I really wanted to blog about this book The Lonely American. It would have been totally perfect and brought up a lot of interesting points, but since I actually haven't read it, just flipped through it...that's not going to happen, exactly. I was also thinking about a TV show I enjoy a lot, HBO's Entourage, and suddenly, in some random alchemy of a liberal arts education, these two things, Entourage and lonely Americans, connected in my mind.
Psychologists, sociologists, and other -ologists have been telling us we're lonely for quite some time, at least since The Lonely Crowd was published in 1965. Since '65, the number of confidants we have and the frequency of visits we make to friends has been steadily dropping. While I haven't read The Lonely American, I have read Bowling Alone which I'm sure makes a lot of the same points-- on the whole, Americans are pretty lonely, getting lonlier, and as you might imagine, it's not a great thing for us. However, in our culture of "rugged individualism", it can often be seen as shameful or a weakness to talk about loneliness. Obviously, if we're facing any social problem, not talking about it just worsens it. But, between not wanting to appear vulnerable and thinking we might be the only ones with the problem, not a lot of discussion gets made about how lonely Americans really are.
And here's where Entourage (main characters shown above) comes in. The show is about a movie star and his 3 best friends. The guys are never, ever alone. And in the other shows I watch, the same thing appears to be true to varying extents. Even shows that occur in workplaces show the characters either collaborating closely together on the job or spending time talking over drinks after work, things that don't happen in many of our real workplaces. Watching Entourage, I found myself thinking, "I wish I had an entourage". There are a lot of things in the show to wish for: A huge house, Porsches and Maseratis, expensive clothes, fame, adoring fans, seeing your face on a movie screen. But I think that for most of us, the most valuable thing shown is actually the entourage itself. Yes, it's realistic for famous people to be surrounded by others all the time. But for the rest of us, it's wish fulfillment: extreme edition. Wish fulfillment has its place, but I think the fact that loneliness is hardly ever portrayed in pop culture only encourages the (incorrect) idea that everyone is surrounded by friends except us.
Maybe we'll find a portrayal of loneliness in a literary novel or rare independent film. However, it is something that is largely absent. True, there are films where overcoming loneliness is a theme. However, the problem is usually solved in magical ways that we couldn't duplicate in our own lives. That, or the extent of loneliness is a short montage to "One is the Lonliest Number" or "All By Myself". Anything beyond that would be so far removed from an audience's expectations that I believe they would be very uncomfortable. Common tropes around loneliness, such as Bridget Jones sitting by herself with a bottle of vodka, obscure the fact that loneliness can happen anytime, anywhere, and with any beverage.
So at the risk of sounding like the brooding Russian playwright that I am, I say More! More loneliness in movies and on TV! Maybe it sounds a little twisted, but nothing gets people talking like TV and movies do. If we saw loneliness portrayed in pop culture, then we could more easily discuss the concept. No, I don't have any solutions, but the first step is, after all, admitting that there is a problem.