Home-Spun Philosophy

Through Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) recently hosted a local screening of Rear Window, which I attended. TCM — bless their nostalgic hearts — book-ended the film with talk-show variety commentary and anecdotes about the making of the film from Ben Mankiewicz (a TCM regular, or so Google told me). He mentioned how this story wouldn’t even exist these days because no one watches their neighbors or even looks out of their windows; we’re all on Instagram, etc. I think he’s got it wrong….

“We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes sir. How’s that for a bit of homespun philosophy?” – Stella (Thelma Ritter), Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)

This, right here, is why Rear Window is still quite relevant. What are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr (yes, even Tumblr), but windows into our neighbors lives? We peep on friends, family, and strangers across the courtyard of social media. We are Jimmy Stewart’s L.B. Jeffries, peering into the lives around us. “Nah, this is different,” you say. “With social media, we all acknowledge that a little harmless social media stalking [how is that not more sinister?] is perfectly acceptable. Spying into someone’s open window is different!” Now, as Grace Kelly’s Lisa says, “I’m not much on rear window ethics,” and I’m not advocating tom peepery, but if you leave your window open, you are also silently agreeing to the fact that others will look. And just like Jeffries, we make all kinds of assumptions about what we see through our LCD windows. We assume that our friends lead far happier lives, that internet silence means someone is depressed, that a lack of “likes” actually means something in the real world, or that a delayed response after our words have been “seen” implies that we aren’t wanted. Sure, just like our open windows expose some truth about our lives, sometimes our online assumptions are correct, but what happened to the adage, never assume? Yes, Thorwald was guilty, but Jeffries wasn’t right about all of his neighbors: the Composer wasn’t doomed to failure and drunkenness, Miss Lonelyhearts wasn’t hopeless, and Miss Torso surprised us all with her military man.

This whole subject deserves much more than I can give it at present, but for now, here’s my point: maybe we should take Stella’s advice and shut down our digital binoculars, go for a walk, and (this part’s mine) ask questions of our friends and neighbors instead of making assumptions.

“How’s that for a bit of home-spun philosophy?”

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