sole survivor: the fetish of isolation

have you noticed?

you can’t turn around these days without being confronted by the lone young man (woman too, but more often than not, a man/boy) standing amidst the grandeur of a majestic landscape, possibly with mountains, a stream, a river runs through it, big trees, ferns and conifers, boulders, a canyon not unlike the grand canyon off in the far distance, the sky a cloudless cerulean, or the sky darkening before an impending storm/tornado/hail/sleet/snow; they’ll be naked from the waist up; they’ll be wearing a flannel shirt, a henley, a hoodie, a do-rag around their head, a knit cap pulled back from their forehead so their red/brunet/blond/black/hair can flop down over their eyes, which are misted over (if you can see them) with the grandeur of the moment; they’ll be bearded, tattooed, sleeves rolled up, front of untucked shirt tucked in, t-shirt hanging below, jeans/khakis/cargo shorts/shoeless, booted, sandaled feet dug down into the loamy earth, sand, sea, alone with nature, communing, supping from the cup of god’s bounty (if you believe in god, but i suspect that they don’t, being existentialists or worse, solipsists); they are not commanding nature so much as sucked into its vortex, for if you were to blink, their time on this planet would have passed and the landscape would have been virgin territory once again. it’s that kind of solitude.

it seems that young gay men (and adolescent girls) are particularly attracted to this kind of imagery and besides the obvious beauty of the image (for it is beautiful and i suspect that is what attracts the female of the species), there is a loneliness, a me-versus-them, an island of regret upon which the subject has found themselves. alone. all of which makes me wonder if these viewers, and rebloggers, appropriaters, and <3ers aren’t seeing themselves reflected back in the singular young man with his back to the camera (or in profile, he of roman nose, high cheekbones, snorting steam, a bull, a bird, a feather on the wind) alone amid such overwhelming beauty, the chaos of nature, its rhythm and contrapuntal stance, its heartbeat and breath, the finely muscled, the treasure trail leading down to an undefined whatever. they don’t seem to be about sex so much as they do about the isolation.

the isolation of the moment seems erotically charged, a mental charge more than a physical one. are we meant to identify with the moment or the message? the viewer (as well as the subject) doesn’t seem concerned about the how so much as about the why. that’s me you see there; do you see yourself standing next to the subject, holding hands? are you completing a scenario of your own fiction or imposing your desires on a subject that has rejected other humans in favor of nature? what do you think your success will be? is it beauty for beauty’s sake or man’s manipulation of the facts that you are enjoying?

what i see when young gay men post these images on their websites repeatedly, and this may just be me, but i see someone identifying with the loneliness of being gay (even when they’re out and proud of it.) i see the rejection experienced and in response the mental gymnastics a young gay man may have had to develop in order to live and function in a heterosexual world. the loneliness of secrets, of fear, of hate–all of which still occur far too frequently. there is nothing wrong with solitude or the seeking of solitude, but the fetishization of the imagery of isolation is akin to glorifying the object for the social activity that produces it.

i am not against this type of imagery. i often find it beautiful and haunting, although it is more of a sugar high than a nutritionally balanced meal. what i worry about and it’s possible i’m making something out of nothing, is that the continued usage of this kind of isolation imagery is a reflection of our (the gay man’s) struggle for equal rights. personally i don’t care if you ‘accept’ me for who i am, but what i demand is that i am granted the same freedoms under the law that you enjoy. i want to move among the peoples of the world on equal footing and occasionally stop for a moment in a golden glade, a sun-dappled path ahead of me and revel in that moment of isolated beauty.


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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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