Warning: This article employs psychoanalytic and psychosemiotic theory! You are likely to shake your head violently in disbelief… I do not take blame for any neck problems that might be the consequence thereof.
If you think of psychoanalysis, you probably think of Sigmund Freund and things like dream analysis, the oedipal complex, or penis envy. But there’s more to it and I would like to introduce you to a very interesting (and controversial) theory, which might make you look at things a little differently.
May I introduce: the Mirror Stage!
In 1949 (well… actually already in 1936, but nobody paid attention then) French philosopher Jacques Lacan argued that a 6- to 18-month old baby goes through something, which he called the “mirror stage”. Here’s the idea in a nutshell: initially a baby thinks of itself as being the centre of the universe (yes… I know. Some people still do, but keep reading!) and feels united with all and everything around him. Then one day it recognizes itself in the mirror. The problem, however, is that the baby still lacks control over his/her bodily movement while the mirror image appears to be an improved version of the self. And here comes the trauma: The baby suddenly realizes that he/she is not the centre of the universe and, more crucially, not whole and perfect, but that there is a lack.
And to Lacan, this is the point where the baby leaves the perfect world of the imaginary and enters a world of signs in which it has the constant feeling of being imperfect.
Now, you might think this a whole lot of shenanigans, but think about it for a minute. Do you feel perfectly confident and whole?
Cultural theorists have taken this idea as the basis for a huge number of theories. One of my favourite theory is that this initial trauma of the experience of a lack keeps you in the constant strive for completeness and two ways we try to achieve completeness are shopping and the consumption of celebrities. They argue that we ascribe object the ability to make us complete: the perfect pair of shoes, the exact right shade of nail polish, or the pair of trousers that fits perfectly. And once we have those things, we feel jouissance (the short feeling of pure pleasure that the baby experiences at first when it sees himself/herself in the mirror), but we soon realize that we still lack something… and we keep buying stuff.
Even more interesting, the mirror stage can also be seen to explain why we like stars. We consume star images because we think they can make us “whole again” (to use the words of long gone girl group Atomic Kitten). But after having read the latest article, we find out that there is still a newer one. We need to read the latest article, watch the current movie, listen to the new album in order to feel this short moment of jouissance.
If you believe this theory or not, I think it rather interesting and it certainly serves as a nice excuse when your boyfriend accuses you of having spend to much money on the new necklace: Just blame it on the mirror!