Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Eye of the Beholder/ Place of the Servant



Linnea made a very important point in the blog entry before this one.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

When I saw the title, I thought surely she would address the recent comment by a Moslem cleric in Australia that the rape victim is to blame, not the rapist. But she went in another, perhaps even more important, direction.

Because we've been raised in a visually oriented society -- even before we got our first TV set, there were comics and a weekly trip to the movies! -- we tend to adopt as our personal yardstick the standards promulgated by the media.

Humans are hardwired to "belong" -- to mark ourselves as part of some group or other for protection and emotional support. One way we do that is to adopt whatever crazy nonsense the group has agreed on as our own personal philosophy.

Once a group has formed such a shared belief or standard, that standard persists for generations. That's why it's a good thing that youth rejects everything their parents treasure, then re-adopts certain select beliefs in their 30's forming the new establishment their children have to reject.

By successive approximations, we should eventually generate some yardsticks that really work.

Well, that process has, in another part of the world that is out-breeding my kind, produced a shared and solemnly believed system which STILL believes the victim is the cause of violence.

Europe for thousands of years, and the US until recently, actually did believe that. To us, today in our modern society, the idea that the victim is the cause of violence is ridiculous, dangerous and offensive.

Why have we changed? I submit that the modern Romance Novel (including AR) is a contributing factor in promulgating a value system (not originating or conceptualizing, but promulgating) in which Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.

If it is true that Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, then the idea that a rape victim is the cause of rape becomes something so absurd it can't be addressed in words.

What stirs a rapist to violence? (thousand novel premises in that, especially AR premises!)

If Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then perhaps that which is so reprehensible that it must be punished, dominated, denigrated, and destroyed is also in the eye of the beholder?

And we enter the murkly realms of subjectivity where anyone's opinion is as reliable as anyone else's.

Where are the objective yardsticks in human life? (I have a few answers. I suppose you have your own.) These are story-generating questions.

Before I saw Linnea's provocative post, I wanted to talk about another subjective experience that has to be shared to become useful -- one that is very often a vital ingredient in really hot romance.


Most of us haven't grown up surrounded by servants. We've all read a lot of Regency Romances and historicals where "servants" are a dynamic plot element. And we've seen THE BRADY BUNCH and HART TO HART and other shows where domestic help becomes "part of the family".

So we have an image of "The Servant" that is not real, not tactile. In the USA we had "slaves" to perform "servant's work" for a while, and then rejected the entire "slavery" concept. But there are a lot of romance novels set in that era that are important reading experiences.

There are two ideas to "The Servant" lurking in the eye of the "un-served" beholder: that the servant was "looked down on" -- a member of a lower class, someone you don't mix with, or sit at table with (DRIVING MISS DAISY); that the servant did work that is inherently degrading, or "minimum wage grunt work" not worthy of The Master.

I'd like to relate two personal experiences -- let you look through the eye of this beholder.

I learned the meaning of SERVICE in a very personal and tactile way through these two experiences.

At one very high profile convention full of celebrity speakers, I was classed as a celebrity and provided with FIRST CLASS "service". I had a "lady's maid" who chose, touch-up ironed, and laid out what I was to wear that day, and prepared the bathroom for my shower at night so I didn't ever have to think a thought about CLOTHING or APPEARANCE. I just ignored that entire part of "life."

I had a "personal gofer" (like a secretary) to keep track of where I needed to be when, who I had appointments with, press conferences, speeches, everything to do with moving me from place to place - and even providing food, and refreshments. This was a couple cuts above the usual fan-gofer assigned by some conventions to speakers. It was a completely different EXPERIENCE OF REALITY.

The other experience that drove that lesson in good and hard was a time when I was invited to participate in a Think Tank meeting with an international figure.

The meeting was held at a prominent New York Men's Club (this was before it was illegal to bar women; they had an absolute rule there, no WOMEN. But my driver and I got in because we had these really high class engraved invitations.)

We weren't allowed into the "smoking room" but got to look in because at that moment no one was there. Goshwow. We were escorted to the depths of the plush and silent building, a thousand lightyears from the throbbing din of Manhattan's streets.

So we got to the meeting room in the back -- picture the President's Cabinette meeting room. It was like that. Mahogany table a mile long, carpets ankle deep, drapes from Buckingham Palace, Original Oil Paintings belonging in a museum, ever-so-tasteful lighting. A silence so deep you could disappear into it.

I must have lived like that in a prior life. It was the first time in this existence that I actually felt totally at home!

But the tangible shock came during the meeting when the wait staff served coffee and refreshments.

This wait staff was 100 cuts above the folks who helped me out at the convention. These guys were PROS -- top of the top. I've never encountered anyone like them since, and I've been in some hoity-toity places and been served with white gloves, towel over the arm, waiters wearing suits I couldn't afford!

What happened? What did I learn?

Nothing happened. And that's what I learned -- the VALUE of nothing.

The coffee orders were taken without interupting the flow of conversation around the table. The exact correct order (beyond top quality) appeared somehow before me -- I never saw or heard or felt or was aware of the men moving behind the row of chairs at the table.

Refills appeared just as magically.

The crockery was taken away just as silently. It was there. It was gone. NOTHING ATTRACTED ATTENTION AWAY FROM THE CONVERSATION.

It was a stunning experience. A tactile experience. My beholding eye was never the same after that.

In both instances, I discovered that when the trivia of mundane existence is lifted away, productivity goes up a thousand fold.

I discovered just how much output-potential is wasted on the fiddling around in daily life -- and when that is gone, all that output-potential focuses on the job in hand and suddenly huge, complex, amazing accomplishments become EASY. And more, things get done right that would, without that Servant, have been done wrong or not-so-good.

I learned that it isn't a waste of our tax dollars to hire the BEST White House Staff servants.

But more than that. I learned that The Servant is not a lower being, not someone exploited, not a lower class person, not something separate from The Job At Hand.

The Servant contributes to the success of The Job At Hand, is an essential and integral part of the accomplishment. Without that utter INVISIBILITY, the silent step, the careful rhythm of movement, the intense precision of that service, The Job At Hand (in my case a Think Tank fact-finding briefing) could not have been done with such effectiveness.

If that's true of such a small thing as that meeting -- or the convention where the same thing happened -- imagine how very great the effect has to be on International Affairs?

Or Interstellar Affairs.

It is this aspect of Service that I've found missing in many Romance novels. The real REASON for the existence of "Service" and what great talent and training it takes to succeed at the profession of "Service."

I think that missing ingredient is the result of the authors themselves never having experienced being SERVED at that tremendously high level. Or having taken lessons (gosh where would you go to get that kind of training?) in how to SERVE at that extreme level of society.

QUESTION: could machines, even R. Daneel Olivau, ever produce that "relieved of mundane trivia" effect? Is it just that the thing got done for you -- or is it that it was done by a human being who knows how to mute or bury his/her psychic signature?

And I do think that's the key to the 100 times more impressive Service at the Men's Club -- that's what those waiters did. They muted their psychic signatures. They were not "presences" in the room. They checked their personalities at the door.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Anonymous8:48 AM EST

    Wow. You stired up a bunch of thoughts in this little brain.

    One of the things I've noticed -- and unfortunately it seems to bear true in all cultures, societies and environments -- is that, like beauty, the VICTIM is in the eye of the beholder. There's intentional selection at work there, as crummy as that is. It's the human manifestation of jungle law. Beasts of prey prey on the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, in the case of humans, there is no need for such barbarous behavior, only a WANT for it. It is by concious choice that these types of people victimize others. And to them, an easy target raises the temptation to exploit it. The venue doesn't matter: For example, do slanderous office gossips smear the big bosses? No, they go for peers and lower. Easier targets. The other herd beasts will just be glad they weren't "dinner" today. Jungle law food chain. I've seen it over and over, as a hapless victim and as a lucky escapee. Those who prey on others in this fashion are power-hungry cowards. Unfortunately, there's no season for hunting power-hungry cowards. Pity, that.

    Now, switching gears, the perception of invisibility of those servants has given me some great insights to one of my characters. And it fits very well with her nature as well as her functions within her society. Cause and effect in this case are not at all what's initially percieved. In fact they seem at odds, but they aren't; what to the table guest might seem like great professionalism is to her simply a set of exercises in camoflage. She works at learning to be unseen even up close. She is in training. She is an assassin. Given the earlier paragraph, I probabnly don't have to tell you who SHE hunts, now do I?

  2. Great blog, JL.

    I wish you could tell us what you were think-tanking about. It sounds very intriguing.

    Best wishes,