The Horror of ‘Fuller House’

I.

This is not a review of Netflix’s “Fuller House”. You knew when you first heard about it whether you would like it or not. It delivers exactly what it promises, although maybe from a slightly more left-leaning tribal allegiance than I would have guessed.

I took a heavy dose of the show one Friday evening with my girlfriend. There is something eerie about it.

Part of this eeriness is easy to identify- it’s the old sitcom conventions, the laugh tracks, the cringeworthy catchphrases, etc.. But even within the world of the characters, there’s something creepy about the idea of a confluence of events sucking the Tanner family back into this huge (but unsellable?) house and forcing them to persist nearly 3-decade-old relationships exclusively. The opening credits are nearly shot-for-shot with the original. There are even shot-for-shot scene recreations. I did not know Full House well enough to know this, but luckily the show brought it to my attention by providing the original scene to juxtapose at least once.

This is a world where whoever you thought you were and whoever you met in high school were your destiny, and your childhood neighbors never move away. Everyone on the social graph just collapses into one isolated, self-referential net. It is probably how I thought of the future as a kid- all of the same people, same values, but with better technology and a chain of related personal and professional successes. Myopic. Cringe-y. It now sounds to me like a horror show.

I almost wish the new-generation children had the names and attributes of their grandparents One Hundred Years of Solitude –style.


II. 

In his recent work, Francis Fukuyama argued that [functional] humans come pre-installed with two main pro-social mechanisms: kin selection and reciprocal altruism. These behaviors (trusting cousins and taking care of those who take care of you) reliably result in band- and tribe-level societies. The technologies that enable organizational capabilities beyond that were not ‘natural’ in the biologically-developed sense: languages, cultures, and other cognitive tools adapted us to survive at a rate beyond what our biological toolkit alone could equip us with. The case is made that humans are animals [indisputably] and the “tyranny of cousins” is our default social situation [probably], barring cultural technologies.

Although our feelings about it being an unhealthy obsession makes some sense, social media seems almost like a return to normalcy. On the scale of human behaviors across time, “sitting alone in an apartment reading a book by yourself” is a weird, sterile, clinical act. Technical considerations aside, there is something very natural about swimming in stream of social media and allowing yourself to be bombarded with whatever ideological pathogens your hometown and college friends and coworkers are coughing up. The big unique thing about ‘social media’ over the old band-level societies is the sheer quantity of potential pathogens available. (Well, that and the fact that with ‘social media’ our bonds are more intentional and less incidental.)

Much in the same way that my cultural cohort has grown from monolithic “germs are bad” sentiments to a more mature appreciation for a well-cultivated microbiome, I suspect that we will collectively come to terms with this aspect of our lives in the near future.

 

III.

It’s hard for me to say who I spend most of my time with. Like a lot of people, I have a cyborg existence- a good chunk of my social life is online. On the internet, there are groups of semi-strangers whose opinions I read regularly; there are groups of people I’m in regular contact with but who I nearly never see in-person.

As a business traveler, my meatspace life is dominated by weak social bonds on weekdays- coworkers, clients, the set of service workers I see regularly (hotel staff, bartenders, etc). On weekends, I’m home with my girlfriend. I go out for drinks or dinner with closer friends maybe once or twice a month- these are folks I’ve known maybe from college or a bit since then. I have my close friends from the distant past who I might see ‘roughly annually’, but who I try to keep up with through internet mediation.

I turned 26 last weekend. As that cute Wait But Why article demonstrated, in some sense most of the wick of my time with old friends and family has already been burnt up. I’ve been building a life for 30-year-old me who will have even less of that resource. Circumstances in the past few months have had me thinking about that a lot.

I’ve talked before about the idea of institutional “escape velocity” and the idea that for the first quarter-century of our lives, the distance between our institutional life phases is roughly 4 years (elementary school, middle school, high school, college).  It has now been four years since college, so perhaps I unconsciously am looking for some kind of new story.

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