me + the social media of strangers

Occasioned by looking at this, quite a few times, over the weekend:

@leeepfrog 🙌🏻

A post shared by Nick Haramis (@nickkharamis) on

I still don’t miss Richard Armitage on Twitter, but I remain interested in Lee Pace, whose circle of friends is less concerned than Armitage’s about revealing his presence among them in various ways. And maybe I remain interested because of that relative generosity of information. Halt and Catch Fire has begun filming its fourth and final season in Atlanta; some of the cast, plus a few of their New York friends, seem to have gathered to celebrate Mackenzie Davis’ birthday last Saturday. This brief video clip shows Lee Pace playing in a pool with Scoot McNairy’s daughter. We never see Pace’s face; the male figure is identified as Pace through contextual clues and because it was posted by Nick Haramis, a known associate of Pace and Davis who tagged Pace’s instagram. In it, we see Pace toss the little girl into the air in slow motion, catching her again as she falls. At the end of the clip, the video resumes normal speed, so we get regular sound again, the little girl shrieks, and Pace’s dog, Pete, races through the frame before it cuts off. I assume Haramis knows that the clip is being viewed by outsiders to his social circle, as it has about twenty times as many views as most of his instagram posts.

Haramis has repeatedly posted pictures of Pace on the same account in the past. This is really masterful use of social media. It’s artistically beautiful in representing a quotidian scene, just another weekend in the United States, taking place against the charming standard backdrop in front of which the movies have convinced us that all Americans live our lives. Just an adult playing with a child in the water to the child’s delight. The slow motion of the first part has the attention of creating a rhetorical silence that demands our complete, awed attention. When it stops, and life returns to its normal pace, I imagine the girl shouting, “Again, do it again!” and someone trying to corral the dog. Pace has nephews and nieces and he hasn’t forgotten how to play with children. Moreover, he was a competitive swimmer in his youth and is fully at ease in the pool; his upper body strength means that he can both throw and catch with equal confidence. At the point when he releases the girl, his hands move out in the apparently effortless splayed arcs of a basketball pass and the slow motion gives us time to notice this detail, which we’d normally look past. The contrast between the sizes of his and the girl’s bodies adds to the impression of power and control. Seeing him from the rear gives us a glimpse of his muscles at work and the symmetry of the human body adds to the harmonious effect. The light and the water are beautiful, as are the bright colors and the little details: the floaties, the trees and the fence, the toys and objects abandoned at poolside. It’s one of the great lies of social media to say that it’s something anyone can do easily and automatically, and as “spontaneous” as this video looks, little here is accidental. The skill of the piece lies in suggesting that it might be just a frame of everyday life as we all observe it. But Haramis is a magazine editor and clearly knows something about effective communication.

A lot of pictures of Pace in his friends’ social media (like strangers’ social media in general) are not very interesting. (Arguably, for a lot of Armitage fans, what’s more interesting about pictures of Pace on social media than who is in them has been who’s NOT.) A major function of the medium consists in marking who was where with whom at some point. So we see pictures of people we don’t know in randomly assembled groups at locations significant primarily to them, whose images we would never care about except that either they are all celebrities, or they know a celebrity. In the former case, nothing is ever very surprising because nothing about the photo reveals anything we didn’t already know. No status changes occur as a consequence of viewing the photo and in fact, our choice to consume it reinforces the already rigid hierarchy between celebrities depicted and hungry fan viewers whose desire to “feel included,” which it never satisfies and only heightens. One candid always engenders the clamor for more, as fans will never be there and never be included. In the latter case, all of the people in the photo who are just anyones on a normal day are briefly someones because they, too, are arrayed next to someone important. This video is different than either of those situations — precisely because at the same that we know that the man in the clip is Pace, he could simultaneously be anyone. The conventional candid either reinforces a hierarchy or creates an elevation by association that always leaves me a bit uncomfortable as a viewer; this clip performs the reverse. I stand with his friend, watching him, and take on Haramis’ position in the hierarchy as the privileged friend. As it erases its author and substitutes me in that place, it elevates me. At the same time, I am more comfortable watching Pace because he’s doing something that is made to look so incredibly normal, and in its normality, beautiful. The vid changes his status; it brings him down to earth.

And the earthiness, the normality, and the apparent solitude in which the event recorded in the video takes place also enhance the impression of intimacy. In contrast to normal social media candids, which typically raise the connotation of crowds, being out in a big group of people, and needing to occupy space, this vid shrinks the space occupied and the amount of it that the subject consumes. Arguably, it’s the impression of intimacy that makes this post so potentially addictive to watch; it feels both so normal but also — in that the main subject is facing away from us and thus symbolically (if not really) signaling his ignorance of being filmed — transgressive, as if we are seeing a private moment reserved for friends and family. Because the average person has little reason to protect this sort of image from public view, it seems normal to look at such videos even as the “sighting in the wild” image of someone into whose normal life we are never invited is simultaneously unusual and in turn magnetic. I feel special because I am seeing this moment, have been granted this particular glimpse.

Thus, in turn, beyond my assumption of the viewpoint and status of the filmer, the vid carries the potential of a kind of defensive identification by the viewer on behalf of the subject of the image, because we all know that intimacy becomes less intimate when shared with many. The more disseminated the picture becomes, the more I might imagine that there’s nothing special about being able to see this kind of thing, and in order to preserve my feeling of intimacy, I might be tempted to conclude that I am in the circle of those who are allowed to observe but others plausibly should not be. Or that maybe no one should be. So the genius of the vid lies in the fact that I can view it again and again along with 2,000 other people, and still feel a bit as if I am the only one watching.

Yet paradoxically, for me anyway, watching this doesn’t make me feel implicated in a betrayal (compare my mixed reaction to the dorktastic dance video, years ago). That reaction has something to do with the relatively everyday, non-embarrassing content of this vid in comparison to that one — wouldn’t a real friend take to the grave the embarrassing things one did when one was twenty? — but also with the fact that Pace is turned away, so that this vid lets us see what Pace is doing without revealing anything about his reactions to it. Because of this perspective on events, the only face we see is that of the little girl. This position allows us to identify in delight with the child being flung into the air and crashing back into Pace’s arms, and her delight in turn potentially gives us an index as to his.

The final thing that’s really effective about this vid is that it seems so transitory, so momentary. It’s entirely normal, but in the next moment it could be gone (which is also part of why I keep replaying it). This is a feature of social media that I typically consider a bug. As a viewer, I don’t like being expected to keep track of every moment or risk missing out on something. But here, the briefness, the seasonality (for lack of a better word, der Heuriger in the Austrian sense keeps popping into my mind here — “this year’s wine”) are trapped so I can review them at will.

It’s another paradox that animates social media — the infinite loop of something that only happens in this particular way one single time, even if it might happen at any time, but in this particular instant, like every instant, can never be repeated. Haramis’ video makes the impermanence of this glimpse permanent without somehow damaging the very fragile quality that made him want to capture it in the first place. It’s the inexorable passage of time, our awareness that tonight the party will be over, tomorrow it will be raining, the next day they will be shooting, that makes us want to record these moments. In the end, it’s the inevitability of erasure that makes the review of moments like this intoxicating.

~ by Servetus on April 4, 2017.

15 Responses to “me + the social media of strangers”

  1. Sorry, but, I am ill, at ease. There is indescence in the voluntary exhibition, while the character of Lee Peace is turned back and there is an intrusive, unhealthy voyeurism of the fan, who discovers a family scene diverted to make the buzz.

    • That’s your privilege; however, there’s no question that everyone in this particular item is participating voluntarily and that it was posted with Pace’s and McNairy’s knowledge. One might criticize the choice to do that, but it’s not really voyeurism to watch a performance.

  2. Tiefsinnige Gedanken deinerseits…
    Es ist spät hier und so habe ich den schönen Anblick als “Betthupferl” genossen. Die beiden hatten viel Spaß zusammen und das sei ihnen gegönnt 🙂

  3. There is something warm and lovely about it 😊 brings sort of instant feeling or sensory memory back of hot summet days and slashing in water in the back yard though no pool in my case. Nice elegant and fun throw too. Presuming it was all shared with content I’m happy to bump into such glimpses of comfort/normality etc. Evokes im me similar fuzzies to some animal videos. Makes me crave the scorching heat and the swim in a really cold pool…

    • Summer splashing… I’m hopeless with my big fingers on small mobile screen

    • it does feel a little summery. I don’t enjoy playing in water so it didn’t evoke those memories for me, but of course it will pull that lever for a lot of viewers, too.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your meta-discussion of this clip, particularly the way you describe the video in such detail – and what it actually means in the context of celebrity culture and social media as a privacy-free zone.
    My own reaction to this video? Ok, I am neither a fan of nor particularly interested in LP, therefore my reactions are probably different to those of a fan. I would not have been able to identify him in this video. Which is why I think it is perfectly fine to post something like this. If anything, I would object much more to showing pictures/videos of children online.
    You hit it on the nail when you say that Haramis knows how to communicate effectively. This is a fabulous piece of advertising for Pace – showing him at play with a little girl, displaying his splendid body.

    • Thanks, Yeah, I decided not to raise the “minors in social media” question, but it would be on my mind as well if I were McNairy. However, this vid doesn’t make her particularly recognizable.

  5. Lee has a very effective social media presence. I still think a large part of it is managed professionally but he may also be okay with his friends posting personal images.

    • I’ll put it this way — if he’s not okay with it, they are basically ignoring him. That said: this was professional quality, also in the way that it makes it look like it wasn’t professional.

      • I follow RA as well as LP and also Luke Evans and always compare the different styles of tweeting.
        I appreciate the Luke Evans style most, seems to me the most authentic way. The guy is vain, that’s for sure, but his posts show only pictures of himself and sometimes of his relatives or pets, having fun together. This what I want to see as a fan, not rear views and playing kids (although the vid is beautifully made).
        I always have problems with the ‘use’ of unknown kids as a kind of accessoire for displaying normalcity. The other tweets of LP with his dog or for Conservation Org are acceptable, since they serve his charities and show a glimpse of his real life.
        I think, this is simply fan service and sometimes both react to replies which is quite nice and doesn’t harm.
        The tweets of RA are sadfully the most dull ones, at least at the moment, and I don’t miss them during long breaks. This man shows absolutely no insights in his privacy which is on the one hand honourable, on the other hand a bit boring. The man without qualities…
        Sorry for the long sermon, but I have thought about this theme quite often…

        • I guess I don’t understand the distinction between Evans and pictures of his relatives, and Pace with a picture of the child of his close friend. The child isn’t unknown, although I appreciate the attempt to make her seem like a generic child. And I do have issues with posting any frontal pictures of children on the internet whether relatives or not, unless the face is blurred, so potentially I would have problems with Evans’ feed (I don’t follow him).

          I have said before — I think that there’s a sort of layer of personality that a lot of people who are public figures develop, the list of personal things about them that are okay to know but don’t constitute a breach of privacy. Armitage doesn’t inhabit that space very comfortably, if at all. But it’s precisely the space that a celebrity has to occupy to be successful on social media.

  6. Your analysis of the video is really interesting. I found I had to watch it over and over to see him toss the girl so high in the air and her descending directly to his waiting hands. Watching how effortlessly he did that was fascinating, somehow.

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