This is a continuation of an earlier post on secular spirituality. That first one was called “Secular Spirituality is, in the End, Spiritual Materialism.”
Something perverse has happened. Where once the boundaries between soft porn and self-care were rigid, now they’re very porous indeed. (*) And then some. Let me explain.
Consider the kinds of Instagram posts that show a very revealing picture of a yogini or of someone in the midst, she says, of some kind of “transformation.”
Time was that such would have been alluring magazine ads for Calvin Klein perfume, for the first point is clear. (**) It is to capture the gaze and to seduce the viewer. Are we not voyeurs who, in this case, are welcome to look but not to touch? And if we’re women, are we not supposed to feel envy? Painful yet delicious envy?
You might think, “OK, sure, though nothing is new under the sun”–but hang on. There is something new here. Very new.
The key, here, is ekphrasis. Ek-who-sis? Ekphrasis–by which in this case I simply mean that we need to pay close attention to the relationship between image and text. Indeed, given my literary background, might I suggest that while the image is revealing the text is more telling (more exposing)?
For in the cases I have in mind (and I think you know what I mean), the Instagram influencer has embraced the genre of the confession. She–and it is often a she–is confessing something. But what is she confessing?
That she is on a spiritual journey, of course. Make no mistake, she assures us: this is about “growth,” “transparency,” “radical honesty,” and “self-care.” She speaks partly in the vein of “vulnerability” and partly in that of “tough love.” And people just eat this shit up. How brave she is, for she bares all!
(Reality TV, once confined to MTV, has splintered while proliferating.)
Even, or especially, the soul (if such, loosely, is what it is) must be just as bare as the body. Both are naked.
But here’s the further thing I haven’t yet said: it’s really bullshit or, to be more exact, unconscious bullshit. The Instagrammer is bullshitting herself about what she’s really up to at the same time that she’s bullshitting her followers, who are seduced as much by the text as by the image. The image, which draws them in, is vindicated by the message, which holds them there and which leads, in turn, to endless fawning.
But what’s bullshit about it, you ask. Well, she’s not on a spiritual quest even though she pretends that she is and even when she keeps telling herself–and millions of others–that she is. She accepts, while perpetuating, the I-am-the-body thought and feeling, which in these cases amounts to (a) vanity (baldly so–duh!) and to (b) a mollification of her deepest fears (“I am alone,” “I am invisible,” “I am worthless,” “I am lost,” “I don’t exist,” “I am loveless,” etc.).
It’s disturbing what is happening to all involved.
You might think to yourself–so what? Well, look at the thousands–nay, hundreds of thousands–of copycats, and soon you’ll see that secular spirituality of the soft porn as spiritual quest variety has spread from the older to the younger.
(*) I was tempted to include pictures in this post so that you know what I have in mind, but, upon further thought, that felt, rather disingenuously, like a clear case of spreading dis-ease and disquiet. Ergo, use your imagination please.
(**) Weirdly, what is honest about such ads is that their message is clear: “sex sells.” No equivocation. No obfuscation. You know what they’re doing. Not so with soft porno construed as a spiritual quest. The latter is perverse, alluring, and fascinating all. And it’s the combination of perversity, allurement, and fascination that keeps one transfixed, spellbound, entranced.