Obligatory End-of-the-Semester Idiocy

Last semester, it was Taylor Swift. This semester, it’s Scary Psycho Telekinetic Girl.

Honestly, by the end of the semester, I feel like the protagonist of this video and wouldn’t mind having her powers to use on my classes.

The reactions of the customers in the video are classic. I’m inclined to think that you can infer (or at least hypothesize) quite a lot about the nature of their reactions just from the looks on their faces.

The initial reactions are surprise and shock.

The second set of reactions is a warring mixture of fear and curiosity: “get me out of here,” with a bit of “but I’ve got to stay and see this.”

The woman at 1:33 has a look on her face that looks to me like a cross between disbelief and schadenfreude.

Around 1:44, when Telekinetic Girl pushes the chairs away from her (after discovering or re-discovering her newfound telekinetic powers), people start to panic and flee. My favorites are the ones around 1:47. One woman exclaims, “Oh my God, holy fucking shit!” but the emotion she exhibits is a bizarre (but totally understandable and familiar) mixture of panic and amusement. The woman pictured just after her is obviously frightened out of her mind, but insists on whipping out her phone to take a picture of the scene. These bizarre emotional combinations wouldn’t even seem possible if we didn’t see them exemplified right there on video.

Watching these conflicted people, I couldn’t help thinking of a passage in Plato’s Republic describing Leontius’s struggle with a similar-and-yet-differently alluring scene:

For a time he struggled with himself and covered his face, but finally, overpowered by his appetite, he pushed his eyes wide open and rushed toward the corpses, saying, “Look for yourselves, your evil wretches, take  your fill of the beautiful sight!” (Republic, 439c-440a)

Leontius is drawn to the scene because he’s sexually aroused by what he sees–yet knows he shouldn’t be. He knows that the sight of the corpses will trigger the arousal, and therefore both wants to, and doesn’t want to, trigger them. So he dissociates by blaming the desire on his eyes, as though his eyes were agents of their own.

The people in the cafe are drawn to the scene out of a sheer (Aristotelian) desire to understand the scene unfolding before them. I think it’s clear that they can’t take the scene at face value, but also can’t (in the moment) rule out the face value reading. At one level, common sense tells them that they cannot be witnessing a real-life version of a Stephen King film. But fear of the unknown tells them–tells all New Yorkers–“if you see something, don’t say anything; just run away.”

The woman at 1:52 has a facial expression that says: “At this point, I honestly don’t want to untangle what’s going on here; my curiosity is far less important to me than my safety, so I’m getting the hell out of here. Whatever has happened here is so not my problem!”

The scream at the end is totally gratuitous, but exactly how I feel after I get final papers at the end of the term (and start to grade them).

It’s a terrible confession to make, but I really wish I could enact this scene in my classes.

Postscript, May 17, 2015: I don’t know if he’s in on the joke or not, but at 2:00 there’s a guy toward the back of the cafe (white T shirt) who briefly looks up at the commotion, then goes back to his conversation as though the whole thing were an everyday occurrence. Another amusing reaction is the construction worker who stands frightened but transfixed, as though he were on the job and not allowed to leave.

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