Saturday, 5 April 2008

Tube paranoia

(ferro_ud @ Flickr)

I'm a little bit fascinated by The Underground. The visual language always gives me satisfaction. Then there is the strangeness to being underneath everything. I love this ad for making explicit what I always imagine (in slightly less pristine visuals) is going on above my head on the tube.

Transparente. Agency: Contrapunto Madrid

Most of all, the tube is intriguing because of the people on it. There's all the covert reading over shoulders, the seat politics, proximity negotiations, the conspicuously empty seats around a nutter and the wilful avoidance of making eye contact to the point where the mundane transmutes into the sublime.

In one of the most massively artificial places humans are forced to congregate, everyone wants their own cocoon; even Tony Blair was ignored on the tube. The only thing that punctures everyone's individual seals is a collective comedy or tragedy, like when someone's shopping or afro is pinched in the door. The valence of the emotion depending on which side of the doors the person is when this happens.

Simmel said in The Metropolis and Mental Life that "[t]he deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces...." One result of this struggle is the urban blasé, an indifference to much of the stimuli of the city.

This deadening of the senses though may not be entirely accurate. A nifty virtual reality experiment published in the British Journal of Psychiatry this month has shown a large proportion of tube travellers felt paranoia - a sharpening of the senses - where eye contact is misconstrued for something more malignant.

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