The bizarre saga of Manti Te’o continues to be unpacked minute detail after minute detail, seemingly forever. The trend of thinking seems to be tilting in favour of an interpretation that Te’o was the victim of a cruel hoax, rather than the perpetrator of a fraudulent scenario. OK, I have reservations, but let’s take that as a given.
So, this guy had an all-consuming romance with a (non-existent) woman who suffered through a serious car accident, for which she was hospitalized, resulting in a diagnosis of terminal cancer, from which she eventually died ? Throughout this (he says) he never visits her, he’s lying to his own folks about having met this woman face-to-face; while sending her flowers and keeping all-night phone vigils at her ‘bedside’? Is this something that might, after this whole weird tale gets flushed out, start to be considered the “new normal”?
It just might; because if Manti Te’o emerges from this as a sympathetic victim, rather than a credulous, and seriously delusional, possibly mentally ill, young man, there’s a message being sent about relationship norms. I sincerely hope no one could see this play-acted relationship as anything but fantasy run amok, but I won’t bet the farm.
I notice signals seemingly all the time that people prefer their relationships to have a (reassuring?) buffer of physical distance, possibly insulated further even from telephone interaction. There are social commentators, Sherry Turkle being an excellent example, who have observed that the relentless push of communication technology and pervasiveness of social media is getting a firm push back by, paradoxically, those who are the most ‘wired-in’.
I hope Turkle is wrong in her prediction that many more of us will participate in the relationship space entirely electronically, while retreating for the “warmth” of physical contact to pets, robots and animated appliances.