Heavy Swimmers

      Imagine: a school of thousands of little silver fish heading in your direction. You don’t know where to go or how to dodge them.  You swim away as fast as you can but no matter what direction you turn, they are coming right at you. You frantically turn your head underwater, every which way, trying to find an escape route. You are scared. There is not a way to block them; there is no way to shut them out. They are swimming towards you and they are coming full throttle.

To me, that sounds pretty frightening, slick and slimy fish running into your bare skin. Talk about overwhelming. Well, this is the new social media phenomenon, so watch out. They are heavy swimmers. The media is intensifying as time progresses. As this business is becoming a multi-million industry, boundaries, morals and any respect for privacy are diminishing when they once were considered moral rights. The flashes of camera lights, microphones to the face and the reporters with their notepad are getting to the point where they will do anything to get the next best story, because that is what sells. They will swarm and swim at you and you will be unable to stop them. Okay, it is understandable that maybe the thousands of fish darting on your bare skin is over exaggerating it a little, but as time goes on, it will honestly feel like the reporters from the media are swarming into your life. In the mysterious novel Gone Girl, the author Gillian Flynn, adds an underlying theme of the manipulative and powerful social media.

Flynn incorporates this theme through setting, experiences and character’s thoughts. The social media plays a large role in the criminal case of “missing Amy” and the author relays the message that the media has a way of manipulating people and their thoughts. People rely heavily on the media, far more than we are aware of.   Throughout the investigation of Amy’s disappearance, reporters have crowded outside of Nick’s house to get photos and grasp any scrap of information. They stand outside screaming, “Nick, did you kill Amy?” “Was your wife pregnant?” Additionally he is assaulted with numerous cameras taking shots every time he enters or exits his home. The mass of reporters discouraged him from coming home; there was no privacy or respect afforded to him throughout his devastating time of grief and loss.

Nick describes the intruding media saying, “the camera crews parked themselves on my lawn most mornings. They were like rival soldiers, rooted in shooting distance for months, eyeing each other across no-man’s land, achieving some sort of perverted fraternity.” (370) The author compares the media to war and the soldier men. This illustrates the idea of the mass amounts of men along with the clear determination these men hold. “Rooted in shooting distance for months,” shows that the men acted as if they had been practicing this for a long time and were not going to give up. War is the act of fighting, it is a group of strong and injurious men who have one goal and they are risking their lives to attain it. The fraternity reference portrays the chaos and catastrophe of the group. Flynn chose war and the fraternity as a metaphor because they both have a negative reputation; this exemplifies her disapproving attitude toward the social media that causes great tension and commotion. She easily could have compared the media to teachers or mentors, or something depicting a helpful or supportive nature, but she does not.

The media impacts the population and shapes our opinions. When the media thinks Nick is the killer and that he is a terrible person, the public is quick to accuse Nick of murder and easily despise him. When Nick gives that unofficial interview in the bar and shows off his sensitive side, he confesses his love and mistakes and acts as though he truly cares for Amy and her return, the public rescinds their accusation and realizes that Nick isn’t the bad guy after all. The eyes of the public changed just due to what the media was saying and how Nick was portrayed. People are not coming up with their own ideas or theories, they are looking for trends. We are just looking for the next bandwagon to hop on and the media provides that for us on a daily basis. This is evident in our lives as much as it is in Gone Girl. For example, a big part of the presidential elections is how well or poorly the candidate is perceived by the media. It is crucial for them to represent themselves as well liked and forward thinking so that the media will speak highly of them. The way the news, reporters and other medias talks about the candidates shapes public opinion and ultimately affect the outcome of the results. There are other significant examples that depict this idea of the media controlling and altering opinions.

Flynn also boldly illustrates our cultural dependence on the media. As stated before, it is apparent that we rely on the media for opinions but also for determining a personal image.  Nick’s character portrays this idea because he is constantly seeking the best to act. He is looking to act like a character in a movie or television show. He is trying to act the way he “should” act. This problem only arises because of the social media. The media has set an image and it’s an image that people think they have to conform to. That is why we have so many issues with eating disorders and girls with no self-confidence. Nick felt like he was suppose to be acting a certain way because millions of people were interpreting his every move, his words, his gestures and determining his character and guilt or innocence based on these cues. He kept looking into past movies he has seen or television shows where the spouse loses their other spouse.  This was supposedly going to help him act a certain way. There was rarely a genuine act with Nick. He says, “I have no idea how I am suppose to be doing. There’s no ‘When Your Wife Goes Missing 101’” (52) Nick had this idea that there was a way he should be reacting because obviously his reactions weren’t getting the results he wanted.  He states, “We were being forced to perform the scene that TV viewed expected: the worried but hopeful family.” (60) Like Nick says, the media forces you to act a certain way to create an image, hopefully a well-liked image. And without turning to movies or actors, Nick didn’t know how he should be reacting to any of this.

The media creates this impossible images to conform to. This is why being homosexual, nerdy or overweight is frowned upon. There is this picture perfect world that the media has created and if your not happily married for twenty-five years and have beautiful children then there will be a story on you. Just think about when a celebrity comes out of the closet, you better know that it will be the cover story in four different magazines. It is getting worse as time goes on and the media expands. The media is getting more intrusive in personal lives. People aren’t giving consent anymore, they can say whatever they want. This happened to Nick in the novel when the media was calling him a murderer, cheater, etc. He had no say. He was powerless.

Nick also found it unfair that when a wife goes missing, it is always the husband’s or males in her past life that the media and police think are guilty. The husband is the first to get questioned and accused, why? Well, on the news, it is more common that a male is the criminal rather than a woman. In state or federal prison in 2001, there were nearly nine times as many men as there were women, resulting in about 5,037,000 men and 581,000 women. It is guilt by association. The media’s important figures make the public perceive men as the “bad guy”. Maybe it is because of the feminists out there, or past anger from unequal gender rights, or maybe it is because it is what people see and know, probably all of the above. However, this can be detrimental in certain cases. In Nick’s case, he was completely innocent however presumed guilty until proven innocent. Clearly he did not have the best past record but he was not a murderer. In fact, his wife was simply crazy. In his defense, the media had the power to sway public and official police ideas and perceptions and were able to come to the conclusion that he was guilty. If Amy did not come back and Nick was sent to prison and then death row, would it have been okay to kill an innocent man just because we are quick to assume? Luckily Amy made a mysterious return and Nick’s outcome was much different.  Amy abruptly returns, pitying herself, and crying out “poor me” as she claims she was held captive by Desi. The readers know the truth; she killed Desi, who was a demented helping hand for her, so that people would never know the true story. She murdered him to run away and shift her story to fit her new “plan”. As soon as Amy returns home, the media goes ballistic with cameras, interviews, and questions, immediately.

Nick, admittedly, hates Amy and wants to dispose of her from his life. As they discuss divorce, the media is still playing a large role in making future decision; their reasoning are sourced solely from the perceived opinion of the public. “Every women in the public who’s been cheated on, they don’t stay with the cheat these days. It’s not stand by your man, it’s divorce the fucker.” (393). Nick uses the power of the public as a persuasive method. Amy knows how the powerful media can manipulate the public’s opinion and it is also evident that Amy needs the public on her side; it is a necessity. Without their support, Amy would break. Therefore, Nick knows that and uses that power to convince her to consider a divorce. Towards the end of the novel, the character’s become more aware of the media and its dominance. There is a realization that they must consider the media and consciously be aware of it at all times.

The severity and control of the media is something to be mindful of and this is why Flynn incorporated it into her novel.  She was looking to bring our awareness to the footprint the media leaves behind. It is understandable that technology and the media are growing with immense strength but it is our job as human beings to be aware of its impact. Let the media guide you, not change who are you and your morals. Do and be what you believe in, do not give it too much power.