Friday, March 19, 2010

The Confessional Age

Technology progresses, but some people are still trash:
WHAT is the sound of an awkward silence on Facebook? If you have to ask, then you probably don’t have friends like James Gower and Ashley Andrews, high school sweethearts from Spring, Tex., who are both 22 and engaged to be married this May.

Mr. Gower, a master of the passive-aggressive status update, lobbed this one in January: “How is it my birthday is only one day, but my woman’s last a whole damn week?”

Ms. Andrews, seemingly not one to watch a ball go by, took a full swing with this comment: “GET OVER IT!!! UGH!!!!!!”

Mr. Gower replied by calling his fiancĂ©e a name that can’t be printed here, until the exchange became the social networking equivalent of shattered china at a dinner party.

And then, to top it off, they agreed to be interviewed about it for the NY Times.

I just had a historical thought. The early Christians confessed their sins in public, in front of their whole church, and this habit was maintained through the middle ages. Some time in the 1500s, the confessional box was invented, and Catholics began to confess in private. Protestants gave up the whole exercise. I always thought that while having to confess in private was bad enough, public confession and penance would be about the most awful thing I could imagine.

Maybe, though, many people don't feel that way. Maybe the private confessional was a sign of a particular historical era that we might call "modern", the same era that gave us the Victorians and the stiff upper lip. Maybe now we are returning to a more medieval way of relating to our neighbors, in which we will all know everything about each other, in which all our laundry, dirty and clean, will hang out where everyone can see it. Maybe press conferences held by politicians caught in affairs, tearful interviews with Oprah, memoirs full of the worst things we can remember about ourselves -- novelist V.S. Naipaul changed events around in this memoirs to make it look like he was even meaner to his wife than he actually was -- and so on, the whole contemporary craze for self exposure, spring from the same impulse that led early Christians to confess their sins at the church door. Maybe the need for connection, in the end, overrides the desire for dignity.

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