In the claim that media culture unduly raises expectations through imagination, imagination is always implicitly at fault; “reality” has the last word and is viewed as the ultimate yardstick by which the exercise of imagination is judged. Psychoanalysis, for instance,makes the “reality principle” the code that ultimately must govern the psyche.
“Since it involves an ‘over evaluation,’ romantic love, with its idealization, involves a break with reality-testing and so is always immature and dangerous.” But this affirmation of the real against the imagined does not question the structure of the “real” with which imagination must cope.
Disappointment is always viewed as the result of “unrealistic expectations,” yet the structure of the real that makes those expectations unrealizable is never questioned. I would precisely question the assumption that the real intrinsically and inevitably lacks the resources to satisfy imagination. Or if it does, I would ask why.
In a book entitled Can Love Last?, the psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell argues that from the experience of his practice, most marriages become difficult because they end up passionless, which he attributes to most people striving simultaneously to achieve security and adventure.
The passionlessness of marriage derives from the ways in which we orchestrate our need for security. Security is often seen as incompatible with passion, or even as leading to its demise. But I would argue that this need for “security” and/or for “adventure” is not an invariant constituent of the psyche; or if it is, then security and adventure take on changing shapes in different cultural structures.
They are also outcomes of the social organization of the psyche.Security derives from the capacity to control and to predict one’s environment; adventure, by contrast, derives from feeling challenged, either in one’s social identity or in the ways in which one knows how to do things. What Mitchell calls security is an effect of the profound rationalization of daily and domestic life, the routinization of tasks and services that help maintain the ongoing operation of a household.
The rationalization of domestic households is manifest in the discipline of time (waking up at a fixed hour; coming home at a fixed hour; taking children to regular activities; having meals at set times; watching regular news or sitcoms; having a particular day for grocery shopping; planning social activities; having predictable leisure times,etc.)
And the rationalization of space (shopping in malls which are highly controlled environments; living in homes in which space is homogeneously planned, rationally divided and organized according to the functional use of objects; living in neighborhoods that are surveilled and free from potential sources of chaos, etc.). Modern domestic lives are highly predictable, and their predictability is engineered by an array of institutions organizing daily life: home deliveries (food, newspapers, catalog shopping); television with its regular programs; sociability, mostly pre-planned; and standardized leisure and vacation times. Thus, what Mitchell calls security is actually a rationalized way of organizing everyday existence: that is, “security” is achieved both psychically and sociologically as a byproduct of the rationalization of daily life.
This rationalization of daily life is often conducive to disappointment because it is ongoingly, incessantly compared to widely available different models and ideals of emotional excitement and emotional expressiveness, which make people evaluate themselves and their lives negatively. Indeed, research shows that people are more likely to perceive their own rationalized daily experience negatively as a result of exposure to media images. The mechanism for this is complex. Research on the impact of media images on how individuals perceive their bodies suggests that images of perfect bodies have negative effects on self-esteem and self-concept because watching these images suggests to people both that others can achieve them more easily (competitiveness) and that others view them as important (normative legitimacy). Media images thus become a source of disappointment through the implicit mediation of what we think they say about others’ expectations of us and about their achievements compared to ours.
Widespread images of love may instill ideas that others achieve love when we do not, and that achieving love is normatively important for successful life. The dissatisfaction induced may fuel chronic disappointment. Thus, the rationalization of daily life produces boredom, which in turn is ongoingly, implicitly compared to media models of emotional excitement, intensity, and plenitude.