Erotic Notion #35: Reality is a Dangerous Game
By Hapax Legomenon

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Eugene de Blaas  Friendly Gossip
Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossips

"I'll assume your last story accurately reflects your memory," Lisa said when she met me at a juice bar. "But why would you want to write about it – or publish it on the web?

"It's a challenge," I said, sipping a delicious pomegranate drink. "I've already spent so much time and effort trying to make my fiction seem realistic; why not try describing reality itself?"

"Your intentions may be honorable, but the result may not be."

"What do you mean?"

"Romance creates lots of embarrassing memories," Lisa said. "If one of my boyfriends from college wrote about our love life, it could hurt me terribly."


"For one thing, I don't want to be reminded of certain memories, and I don't want the rest of the world to know about them either."

"But I went out of my way not to include embarrassing details. I tried to portray these girls as honestly (and sympathetically) as possible. "

"I realize that," Lisa said. "But would the females in question agree with your assessment (or even respect your right to air an opinion)? Unless you have explicitly gained their permissions, you don't have the right to use these people's personal details and private emotions for personal gain."

"A writer has an obligation to treat a subject fairly." I said. "In my heart I know I have done that. I cannot let another person's preferences limit my self-expression."

"Self-expression, my ass. Relationship tap into feelings and behavior which are impossible to put in words. By definition, a textual description will never convey the full context or psychological state of the people involved."

"That is simply not true," I said. "Celebrities willingly parade their personal details for reporters. Relationships have elements which are both private and public."

"What benefit can come from public exposure?"

"Sometimes it gives insight into what makes people tick," I said. "Most of the time you never really know what people around you are thinking anyway. Exposure can be therapeutic – for the writer and the person being written about."

"What a deliciously self-serving conclusion," Lisa said. "People don't normally mention private details about their love lives in public conversation or on a website. Sure, for you, it may be useful to reflect on your past. But there's an imbalance of power when one person thrusts something into public that the other person has kept private. Even if a man believes that his description of the night his girlfriend gave him a blowjob was fair and sensitive, the girlfriend might disagree."

"By definition, a story about nonseduction doesn't reveal too much."

"How do you know?" Lisa said. "For all you know, these girlfriends might find your depiction embarrassing. You present yourself as passionate and honorable (and the woman as flakes)."

"Well some of these women were flakes!" I said. "I intentionally chose episodes which were brief and teasing instead of full-fledged seductions."

"But your goals for the story may have predetermined the results," Lisa said. "All these women are presented as flawed; all the encounters are brief and inconsequential. You chose female friendships which never had emotional depth; do you really believe they are more important than lasting relationships? Privacy concerns aside, you would gain more insight about sex by looking at longer relationships than ones which never really started."

"Perhaps your objection has merit," I said. "But let us recognize the differences between a written story and a photograph or multimedia clip. By definition, all writing is concerned with the subjectivity of thoughts and feelings. No reader will treat it as absolute truth. The person writing it (or the person being written about) can easily deny it or distance himself from it. You can't do that with a photograph or a recording. An unauthorized video clip violates privacy in a way no piece of writing ever could."

"These are false distinctions," Lisa said. "Text can reference the past and undermine a person's credibility. Imagine that some vengeful girlfriend of yours started a website called "Jeff McClaren is awful in bed" and invited old girlfriends to submit their own memories. It could ruin your reputation in no time."

"Are you sure?" I said. "It's hard to imagine that a hypothetical ex-girlfriend could cooperate with other exes. And even if she did, there's no guarantee that people would ever find that website (unless the ex-girlfriend were already a celebrity to begin with). If I didn't want people to find out about the website, I could take countermeasures to prevent it from being listed highly on search results."

"Your ex-girlfriend could conceivably email the URL to hundreds of graduates from Southwestern University."

"But would anyone trust it?" I asked. "Maybe some people will look, but who will believe something on a risqué website by someone claiming to be my ex?"

"Gossip sticks in people's minds, especially racy gossip."

"The implications are clear. Not only should I label everything as fiction, but I should avoid letting any of my friends read it."

"I'm not sure that is possible," Lisa said. "At some point all identities are exposed."

"But this is fiction – remember? Who reads fiction anymore? Even people who love reading never get around to reading 98% of the things they are supposed to. I never even identified these people in my stories, and as I mentioned, I lost touch with all the people anyway. I seriously doubt that any of these women would hear about it."

"You don't know this," Lisa said. "Some people – not just English professors – take delight in unmasking identities. It's impossible to anticipate the indirect connections you have with people. You may think it impossible for a long lost acquaintance to know about a story, but perhaps there are indirect connections you aren't privy to."

"That assumes that the friend of a friend knows which girl I am referring to."

"That's the very problem. How would your friend know for sure? What if someone wrongly thought the story was about her? The potential for misunderstanding and unintentional insults will be multiplied by ten. What if a spouse of a female friend reads your piece and feels that you insulted her – regardless of whether she is the actual person you wrote about?"

"Should this bother me?" I said. "For all I know, it might even enhance my reputation as a lover. What can I do anyway? Should each story need an annotation that says, 'This story is not about Elaine or Lisa or Shelley or Mary or Rosanna or Sylvia?'"

"Get ready to do a lot of annotating," Lisa said.

Written June 2009

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"Even if a man believes his description of the night his girlfriend gave him a blowjob was fair and sensitive, the girlfriend might disagree."
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