Disclosure Culture Reaches New Heights

Last week our disclosure culture reached a new level of intensity. Shakira broke YouTube records with a Spanish-language song about how Gerard Piqué cheated on her. In just 24 hours, 63 million people watched the 45-year old ridicule her former partner. The Colombian singer gave a nod to the widespread assumption that disclosure is therapeutic when she posted on Instagram that the song was “catharsis and a discharge.”

Also last week, Prince Harry’s memoir Spare made the Guinness Record for the fastest-selling nonfiction book in history. The tell-all autobiography painfully illustrates the cruel bargain our society has made with the new god of transparency. The Duke of Sussex, once emotionally stunted and apparently unable to share about his feelings, is now unable to stop sharing. Instead of developing a mature inner life, he is unable to reflect on his past without anger. As such, the Duke functions as an icon of a generation raised to believe in the illusory benefits of total transparency, a generation for which disclosure has been situated in terms that ensures its therapeutic horizon must always remain remote.

“Without a proper destination for sharing and without a sense of how emotions can be directed and managed,” I suggested in a 2021 Salvo post, “disclosure becomes an end in itself, even a commodity that can be monetized.” I warned that we were entering “a generation stranded in their emotions, unable to negotiate any reality beyond their subjectivity, and unable to identify any larger framework in which their feelings could be situated, understood, and managed.”

The Korean-German philosopher, Byung-Chul Han, has argued that as voluntary transparency has become a new cultural norm in Western society, it has created an emotional correlate to pornography. Han sees hyper transparency as feeding what the Wikipedia article on Han describes as “the insatiable drive toward voluntary disclosure bordering on the pornographic” and “a totalitarian system of openness at the expense of other social values such as shame, secrecy, and trust.”

Our culture of disclosure is ultimately Faustian in its promise of psychological and emotional salvation. Spilling your guts out for public consumption promises a richer inwardness even as it eviscerates the distinction between the inward and the outward. It promises a healthier private life even as it conflates the private with the public. It promises to increase our tolerance for pain and vulnerability even as it commercializes our feelings, packaging them for mass consumption. It promises to connect us with a community of other like-feeling people even as it isolates us in expressive individualism. Disclosure culture promises to validate expressions of fragility and pain even as it invalidates us by relocating the value of self-expression in terms that become quantified by public reception in the form of views, likes, and shares. Disclosure culture promises us that greater transparency will lead to greater authenticity only to offer a world of emotional schizophrenia where all emotions and their corresponding identities are fungible and self-authenticating, with the result that it is impossible to know which version of ourselves can be considered more authentic than any other.

Disclosure culture promises that transparency will reach a cathartic destination yet simultaneously removes any framework that would enable us to actually achieve emotional healing and wholeness since it eschews the very maturity necessary if sharing is to have a truly therapeutic outcome. Rather than being truly therapeutic, disclosure culture often leaves us stranded in emotional infantilism since it implicitly discourages us from holistically integrating our emotional life into other aspects of our experience, including emotional regulation and a mature inwardness. In fact, the cult of disclosure, now institutionalized through social media, causes important aspects of human experience to be eclipsed, including the truth that sometimes the most powerful messages are conveyed precisely by what is left unsaid, or the truth that non-disclosure may sometimes be necessary to prevent our deepest feelings from lapsing into mere triviality.

One of the quirks of disclosure culture is that it sensationalizes the inner lives of celebrities at a time when there is less scope than ever before for genuine vulnerability in interpersonal relationships. Too busy, distracted, and self-absorbed to give our friends the attention they need, we outsource empathetic listening to professionals. Young people increasingly use social media for undirected emotional disclosure when there is no one to talk to, or when they feel apprehensive about face-to-face communication. Spilling your guts out on Facebook offers hope that someone is listening, and it can thus offer the illusion of catharsis. Yet this culture of disclosure merely buffers us against our real feelings, since it enables us to broadcast a curated version of our emotions in much the same way that pornography presents a curated version of the physical body. Public disclosure is the emotional correlate of the selfie; it proclaims itself, but only into a void.

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How can you push back against these cultural trends? It’s simple. Spend less time satiating your appetite for information on the emotional ups and downs of the handful of famous people, and instead focus your energy connecting with those God has placed in your life. This weekend, try to commit to being available if someone needs a friend to talk to, an empathetic ear, or someone to pray with. Turn off your phone, and tune into those around you. 



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