When I read for them, I frequently am asked by young women when they are going to meet the man of their dreams and what kind of marriage they are going to have and so on. Young women, in particular, seek permanent attachments, unless there is some ill in their life that prevents them from doing so. The problem today is that there is no peer pressure on young men to marry, and so all the statistics now show that women and men are going to spend more years as single-living individuals than ever before in this country’s history. Much of the present problems arise out of the feminist movement and its aftermath. Finally, women are liberated, but it comes with a cost. In the process, boys have not been brought up properly. So, while we have these magnificent young women ready to break every glass ceiling, at ease with their sexuality, and independent, these very same women are frustrated by the lack of men, i.e., manly men. Today’s young men are remarkably unmanly, in great part because they have been brought up to be mindful of women which is correct. However, when it comes to establishing a male identity, they have no idea of what that should be. Also, because there is an abundance of easy access to pornography, sexual expectations that are inculcated into boys and young men are complete fantasies that have nothing to do with establishing intimacy with women.
Another major problem today is that both men and women of all ages have accepted the use of the word “relationship” to substitute for lover, husband, wife, friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, and so on. This ugly word goes back to pseudo-psychologists mostly from the “Me-Decade” of the 1980s who wanted to create a “scientific” or neutral term for human bonds that are anything but. The word “relationship” is not only neutral, but it omits any kind of commitment or risk. To love someone requires both commitment and risk, but if one says as one does on Facebook, “I’m in a relationship,” what does that mean? Well, it means you have something with someone else, but you are keeping your options open. The word “relationship” protects the individual from any deep personal emotion for someone else. It is completely self-centered, to be truthful about it. No one would be stupid to say, “Romeo and Juliet were in a relationship or Antony and Cleopatra were in a relationship.” These lovers did not die for a relationship. But when it comes to characterizing their own efforts to establish intimacy with another, everyone seems to revert immediately to “I’m in a relationship.” The problem also exists for homosexuals as well. It is almost odd that homosexuals today want to have the right to marry. They want marriage, not relationships. Were it the same for everyone else as well.
What the “relationship” has done is to make people separate when with someone else and together with someone else solely when separate. The problem is compounded by what makes for attraction between men and women. If one looks at couples today, one sees something rather remarkable: some 99.99 percent of all couples have the same facial structures even if they are of different ethnicities and races. Frequently, they will even have the same body types. If you look at the Sunday New York Times society pages where marriages are announced, for example, you will see that practically every couple in the photos look exactly alike. The brother-sister, brother-brother, sister-sister, physical sameness occurs not out of rational choice. It is unconscious. People are drawn to people who are like themselves. It might be too much to say that people want to fall in love with someone who is the best person on earth, and who could be better than that than to fall in love with oneself?
Today’s most successful Internet dating sites also work on the pederastic principle of “like to like.” For example, people fill out more than a hundred questions about all aspects of their lives on eHarmony.com. Then, the computerized service matches people who fill out the questionnaire in exactly the same way or as close as possible to being the same. Then, the people who filled out the questionnaire in the same way date. However, the questionnaire does not make for attraction. That comes when a person is basically the same as someone else also looks like the person they are dating. Then, that leads to marriage. The eHarmony.com dating services claims a remarkable level of success in making marriages in their advertising. They show actual couples who found each other on eHarmony.com, and, of course, they all look exactly alike.
In re-reading Ovid’s highly satiric Artis Amatoriae, The Art of Love, I was struck by how contemporary his advice on dating, seduction, love, and marriage truly is. The reason is also obvious. Ovid was a master of erotics, and he understands how men and women get together and how they can stay together. He also wrote Remedia Amoris, The Remedies of Love, a didactic poem about how to fall out of love. Ovid, one of the greatest of Roman poets and thus one of the greatest poets of all time, wrote the Metamorphoses, and was considered the master of love of his time, a distinction he made fun of, but at the same time clearly knew was true. In his Art of Love, Ovid says that if a man is in a feast with a woman he wants, he must eat all the same food the woman does. By doing so, a man can establish rapport with the woman. In other words, what attracts a man and woman together is that they basically are the same.
I don’t look like anyone except my sisters, and over the years I have watched how much looking like someone else brings them together. But this phenomenon also works in politics , especially in the television variety. In an interview years ago, Tom Snyder asked Marshall McLuhan why it was that candidate Jimmy Carter was so effective on television. McLuhan responded, “I haven’t a great deal, but his charisma is very simply identified.” Unlike the use of charisma today, McLuhan had an entirely different approach to this word: “He looks like an awful lot of people. He looks like an all-American boy. He looks like all the American boys that ever were, which is charisma. Charisma means looking has a lot other people. If you look just look like yourself, you have no charisma. So Carter has a lot of built-in charisma of looking like a lot of other guys, very acceptable guys.”
The real truth of American politics, McLuhan also said, is that it is all about the image, but that television image has to very blurry and not sharp or specialized. I thought of what candidate Barack Obama was like. While he is seen as an African-American, the truth is that he is also very white, of Irish extraction through his white mother. The skin-color links him to a very large population, but he is also white in manner and in background. Princeton Professor Cornell West has recently attacked Obama for being white more than black, but it is precisely because Obama has the appearance of both white and black that gives him charisma. Obama, moreover, is the picture of the future of this country, as the races start to mingle more and more. He is the McLuhan future that is here all ready. Those who look at Obama as simply black, like the old days of the Southern or ghetto Negro, as so many of the rightwingers do, are not looking at the present or the future, but are looking in McLuhan’s rear-view mirror.
Moreover, in McLuhan’s terminology, Obama is “cool,” while his opponent in the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton, was “hot.” Obama is a man involves people in his image, because he was a blurry and because one could both be detached and involved with him. There was a lot that gaps about him that the electorate had to fill in with its own imagination. Meanwhile, Clinton, who had the problem of being woman, looked more like an individual and not like so much of America, at least to a lot of American men whom she did not win over. The men thought they knew her. Her strength, however, was women, who have yet to see a president of their gender. Women truly did support her, because her look was like them. But to men and to the media, Clinton was a very individual person, a specialized person, and with that she lost her attraction and charisma.
When we speak about a politician’s image, we speak of his appearance, both physical and the non-physical attributes that the image carries. That means that everything, especially in a broadcast debate, must be scripted. Policy, therefore, cannot be debated, and the longer the show the less interest anyone has for it. It also means that the rhetoric must be like a Twitter tweet, 140 characters. Political discourse disappears. There is only an image that is crafted to appeal not on intellectual or political level to the American public, but crafted to be like what most Americans look like or think what they look like.
Part of that image is what Karl Rove truly introduced into the process: Stay on message and never deviate from it as the medium is the message. The message, through repetition, just like the big lie, is the most essential part of giving something credence. The message is part of a process, not an idea, not a policy notion, not a political debate. It is simply the verbal form of the image, a stimulus that sets up the voter to do something, to vote for the candidate. It is like the bell that makes Pavlov’s dog salivate.
The method, then, is to set up an all-inclusive message that the electorate can identify with. The electorate is the content of the election, while the candidate is the form. The candidate who is formed in a certain way will make the electorate what it is. We vote for someone who is like ourselves, just as we fall in love with someone who has the same facial structure as ourselves. But the appearances are very uneasy. We are attracted to someone who looks like us, but that appearance doesn’t mean that a couple will succeed in love or marriage. In fact, often people find out that although they look alike, they are not alike in anything else and hence have little in common to keep a marriage or a love together.