriveled to be equal to that of mere prudishness? Was it not respect and reverence for that in us which is eternal, and eternally unique? By veiling our inner thoughts and our bodies, we become un-priceable, unjudgeable and more difficult to objectify. Our eternity begins to shine through our eyes, and those who would know us yearn for our thoughts. In revealing our bodies they become objects, and the only thing we have left to call our own is our eyes; but no one need take the time to look into them, for all our thoughts have become the texts of blogs.

We have given up our selves, selling our bodies into the slavery of the highest bidder we can afford. From WalMart to Gucci, from Starbucks cups to Macbooks, we pay to make ourselves the living billboards of all that is fashionable; we are consumers, and the value of our persons is derived from that which we consume. In this way, the body, that which ought to have been the manifestation of a unique and unfathomable spirit, is placed on display, to become an object of amusement, scorn, admiration, etc. How this object is beheld matters very little, it is the fact that we have made ourselves into objects that demonstrates the shameless revelation of person as commodity. By successfully reducing the value of the person to what it puts on display, we reach a point of self-exposure in which nothing need remain unknown about anyone - we have done away with modesty.

If a person is an object on display, why should it not then be fully revealed? Why should anything be guarded, or kept veiled as sacred? It is this logic that allows us to believe that in seeing and touching another's object - body - we know the person. And so we go on about our lives, knowing everyone we meet, and even some we never meet.

However, upon realizing that we are all objects to each other, there seems to be evidence of a sort of "buyer's remorse." Suddenly, we wish something to remain hidden from view, to hold on to something mysterious, unknowable and individual in ourselves. We solve this problem of keeping up with the competition of the display while returning ourselves to some level of individuality by exhibiting what I would perhaps dub "public privacy," if you will excuse the obvious oxymoron.

Like the somber clothing of the Puritans, our large aviators are more or less uniform in appearance, and the sleek plainness of Ipods makes them subtle and indistinguishable from one another. These two decorative objects attempt to restore individuality by making something about the wearer unknowable.

Large, dark sunglasses hide at least the eyes, and often almost half the face, the center of expression and visible physical individuality. Unable to see someone's eyes, you do not know where their gaze is directed, and the thoughts and reactions that often come through the eyes remain hidden. For if, as according to the cliche, the eyes are the window to the soul, then these dark glasses keep the soul hidden while leaving the body on display.

The Ipod works similarly but in its own sphere. The usage of earbuds emphasizes that the wearer's mind is elsewhere, engaged by other things; they body remains before you, but the person is not present to you. Furthermore, you cannot know what the user is listening to, and so you are shut out from their experience, and while you may be together in the same time and place, your worlds are clearly separated. The Ipod always looks the same to the viewer, but the experience of its user is infinitely variable. Therefore, as the sunglasses above, the Ipod shields the listener's individuality and claims for him his own world, while leaving the body on display.

Modesty was once the guarding of body and action to protect the soul. Now it is the desperate guarding of the soul without regard for body or action, and this regard for one at the expense of the other emphasizes a divide where unity was intended.

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