Friday, 1 February 2008

Lacanian Skins

Recently I've been watching Skins and think it's great. One of the most interesting features of the show is that all adults in the show are initially portrayed as one-dimensional characters. The school principal is only focused on the image of the school; the parent is only about disciplining the child; etc. However, just as the protagonists are 17, reaching the status of legal adulthood in England, so too do the adult characters reveal complexity as each episode progresses. For a child, the world is full of simple things that perform a small number of functions. Other people fulfil single roles. Playmate, parent, stranger, shop-keeper. However, as we move into adulthood it becomes apparent that desires, dreams, hopes and additional layers of complexity are present in everything. There is no single explanation for how and why things operate as they do.

It is as though the Lacanian quilting process continues for all of these characters, as they are forced to uncover the meanings of symbols that they have always-already had around them. The immersive environment of childhood and then adolescence is repeatedly stripped away and refined as they gain some measure of empathy with other people. The parent is not only about raising children, but also has desires and emotional states. The parent wants comfort, emotional stability, sexual fulfilment and so on.

And yet, the next step is never taken. That is, the pursuit of all these desires, now uncovered in the lives of adults, ultimately results in no satisfaction. The dissatisfaction of obtaining the object cause of desire is not discussed. The show stops at the point of identifying the core drives and desires of the characters, and leaving the viewer to merely acknowledge that the person is complex and needs to be understood within the framework of those motivations. If there is anything that I have learned from even my shallow reading of Lacan, it is the fact that desire is an illusion, an artificial motivation that will not satisfy because it will never replace the Real. All desires are arbitrary. They come from nowhere and they deliver nothing. Ultimately the journey itself is a meandering under the pretense that it has a final destination. However, the only destination is the grave. The journey only has meaning in context, but if the first point of that context is arbitrary then the meaning itself is arbitrary.

Moving back to the show, I think it's a worthwhile series of fictions and I'm keen to see where it goes, but I can't shake the feeling of arbitrariness in it all. Life is absurd after all.
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