There is a common question amongst people in my age bracket, a telling anthropological detail for anyone keeping score in the future.
It goes something like this: “Should I even go to my high school reunion? After all, I can already see what everybody is doing on Facebook.”
Which is a valid point, and only really interesting to me right now, as my high school reunion sneaks up on me like some sadistic, opportunistic ninja, happily reminding me of my age whenever possible.
As is true of most change, there is something sad about high school reunions being wiped out in favor of status updates and digital photo galleries. There’s a terrific film genre devoted exclusively to high school reunions that’s about to shrivel up and die. Think such gems as Grosse Point Blank and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. There are probably more. For example, I’m sure there’s a slasher movie or two about kids who kept some terrible secret ten years ago and are now being hunted and killed for it.
“I Know What You Did Ten Summers Ago” is what we’ll call it if it hasn’t been made. I’ll write and you can produce. It’ll be a laugh riot about how our flab and work fatigue and hair loss are killing us already, so the psycho slasher is redundant. (After all, Jason Voorhees has nothing on dreams that aren’t quite dead but are starting to smell funny, am I right? High five!)
The film genre that will replace it won’t be as visually engaging. The one about people staring longingly into their computer screens, awkwardly crush-stalking someone they kissed in a fumbly game of spin the bottle several weeks before prom, debating whether or not they should attend their reunion and rekindle that flame.
This person, let’s say she’s got a wedding band and a bunch of dogs but no kids. A box of wine, no bottles. Drinks from a plastic cup. Which is a pretty good start. Who is she? Where could it go?
But the sad thing about this film (and all films in this new genre) is it will go nowhere, because Suzy Creamcheese isn’t going to attend her reunion, isn’t going to meet up with that James Dean who haunted the twilight of her youth. She won’t have to meet him again, and realize he’s pouchier now than he looks in his pictures. That he’s trying out an ugly mustache and really only cares about the bottom line, but he’s also terrifically funny. Instead, she can keep on dreaming, and pining, and keeping those memories in a box, and let him slowly die some other way in her imagination. Maybe a more glorious death in the heroic distance of her fantasies.
And there’s nothing wrong with fantasizing. That’s what we’re doing right now. But two things:
First, someone fantasizing absently instead of dancing stupidly in their old high school gymnasium would make for a far less thrilling movie.
Second, there is an inherent danger in attributing logic to your fantasies.
Like the moment you think to yourself: “Hmm, it sure would be interesting to meet up with Tim-From-My-Past to see what he’s been up to…”
But then you have a vision: of sitting at a table with Tim, talking about nothing but things you already know from Facebook, which is painfully redundant and really just a waste of time. So, due to the logic you’ve gleaned from this fantasy, you say, “Scratch that! I won’t call Tim. Guy’s a bore because I already know everything about his life.”
Only you don’t know everything about his life and that’s for one simple reason: social media doesn’t bleed.
Tim does, but his Facebook page doesn’t. More’s the pity.
Now don’t misunderstand: social media scars. Sure it does. Like those awkward pictures Teresa took at that party you regret attending your Freshmen Year? You untagged yourself, but they’re still out there, somewhere, and that’s an itty bit of keloid you can’t sand down.
But it doesn’t really bleed, as in there’s nothing pumping through its veins that hasn’t been filtered a hundred times by the person posting it. That’s not to say it isn’t real. It is to say that what you see on the internet is archival. A treasure trove of artifacts, a museum of the Just Now that speaks nothing to the Never Was.
The longings, the heartaches, the stuff you get when someone’s right next to you, whispering conspiratorially, disarmed. You know: the blood.
Because what you couldn’t have anticipated about Tim is that he’s got this really incredible break up story about this girl who stalked him for months, leaving headless stuffed animals in his mailbox and at work. But Melissa, see, she heard it differently. She heard Tim was the one leaving all those stuffed animals (and no one really knows what happened to the heads).
And you’ll never know the truth of it, these being just gossipy artifacts themselves, but at least they’re organic. At least they bleed.
Now, is all that blood worth it? To go to your high school reunion, where you’ll probably just clump up with the friends you’ve kept along the way, and watch cautiously from your island of Friend Bodies just to get a glimpse of someone you used to know, to get a little hit of nostalgia, maybe a whiff of closure for something that happened (or didn’t happen ten years ago)…is it worth it?
For me? Absolutely.
Because that’s worst case scenario. And a couple hits of nostalgia ain’t a bad baseline.
Best case scenario: you remember why you were friends with these new strangers in the first place. Maybe grab a couple of new-old friends along the way.
And then you’ll have something like wisdom, that grounds and kind of deflates those fantasies, because you’ll see past the photo galleries. Past the smiles and the updates.
After all, there’s literally nothing on Facebook about Tim beheading all those stuffed animals. Nothing.
And Facebook’s a better place for it. But when dignified posturing wins a couple times too many, the rest of us lose.
I wonder which is more important in the long run anyway: good pictures or embarrassing memories?
Here’s to gobbling up both while celebrating a decade’s worth of the same.