Film critic Michelle Orange trains her lens on social media, the human mind, and, of course, the movies, in her new collection, This Is Running for Your Life: Essays.
You write about the modern compulsion we have to mediate our lives. How has that changed us?
We seem to spend so much time now worrying about whether and how we’re connecting. I had a conversation with a girl I’ve known through writing for a couple years— she was upset that she followed me on Twitter, but I didn’t follow her. We had to have a real moment about it. I felt horrible.
Do you have a Facebook account?
I don’t. It’s not that I hold myself above it. I just know it would be the end of me—I can’t handle Facebook!
What do you think is behind the nostalgia craze you write about?
What I came up with was the idea that our whole relationship with time was out of whack. Our sense of our place in time, the passage of time—it’s accelerating. We’re disconnected from the things that help anchor us and tell the story of who we are to these smaller and smaller generations that we’re creating. So the past feels more distant than it really is.
What does the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which you also dive into, show about how we see the mind?
Modern psychiatry is betting the farm on the idea that neuroscience will save us. I was trying to explore whether we can know everything about the mind—or whether we should try. I wanted to examine this idea of creating labels and diagnoses for conditions, ailments, and emotions that are more elusive or complex than a label or a diagnosis can allow them to be.
You also explore a new test marketing technique called “neurocinema.”
Neurocinema is this idea that we can reduce something as complicated as the human response [to a film] to brain imaging. The basic premise is frightening because it reduces something complex and perhaps unknowable to light patterns in the brain. Philip Carlsen, one of the cofounders of that clinic, said the point of neurocinema is to make the subjective objective. He thought that sounded great, and I thought that sounded terrifying! It seemed to me, if you’ve negated subjectivity, the next step is to negate the subject.
What trends have you noticed in film lately?
The incoherence of cinema, visually and even narratively. Maybe this is why I come out of so many movies now feeling baffled. They’re almost designed not to make any sense—just to draw your attention and overstimulate. That is the biggest and most troubling trend I’ve seen.