§98 The fantasy of mass friendship

What is the status of friendship in a culture which, prima facie, claims the social as a defining feature. A guest at Joe Rogan’s podcast reflected on this. Gabrielle Reece suggested that for the “next generation” “the tricky thing is going to be connection and be able to have real conversation and to concentrate long enough to be with somebody”.

When reminded that ‘social media’ as a collective phenomena is roughly as old as Facebook (appearing around 2004) talk of “generations” seems hyperbolic. Nonetheless, the diagnosis of our lost human connection (in the most “connected” of times) is an echo of a more general dearth of meaning in modern collective patterns.

Perhaps this pale reality can best be seen from those calling the bluff of superficial society. One example is that of Goya (1746-1828). In 2003 Robert Hughes discussed his book on Goya with Charlie Rose. Here, as in the book (2003 c.f. pp.13-15), Hughes called attention to two paintings in particular – San Isidro’s Meadow, painted in 1788, and The Pilgrimage of St. Isidro painted between 1821-23 (Goya 1788, 1823).

The Meadow captures the celebration of Madrid’s patron saint, San Isidro: “There they are in the sunlight – pretty girls, handsome men…” (08.24-08.53); the latter, The Pilgrimage, appearing some thirty years later, offers an insightful juxtaposition.

“on the one hand all those people cavorting in the sunlight and flirting and so forth. And [on the other…] this nightmare vision of these howling, stupefied faces, pressed up against the picture, yelling… It is a very scary vision of humanity en masse. Nothing is more untrue than the idea that Goya was some sort of an unthinking populist. He really was not. He didn’t like humanity en masse very much.” (08.24-09.40)

On the question why Goya didn’t like humanity en masse very much, Hughes replied :

“Because he was a sensible man. He knew you couldn’t love everybody. That’s a fantasy… That was his own realism. I mean good human communication depends to some extent upon elitism (09.42-09.57).

Ours is not a culture where such a realism of human connection and an art of friendship is paid heed to. In a technocratic age … there is nothing social about being social.

/Fredrik Weibull


Goya, Francisco. 1788. La Pradera de San Isidro (St. Isidro’s Meadow). Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

———. 1823. Peregrination a La Fuente de San Isidro (The Pilgrimage of St. Isidro), 1821-23. Oil on Canvas,. Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Hughes, Robert. 2003. Goya. New York: Knopf.