There's a photo I've been staring at, off and on, for about the past week, trying to work out if I could put my thoughts about it into words, and whether it would do anyone any good if I tried. After much writing and deleting and writing and deleting and writing and deleting with extreme prejudice, I think my point is:

If ever there were an example of how we do the human race a grave disservice by using the very concept of intimacy solely as a euphemism for sex, it is these two.

I have no idea where this picture was taken. It's a candid shot; the flat lighting suggests an unbounced flash, and the depth of field is not quite sufficient to get everything in focus at the same time. No pro would have done that intentionally -- and if it happened accidentally, the image would have been trashed with anything else that didn't quite work at the proofs stage.

I don't know what prompted the gesture. They could be acting, I suppose, but they're comedians. When they faff about for an audience, it's generally much hammier than this. The moment looks strikingly real, and strikingly intimate. I would feel uncomfortably voyeuristic were I not already aware that the two of them are like this more or less all the time. It is fascinating to me to watch this. Fielding is generally all over people like a Labrador retriever puppy, although he's very good at picking out people who aren't up for it and staying away from them, and telegraphing his intentions so he doesn't startle too many of the people who think it's okay. Barratt is much quieter and more self-contained, and has an unremarkable idea of personal space when dealing with strangers; you would think that at best he would tolerate continually being lolled on, but in fact he aids and abets. Even in the earliest footage I can find, they're nearly standing on each other, and leading one another around by the hand. They have to tone it down substantially to play two characters who never have to learn a Very Special Lesson about Friendship, because it's the one thing they're not fucking up in the first place.

No one has the right to touch you without your permission. This is an important thing to remember, and to repeat, as evidently there are still some schlubs out there who have not gotten the memo. But sometimes I'm afraid that all the (justified) anger at the remaining troglodytes eclipses the awareness that we all have the equally basic right to give permission -- to whomever you want, for any reason you want, and within whatever boundaries you see fit. The unfortunate reality that there are people who use unwanted touch to hurt others, often sexually, drives our discourse, as if sexual intercourse is the only reason we would ever come into physical contact with another human being. It isn't. Holding hands doesn't mean you're expecting a blowjob, and hugging a child does not mean you are a pedophile.

Physical displays of affection like that are about as rare among Brits as among norteamericanos, rarer in men, and rarer still in men who are not either creepy or intentionally presenting as flamingly gay. They get picked on occasionally for acting like a married couple; they don't. A good solid married couple is a joy to watch, as they have a continual non-verbal back-and-forth -- a song in call-and-response style. Much of it is nonfunctional, but for the comforting ritual. Fielding and Barratt have continual running subtitles under most conversations, but none about this; whatever back-and-forth they ever had about this was over many years ago. They move like twins now, people who have simply always been in the same space. Fielding does enough continual assessment of how other people are reacting to his proximity and movements, consciously or not, that it must be a relief to have at least one person with whom he does not have to think about it. Barratt's motivations, I could not guess, but to note that it can be magnetic to meet someone who wants to be close to you, not out of neediness or ulterior motives, but just because being close to you is comfortable.

People who've been around me for a while will recognize that this is Impassioned Social Rant #447, and rather high on a long list of reasons I have come to wonder if the people responsible for zero-tolerance policies have had their common sense glands surgically removed. I suspect that, at minimum, many of them would have difficulty passing a Voight-Kampf test. I've already spent enough time despairing of people today, so I'll spare you the wailing and gnashing of teeth and just say that watching two people who have so obviously worked all this out in a way that makes them both happy makes me feel a little less like my species is perpetually on the brink of an incredibly stupid, extinction-level argument.

Comments

  1. "If ever there were an example of how we do the human race a grave disservice by using the very concept of intimacy solely as a euphemism for sex, it is these two."

    Thank you so much for saying this because it is true and also drives me crazy.

    No world can be an entirely terrible one in which people can forge relationships like this. And these are only the ones we see, the ones that happen to get captured on film. It makes me feel like maybe sometimes the world is alright, after all. ^^;;;

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  2. That is a very sweet photo. Makes me miss my recently-passed best friend, one of a few with whom I was that unboundaried and trusting with.

    Somewhat tangentially, I wonder if you've gotten around to watching It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia yet. I found a deleted scene from an episode where they had none other than Rob Thomas in a cameo role; in the episode he ended up being comedian Sinbad's silent sidekick as they both menaced Dennis (one of the main characters) in a psych ward, but Rob speaks in the deleted scene and gets a decent impact well-suited to the dark overwrought humor which if you watched the show would see is standard for it. :)

    Clip here: http://youtu.be/E9QOulJVZsc

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