A few months back, during the hilt of the summer, I was doing what I like to do in the afternoons. I was sitting in Caffe Ibis in lovely downtown Logan, Utah drinking tea and reading the New York Times.
I was situated at a table nearer to the back of the cafe, facing the front door. Two women, whom I know but rarely speak with, entered. They both got a drink and exited. I like to stretch my legs out when I am hanging out at Ibis. Thusly, after reading a column in the newspaper, I did what is customary for me—I got up with my cup of tea and went to stand outside for a minute or two.
Anyone who, like myself, spends a great amount of time at the corners of Church and Federal has seen me stand outside of Ibis with a cup in my hand staring out into nothingness. It is what I do. On this occasion, the two women who I had seen 15 minutes earlier were visible sitting at a table outside of Ibis talking and enjoying their drinks. I recognized them and then went back to my deep introspective pondering for a bit. Then I went back inside.
A few minutes later, my phone rang. I am currently the last person on Earth who believes it is inconsiderate to speak on their phone to hold intimate conversations in closed spaces surrounded by strangers. As such, I went outside to have my phone conversation. When it ended, I again went back inside. Now, the fun begins.
As best as I can surmise, the two women contacted a third person I know via text messaging and told this third party that I was staring at them. The third party mentioned this horrifically traumatic experience on Twitter without mentioning me by name. I only found out about this when a fourth party responded to the tweet by the third party adding my Twitter handle to his response as an amusing, but unknowingly profound quip.
Two women accused me of being a creepy voyeur to a third party, who related the incident on a social networking site…and I found out about it because a fourth person made a joke about me being creepy in response to the report. This is the world we inhabit.
I know what most of you are thinking. “Oh, great! Another ‘Harry hates social networking’ column.” Damn straight!
I harbor no animosity towards the people in my anecdote. If anything, I am grateful to them for providing me a stellar example of the problem society has with the dying art of interpersonal communication. In an era when nearly all college-aged Americans have lived the entirety of their lives with the Internet as the predominant factor, knowing how to deal with strangers in three dimensions is the equivalent of attempting to teach a penguin how to shoot a basketball. Simply stated, they just do not have the mental and social equipment to do it.
This is why a guy standing outside of a coffee house can be considered creepy. “Why would he stand there? What is going on? Oh my God! Is he staring at me? Stalker!”
In the realm of entertainment, there are two theories that have been the subject of many laments. The “Ratings Creep” and the “Mission Creep.” In these contexts, creep is not a noun, but a verb. The “Ratings Creep” is a theory that suggests that films today are branded with a much more lenient rating from the Motion Picture Association of America than decades ago. Cartoonish violence that might have received an “R” rating in 1985 barely registers a “PG-13” in 2015.
In the “Mission Creep,” cable television channels that once catered to a very specific audience in its own name are now pretty much overrun with trashy reality television shows and original programming. MTV used to stand for Music Television. Outside of a small block of time in the morning, you will never see a music video on that channel. The History Channel shortened its name to History whilst simultaneously showing less shows about history. A&E used to stand for Arts & Entertainment. The arts are gone. Bravo was basic cable’s answer to PBS; now, it is its antithesis.
In this column, I offer a theory regarding the inability for many Americans who do not know, or cannot remember, when a guy standing outside of a coffee shop to stretch his legs did not equate to an axe murderer searching for new victims. The Creepy Creep.
As I define it, the Creepy Creep are actions that many years ago would have been easily dismissed as innocuous, irrelevant or endearing. Now, it not only brands the suspected whackadoo with the #worsethanhitler hashtag, but also should be brought to the attention of the police.
Do not believe me? Read the Logan City Police Blotter on any given day. There are many reports of people calling 911 because of someone “suspicious” in a parking lot; or, a person received a phone call from someone they did not know; or, an ex drove by their house in the afternoon.
Just last week I read a story of a man back east who was interrogated by police because he was seen in public park in the middle of the day taking photographs with children near by. The guy did not brush off the incident. He scribed a letter to his local newspaper explaining that he was just a guy in park who likes to take photographs. I made the mistake of reading the comment section of the linked story. The majority of people agreed he was creepy and that it was “better to be safe than sorry.”
Islamic terrorists, gun violence, the Confederate flag and amateur photographers are the biggest threats to America. They must all be stopped!
The great paradox that exists with the Creepy Creep is that nearly all of us live on the Internet. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al, we unabashedly volunteer the most intimate parts of our lives to the world. We beg people to know our thoughts and see how we live our lives. We solicit, condone and encourage voyeurism.
The problem is we give away our lives on websites that are nothing more than a screen where we do not see the world staring back at us. We cannot see anyone roll their eyes, or tighten their neck muscles in awkward disapproval, or drop their jaw in exasperated disbelief. The concept of three dimensional reactions from other humans is now foreign to us. Oh, we can read the comments left on our Facebook status—but those are easily dismissed because it is just a name and a profile pic connected to contrarian input. The negative feedback is disqualified as not coming from real people.
Let us briefly return to the world of entertainment. In the 1983 film “Valley Girl,” when Nicolas Cage’s girlfriend breaks up with him, there is a montage where he is seen as the waiter at a restaurant where she is on a date, an usher at a movie theater where she is on another date and when she wakes up one morning, she finds Cage in a sleeping bag on her front lawn. Eventually, he crashes her prom, beats up her prom date and takes her to a hotel room.
In the 1989 film “Say Anything…”, there is the iconic scene where Ione Skye wakes up to hear former boyfriend John Cusack near her house holding a radio over his head playing the magnificent song “In Your Eyes” at high volume.
And, as I was writing notes for this column Tuesday night, the 1993 film “Sleepless In Seattle” was on Turner Classic Movies—one of the few basic cable channels that still holds to its mission. In the film, Meg Ryan becomes obsessed with Tom Hanks when she hears him on a national radio show talk about the death of his wife. She uses what passed for the Internet back in those days to find out where Tom Hanks lived and then flew from Baltimore to Seattle to meet him without his knowledge.
These films are all billed as romantic comedies. Explain to 18 year-olds the plot of these movies and they might think it is the story arc for the newest “Paranormal Activity” film.
I do not belittle or dismiss the unfortunate fact that stalking does exist. Trust me, I know it does. I have been a victim of stalking; and the perpetrator used social networking to find me. That is one of the main reasons I do not put anything on Facebook or Twitter anymore. I just do not want to share my life with anyone unless I am actually talking to them on a phone or at a table.
The problem many of us have is that we now view everyone as a potential stalker and/or axe murderer. Too many people get jittery in public because they lack the experience of sharing their life with people whose reactions they can see in front of them.
Fear has replaced curiosity. Paranoia trumps optimism. In lieu of handshake introductions, we have tweets. And guys who stand outside of cafes not doing anything have to be creepy axe murderers. After all, who actually stands around thinking thoughts without immediately putting those musings on the Internet? That’s just weird.