Large and significant gap between blog posts here. You have my apologies. I wasn’t busy. I just lost interest. That’s allowed isn’t it? But I said, y’know, when I find something that I want to write about, I’ll sit down and write again.
So here it is.
I want to write about pornography.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to write a review.
If you ask me what’s wrong with the young people who train martial arts “these days” (and no one ever usually asks me anything, I just start talking), I usually answer “pornography”.
They often don’t ask me to explain any further. That’s about enough in polite company.
But I can answer another way. I can say “The instant access to simulacrum-like content that implies expertise or happiness.”
Like pornography. Content that’s not real, that’s highly stylised, that bears little or no relationship to the actual act that is being portrayed, that gives a false impression of ease of performance and attainment, and where there are no negative emotions, before, during, or after.
Or, like the social media profiles of celebrity athletes, or worse, the social media profiles of peers. Snippets of a perfect life. Smiling faces. Perfect techniques. Protein sponsorships. That’s not the big celebs, that’s just the guy from down the road who hasn’t even had 5 fights yet.
True story coming. A guy I know of buys all his own gear, but when he gets his deliveries he puts them on instagram and tags and thanks the makers as though they’ve been sent for free. This is common, I’m told. The idea is that if you appear as though you’re being sponsored this time, maybe you’ll appear attractive to them or other sponsors in the future.
But what about the kid watching at home? He thinks it’s for real. He thinks this guy is an amazing success. He doesn’t see him working his regular job. When he gets to that level (which in a lot of cases, isn’t that difficult), he’ll be asking “Where’s mine? I thought people started giving you stuff now?”
Or how about the long, deeply emotional post after each fight or tournament? A genuine peek into the soul of a person’s emotional state after the thrill of competition? Maybe, sometimes. Or are these an attempt to engender sympathy (after a loss) or to aggrandise a minor victory (“No one knew how sick or injured I was this week but…”).
Vonnegut put it best (and you’ll find this quote on my instagram page. Use code #soitgoes to get 10% off any Vonnegut book!)
“But because we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none.”
You finish first, you feel pretty good, maybe even great. You go out in the first round you feel pretty bad, maybe even terrible. Is there any need to build these emotions into a narrative? But when my students and friends do a tournament, they think, shit, maybe I should post something. They feel pressure to share and even embellish the emotional content too. I feel the same thing! I get caught up in it.
A simulacrum, in case you didn’t look it up earlier, has a few meanings:
First, the word Simulacrum can mean that the person who used it likes to show off that he knows the word. That’s probably true of this context.
Second, it’s often been used to describe the idea of a copy of a reality that never actually existed. Think Main Street USA in Disneyland. A copy of a perfect American Small Town Main Street. With one problem. It never actually existed. It’s too perfect. It has no subtleties. No grime. No waste disposal problems. A copy of someone’s dream of what it might have been.
But this could be the first time in human history that everyone can create their own simulacrum. A digital avatar with a dramatic story arc. A celebrity athlete with no medals, but plenty to write about.
I tell people who are worrying about this stuff to avoid it. It’s literally a click away from going away. Uninstall the irritating app. Unfollow or hide the unhelpful people. Your fear of missing out was acceptable when you were 14, but now it just seems neurotic. What do you think we used to do when we were training in the 90s and 00s? We thought about our opponents of course, but we just had to make do with our imaginations to conjure up nightmare scenarios where they were training much harder than us. Believe me, that was scary and neurotic enough.
I’m not trying to be dismissive because in a world where socialising has been succesfully commercialised into apps it’s difficult to let go. We’re connected, for better or worse, and it might take some effort on our parts to manage it.
But stay away from the Simulacra. And stay away from pornography. You’ll go blind.
Footnote- I wanted to title this post “Pornography”, but then I thought about my married friends googling this…