So I’m told by the media that the nation went “berserk” over two people having sex in a well-lit office. I’m less interested in that story - because let’s be honest, it happens all the time - as I am in the public reaction.
The first thing people asked was whether the couple would get fired. We said it in a way that reminded me of the looks I get when I cut in line at the supermarket, “he can’t just do that, can he?” With everyone looking around desperately as if some omnipotent power will smite me in the back as I self-scan my yoghurt box.
In other words, the first thing people asked is whether something bad would happen to the loving couple. Leave aside for the moment that they were seen in an office building (aka. someone else’s property), because that seems to be a red herring. And leave aside, if you can, the question of whether this is simply pack cyber-bullying, that’s important but not for today.
Where the real money sits is asking why the public reaction was not simply to shrug and say, “oh well, I guess people have sex all the time. What a surprise. Now hand me some more Lewis Road Creamery chocolate milk, I heard it’s incredible.”
When you see an explosion of vehemence from the crowd it’s like a red flag that something in the deep unconsciousness of society’s brain is under threat. And when the reaction expresses itself in rage and a desire to do harm, then that twitch you’re feeling probably comes from decades of institutionalised narcissism.
At first glance, and I don’t want to dig any dirt on the couple, there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with two lovers. They held down a job - well, up until now anyway - and presumably produced lots of goods or services for their boss and by extension the GDP.
They both look healthy and at least smart enough to have been working in an office. But the two decided they wanted to take the weeks of repressed sexy glances one step further that night.
Now the two might be facing legal problems and both of them could lose their jobs over the incident. The female sounds quite distraught about the whole episode, and I guess the male probably feels a bit bashful as well, but no one really cares about him.
Which is all good news from the public’s perspective. If you open the window you can almost hear New Zealand breathe a collective sigh of relief. “Thank god their lives are falling apart.” Because if the couple isn’t crazy, and there’s no such thing as objective morality, then what rationalisation are we all using every day for not following the couple’s lead?
We all want to work alongside attractive people and we love watching celebrities frolic with their co-workers in offices on TV, but the narrative has to include a built-in reason why we can’t imitate them. Something like divorce, bankruptcy, or rehab - but definitely not genetics, lack of commitment or social awkwardness.
“But why were they having sex in the offices in the first place?” Seriously? What’s the answer you’re waiting for? I mean, that kind of thing might not be safe in certain workplaces, but with all this levelling of gender roles in the modern era, the question kind of answers itself, right?
The couple may eventually be interviewed by some niche internet blogger or a small magazine that never gets to see other magazines on Paper Plus shelves, but most of the mainstream media probably won’t talk to them directly.
It’ll use the weak explanation of “respecting their anonymity/privacy”, as if it suddenly remembered what that word means. This will create a nice artificial widening of the distance between the couple and the public. The couple becomes more important and less accessible.
But this critique is backwards, especially given New Zealand’s reaction.
It assumes the mainstream media is trying to trick its audience. This is wrong, the audience is using the newspapers and television bulletins to trick itself. The audience wants this distance. It wants heroes, celebrities and people who look like they can do whatever they want. We need a certain percentage of magic “beautiful people” and the upper class. And most importantly for the audience’s sanity, it wants those beautiful people and the upper class to be inaccessible.
This isn’t envy. Envy is for advertising, this is the “broadcast news” of our window through which we choose every day to see the world. This is what happens when two generations of narcissism is threatened with injury.
Since you’ve been told for decades that everything is possible, why aren’t you enjoying everything? The whole structure became spontaneously defensive when it saw normal people (just like you!) enjoying something we’d been told was reserved for a particular class or crazy people with a social death-wish.
“If I was that man/woman, then I would be able to have fun in the office just like that!” That statement is not envy. By enforcing a distance between the public and the couple (making them anonymous and placing them on a pedestal for our gaze), the media reassures us that we are the sane/secure/not reckless people because we’re repressing our desires in the office. Five stars for us!
But grab that quote above, spin it around and read the obverse: “Only those two people can have fun in the office, therefore it’s not my fault that I can’t!” Everything’s fine, the show’s over, go back to your workstations and fit in. The crazy office sex people have been bullied into obscurity, so there’s no reason to throw any more repression tomatoes.
Thanks for coming. Now, where’s that chocolate milk?...