Oh boy, a thinky post! Which is also connected to tomorrow’s DCIB Book Club pick. Yaaaaay!
In my podcast listens, I’ve hit a stream of internet scam stories. But, like, really weird ones. Because the normal ones aren’t worthy of a podcast. It’s not a simple scam for money or sexual content, it’s something more complicated than that, a whole fantasy life created by the scammer which draws in the victim for seemingly no purpose.
The easy answer is that Social Media is The Devil. It drives people to confuse fantasy and reality, and Young People don’t know how to value real life any more versus online. But, I reject that! I just don’t think humanity, good or bad, can change the quickly. There are essential human qualities that have always been and always will be, all that changes is the tools that can be used to express them.
“Love Fraud”, the idea of someone pretending to be something they aren’t in order to draw their victim in giving up money, sex, or energy, is not new. You don’t have to read much history before you run across a scam based on pen pals, or a toxic relationship where the man lied about everything until the woman was married to him. And it usually is the man lying to the woman.
I don’t think humanity, good or bad, can change. And I also think that gender is a social construct. So, following that idea, I’m going to start with the premise that in most societies woman are taught from childhood how to have empathy and provide emotional support, and do emotional labor. This primes them to be victims of love frauds. At the same time, the way men are taught to expect to be served and loved, that they deserve to be served and loved, and that they need have no empathy, means they are primed to be the criminals. So you have these stories, men who feel like they are the center of the universe and women who have been primed to forgive and understand and listen and so on.
Where this gets really interesting is that it isn’t just the criminal men who don’t understand emotional labor. The whole male based society, law enforcement and laws and media and so on, doesn’t get what the crime is, what the theft is. The theft is of time and emotions and energy, not money or sex, nothing quantifiable.
And, finally, I think that is where Social Media DOES make a difference. Because it allows for documentation of this theft. 200 text messages a day, that’s time, that’s energy, and when you read them aloud, you can hear the emotion that was stolen as well. I don’t think Social Media has changed behavior, I think it’s just changed our ability to document that behavior.
Which brings me to Laura!!! Listening to these stories of people who got nothing but attention and fantasy from their cons made me think about the character of Waldo Lydecker. He lived in fantasy, and he needed Laura to support that fantasy. He needed someone to love and believe him, to listen to him, to be at his beck and call. Not for sex, not for money, just for her time and energy. And Laura was the perfect victim, primed to pity and take care of him by her whole manner of life. If this were a modern story, it would be documented by text messages showing the whole formation of the fantasy. It’s only in the past that it is in impossible to document phrases, glances, tones of voice.
Vera Caspary in general had a keen eye for male frailty. She was a working woman during an era when that meant she was surrounded by men. And she liked men, she had friends and lovers and all kinds of experiences with men. I think what that gave her was a strong appreciation for toxic versus non-toxic male-female relationships, outside of the standard romantic definitions. It’s about equality, when a man is able to look at you and see an equal, not someone who is supposed to take care of you. In Laura, her hero is physically injured, limps. But it doesn’t bother him. He doesn’t ask for or expect sympathy. Instead, he turns outwards and cares for and thinks about others. On the other hand, Waldo is overweight and it tortures him. He needs Laura and his own fantasies to constantly bolster himself for what he sees as his weakness.
So that’s what I’m thinking about right now! This new/old phenomenon of con artists who still nothing but emotional labor, the reality that it tends to be men stealing from women, and that it is not in fact new it is just newly able to be documented.