Monday, 16 May 2016
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
As indication of these modern times we are living in, I learnt of the existence Aziz Ansari through Netflix. I watched a couple of this comedian's stand-ups but, frankly, he didn't tickle my toes; it was nice humour, but too American flavour PC for me. His more recent comedy series, Master of None, is a different story; sure, some of it was quite funny, but more importantly it was packed with wisdom and insight. Kind of what one would expect out of Seinfeld if it was done in this decade and if it was more humanist.
Having read about Modern Romance, the book by Ansari, through extensive coverage in Time (that epitome of bias in the name of American consumerism), I decided that Master of None was evidence enough I should give the book a go. After all, I am a veteran of the blind dating world Ansari is covering in his book myself. Might as well learn from an expert.
Modern Romance looks at today's dating scene. It is a scene driven by smartphones and instant messaging, and thus significantly different to the one I have experienced in my time. The insights are interesting not only from the point of view of those of us searching for romance or a fling, but to the anthropologists in us just the same. It's amazing to see what seemingly benign technological advances can make to the way we find and communicate with one another, but they do!
Ansari's is a pretty systematic look at affairs of dating. He examines today and he examines the past, conducting proper scientific research that includes surveys, group discussions and interviews (most notably involving the generations now populating old people's homes). One of the first and most notable conclusions presented to us, for example, is the fact that in the middle of the previous century people would mostly marry a neighbour whereas today people marry across states, countries and continents (space - the final frontier?). Back then marriage was a way for women to escape family prison, whereas today we tend to have an extra stage in life between leaving home and settling down that allows us to become more mature. That said, back then people would happily, more or less, settle with that next door neighbour; today we have to find Mr Perfect himself. That latter insight is what leads to the process dragging and for much disappointment along the way.
All these facts are presented by Ansari in an easy to read manner that clearly smells of his comedy style. I did not particularly like his stand up, but I do think that style is well suited for the documentary type book that Modern Romance is. Ansari does not shy from practicing science himself: for example, as part of his examination of romance around the world, he travels to Japan - the land of very little romance (read the book for further details) - and tries the popular [?] male replacement for female companionship that is wanking into an egg like contraption himself. And then, of course, he reports what it was like.
I will not say much of the conclusions Ansari's research arrives at. I will, however, state that in a similar manner to my own experience, he concludes that blind dating is not really about dating but rather about meeting people with whom one can potentially, later, date. In this way, and in many others, my own historical experience lives on, even if in my time blind dates were literally that - blind - whereas today one can utilise the marvels of technology to remove layers of obscurity prior to a face to face encounter. Some things will never change.
More than just a book about the dating scene, Modern Romance is an insightful mirror on the way humans interact using the technology available to them and given the confines of the cultures they live in. And as insightful as it is, Modern Romance is presented in a very lightweight, easy to read, funny (!) manner.
In my book, Modern Romance is a big achievement. 4.5 out of 5 crab hearts.