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December 1, 2022 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I have an either too-specific or too-vague request for art/media about the feeling of imagining the many lives of people one sees as one passes through a busy street, or generally in a dense place...

Hi folks!

A friend and I were walking through a busy city neighborhood last night, and were talking about how overwhelming it was to imagine the full inner lives of each the hundreds (thousands?) of people we saw around us, with each person having their own most intense memories, their sadnesses, joys, illnesses, journeys, childhoods, secrets; and more than this, even more unknowable futures. We wondered if there were people who were happily in love; who harbored impossible crushes; who had committed murder; who had diarrhea; who were pregnant; who had grown up very far from cities; who had never left them; and so forth. We both fantasized about being able to know what was going on with these people lives, to be able to empathize on that scale.

Thankfully, people's inner lives, are, barring the general surveillance-y world we live in, private to them. But I was wondering if anyone knew about any art about this crowd-empathy-desire feeling - getting to know some of the great multipicity of lives that happen to pass through a point in space and/or time, or about the feeling itself. Books/songs/movies/poems/TV shows/etc. etc. etc. all welcome.

Hope that wasn't too vague, thanks for any responses, MeFiMultitude!
posted by nightcoast to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wings of Desire (Die Himmel ΓΌber Berlin).
posted by praemunire at 10:58 AM on December 1, 2022 [7 favorites]

The Street Parade by The Clash is the first thing which popped into my head, although (perhaps appropriately) it's a vague song, heavier on vibes than specifics, but it seems to be about nursing one's personal emotions in the midst of life's rich pageant.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:01 AM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just to make it explicit, this AskMe's title is quoting Another Hundred People from Company.
posted by zamboni at 11:07 AM on December 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

There's the related trope of acknowledging that the world is full of stories, not all of which can be shown. There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.

Do you think anything interesting ever happens to them? I mean, there must be thousands of great stories out there.
posted by zamboni at 11:17 AM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Georges Perec's novel Life: A User's Manual and the Jim Jarmusch film Night on Earth both have this kind of energy I think. In each case lots of disparate stories are connected by one thing - an apartment block, a taxi ride - which is itself only one of many thousands of buildings or taxis in the city/across the world. I really love this genre and look forwards to all the answers!
posted by Lluvia at 11:17 AM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Apparently I am recommending this Ezra Pound poem, but I think what I am really remembering is that William Gibson used the line in one of his earlier novels, not sure which one grr. Anyway I am not recommending Ezra Pound in general, please remember that his politics were bad and he was an antisemite.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:22 AM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

INXS - The Stairs
They actually have a lot of songs about this, especially the early albums. Learn to Smile, Big Go Go, Doctor, Wishy Washy

Vampire Weekend - White Sky
They also have a lot of songs about this - M79, and lots of Modern Vampires of the City album

The Clash - Lost in the Supermarket

Paul Simon - The Boxer - at least parts of it.

CCR - Down on the Corner
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:29 AM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

John Koenig's Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has a word for that feeling: sonder. The definition as stated in the video is something of a prose poem.
posted by yasaman at 11:37 AM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I just remembered that the library scene from Wings of Desire is on Youtube (the walking and observing figures are angels, who can hear the mortals' thoughts in "voiceover"). It's extremely beautiful, and will give you an idea if the film (which is long) might be what you're after.
posted by praemunire at 11:41 AM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Edward Hopper's Nighthawks does that for me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:56 AM on December 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Humans of New York. Meanwhile in San Francisco
posted by bookworm4125 at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Michel Gondry's video for Massive Attack's song 'Protection' has something of that feeling, I think.
posted by misteraitch at 12:24 PM on December 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I also came in to cite the paintings of Edward Hopper.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:29 PM on December 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A quick note before ducking out for a while to thank folks for all the great responses so far! Looking forward to checking these all out.
posted by nightcoast at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2022

The Gen X classic for this is REM's Everybody Hurts video. They made me watch this Cleveland Clinic video on empathy for some training, years ago, which is similar but somehow more depressing. That said, it stuck in my head.
posted by cobaltnine at 1:17 PM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Richard Linklaters debut film Slacker. No central plot, just 24hrs in Austin Texas. The camera will follow 2 or more people as they converse or engage in some activity, at some point they'll cross paths with someone else, and the camera follows that new character in another direction. One of my all time favorites.
posted by mannequito at 1:52 PM on December 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

nthing Hopper. Many of his paintings have a peering-through-the-window aspect, sometimes literally.

A somewhat similar vibe shows up in Gangs of New York toward the end, when there's a brief moment where the protagonist/s have the sense of the years of lives layered on top of one another in the same place. I've had that feeling myself in old cities, and it seems adjacent to what you're considering.
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:17 PM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

A song: We Are the Tide by Blind Pilot ("Tonight I'm in love with everybody on the city bus")

A book: King Planet by Steve Abee

A music video: Ray of Light by Madonna
posted by sigmagalator at 7:35 AM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ah! And this tends to focus in more on individual stories than the feel of all of them flowing by at once, but maybe the TV show Midnight Diner (or the manga it's based on, which I haven't read).
posted by sigmagalator at 7:45 AM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

One more: the photo of a London tower block by Rut Blees Luxemburg that was used as the cover art for the album Original Pirate Material by The Streets.
posted by sigmagalator at 7:52 AM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

An oldie: The Crowd, a silent film by King Vidor from 1928.
posted by Rash at 9:07 AM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Would the Humans of X City photography series hit that same spot?
posted by creatrixtiara at 8:50 PM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

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