Friday, February 24, 2006

Against Glurge

For some reason, I seem to get a lot of those sickly sweet chain letters, usually falsely attributed to children dying of cancer, a minister, or to some famous person who has gone out of their way to say they wouldn't get caught dead writing this crap and foisting it on the world. A quick check on Snopes usually debunks this stuff, and I dutifully forward the link to the person who sent me the email--unless, of course, I have no reason to maintain ties with the person, in which case I just add them to the spam filter. The word that has been coined for this spam is glurge.

It may seem somewhat cold and distant to despise this stuff, but I have good reasons to do so. Not only are these emails spam, almost always false, and known to be major carriers of viruses and trojans, but the sentimentality they represent is type of false emotion. They are not love for a person, but the idea of love for the idea of a person. I have heard works of sentimentality called emoto-porn, which I think is a good term for them. Like porn, sentimentality is love without the bother of other people. Loving someone else means that you actually have to put up with their human frailties. Sentimentality, on the other hand, is a means of climbing up your own brain stem to ring the bell of the pleasure center, a cheap seretonin rush. Serial killers cannot love, but they're very sentimental. Even Hitler wallowed in sentimentality, and the German people were fooled into thinking that this was evidence of a deeper humanity.

Wherever I detect the strong reek of sentimentality, I also see glaring disfunction. Here are the parents who makes grand plans for what they think their child should want, rather than actually taking the trouble to find out what the child really wants and has an aptitude for. Here is the couple who plan the most ostentatious wedding ceremony, complete with overblown and lengthy romantic vows, only to break up within a couple of years because neither one of them can live up to the romantic ideal. Here is the poet or writer who sets down on the page the depth of his adoration for his lover, while actively despising her in daily life. And here too is the follower of religion who wallows in the warm glow of divine love so casually assumed, and takes this as a sign of certain salvation and a license to condemn others.

Sentimentality is the idolatry of the beloved, but the problem with idolatry is that it is false. It is worship of the image, but not of what the image represents. Loving an image is easy, because the image does, says, and thinks exactly what you want it to. It is, after all, your own creation. Real people, on the other hand, have this exasperating habit of doing what they want, whether you like it or not. Some people have even gone to the trouble of killing the real person because that person keeps spoiling the fantasy. This should tell you just how far sentimentality is from love.

King Lear is Shakespeare's grandest tragedy, but it is also his unequivocal condemnation of sentimentality. Lear partitions his kingdom amongst his three daughters according to how well they can wax poetically about their love for him. Reagan and Gonoril deliver long and impassioned testimonials of love for their father--it's easy for them to perform, because they really don't care. Cordelia, on the other hand, cannot heave her heart into her mouth. She loves her father "according to my bond, no more nor less." This is the unburnished truth. Lear banishes her and gives everything to Reagan and Gonoril, who then proceed to strip him of everything he has left, including his own narcissistic vanity. On the heath, Lear is like a god commanding the storm, but he is also mad and naked; the grandiosity of the gods is not for mortal men, and will soon consume a mortal frame. When at last his pride breaks like a fever, he is left a simple old man. All his haughty grandiloquence is gone. He is left with simple and direct words, but these words are true. Still, the cost of his old folly is pending; he loses all that he loves when he has barely discovered what love is.

Life is bittersweet--that's what we've evolved to deal with, and once you grow into it, it's the finest taste imaginable. Glurge is lard loaded with icing sugar; it doesn't taste like much, but it will still clog your heart and rot your pancreas. Susan Sontag was on to something when she talked about Illness as Metaphor, though she never got around to diabetes. But there it is; a diet of sweets leads to diabetes, which can compromise the circulatory system, and leave you blind, sick, and crippled. If cancer was the metaphor for the twentieth century, diabetes is the metaphor for the twenty-first. We live in a sickly sweet miasma of political correctness, sentimentality, religious feelings, and sensitivity. We don't need to validate all our feelings; frankly, a lot of our feelings are invalid, caused by poor upbringing, weird beliefs, and bad brain chemistry. Just because you feel something doesn't make it real. Fuck Star Wars, forget stretching out with your feelings, and take a moment to stop and think! Realizing that your current depression is just plain bullshit can be a singularly uplifting experience.

Sentimentality trades reality for fantasy, but the fantasy inevitably crumbles, leaving you with nothing. Personally, I love fantasy, but there is a time and a place for it, and I do not want the world to be obscured by a veil of my own making. Love is hard. Sentimentality is easy, and for that most of all, I distrust it. It is as easy as buying the first Hallmark card that falls off the shelf, or clicking send to forward that piece of glurge. If you want to show you care, create something, or choose something carefully. And if you must send glurge, write your own--although, you may find, as Lear did, that real love is more plain than sentimentality would have it.