The Philosophy of Yuck: Facebook Creeping and “Stutter”

“Facebook stalking.” “Photo album creeping.” Within our social networks, there exists an incredible amount of personal information. And most of that information exists in a very personal format: pictures. Yet, there remains a stigma attached to viewing pictures of a “friend,” pictures he or she posted publicly.

Despite how our social networks are structured—particularly the image-dominated Facebook—our pictures still clearly have a particular value of exclusivity. This value is responsible for an unspoken, unthinkable set of parameters: one ought have some sort of permission (The pictured individual’s presence? Spoken or written consent? A quick “hi” in passing?) before viewing photos of another. Or, one should be “tagged” in the photo, or at least within the album. Otherwise, they’re “Facebook creeping”—a term that Urban Dictionary confirms is as intensely accusatory as it is hypocritical.

It’s quite the paradox: we’re gladly sharing our pictures, but a particular and oft-discussed guilt hovers around viewing those pictures.

Of course, there was a time when access to someone’s photo albums—filled with, say, baby pictures, old family pictures, pictures in old sports uniforms or pictures with old schoolmates—was of enormous privilege. There was a time when sitting down with a friend, a lover, and/or their mother and having them flip through a book of faded, haphazardly catalogued photos was an occasion of unparalleled intimacy: offering one’s own visual history up for another’s viewing is a complete, loving embrace of vulnerability. Likewise, to be offered such is uniquely flattering.

And sure, physical photo albums still exist. If you spend enough time in a friend’s house, you’ll likely be asked to plop down on the couch and peruse through one. But what value does this experience hold in a world where hundreds or thousands of images of that same friend may exist on Facebook? Suppose the exact images found in that dusty album have all been scanned and uploaded to Facebook. What value does going through said photos even retain? The music of Yuck, the ever-philosophical rockers from England, yet again offers us means to tackle a tough conundrum.

Just after the halfway mark in Yuck’s 2011 self-titled debut LP, there lies a two-song love story suite: “Suck” and “Stutter.” The former is a languid, sleepy track that marks the speaker’s transition from being “young and free” to embracing all of the good and pain that accompanies inextinguishable love (“They can never burn out my love for you” is the last, axiomatic line of the chorus).

“Stutter” is slightly more upbeat, taking pieces from the melody of “Suck” but leaving behind all of the lamentations of persistent love; a far dreamier song ensues.

This enchanted track is built around the speaker’s viewing of pictures of his beloved. It begins:

Seeing pictures of you in the beginning

Seeing pictures of you when you were swimming

Seeing pictures of you when you were in love

I kept feeling I was watching from above

Time is on the outside, looking in

For all of the heavy early-90s (read: pre-Facebook) influence, so pervasive throughout the album, “Stutter” can be taken as a deceptively modern tale. Through the song, our speaker seems to be informing his beloved that he’s already seen these pictures. He describes seeing pictures from when she was in love (presumably with someone else), that he felt as though he were “watching from above,” and that seeing these pictures kept him “believing.” These lines easily allow this track to function as an “ode from a Facebook stalker,” so to speak.

But while distance may have once separated the speaker and his beloved (hence resorting to photos), in “Stutter” that distance is merely physical. The connectedness between the two supposed characters is tangible through the harmonies and warm waves of guitar. The last line of the song—“That’s right, your heart in mine”—confirms this connectedness.

No, there’s nothing “creepy” about “Stutter,” and this isn’t some happy-music-meets-dark-undercurrents Cults track either. No, “Stutter” is hazy, rosily reflective. The song’s movement even resembles the turning of a photo album’s pages—the sluggish contentedness of slowly savoring each image meets the anxiousness of wanting to see what’s on the next page.

Getting lost in “Stutter” is easy. Perhaps this most readily (if not most abstractly) illustrates why the ubiquity of Facebook simply cannot deteriorate the value of viewing pictures of a lover or friend. There’s no paranoia here. There’s no “I wonder who else has gone through these photos, alone, in some dark room.” There’s simply the cherishing of all of the historical and sentimental value found in old photos of someone else.

Truthfully, to think that the diminishment of this value is an inevitable result of diminished exclusivity is just icy and impersonal. One might relate this to fans nonsensically abandoning a once-“indie” band because it’s, like, gone mainstream and its fan base has expanded. A more ready analogy, though, would be one deliberately disliking the band their lover or friend plays in for those same reasons.

Is the wide-open access to these images unsettling? Certainly. Does this access diminish the value of the act of sharing itself? Somewhat. But does this access take away from the actual experience of viewing? “Stutter” provides an emphatic answer: No. Photographs allow us to view our candid pasts; to deeply cherish a still frame if only for all of the events that surrounded it that weren’t eternalized; and to imagine ourselves in a time, place, and with company that we can never realize. Access should never dampen this inherent trait. In fact, it never will.