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The Living Room Me and society What's the effect of the balloon?
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What's the effect of the balloon?
A few days ago I attended a huge party here in Paris, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the journal Telerama. Many artists were invited to perform and they asked me as well (I played Chopin Ballade). At the end of the party they distributed balloons with a glass ball with macaroons inside at the end. I got my balloon and from that point on things became strange. There was a big switch and walking through the party with my balloon many people started talking to me, mostly men. I thought it was interesting, how the balloon made me suddenly so approachable. Even too approachable I felt, as a guy I didn’t know took my balloon and said: “and now we kiss.” After that I gave my balloon to a little boy, but I keep wondering, what is it with the balloon?                                              
Wonderful question, Edna. Very suggestive and intriguing. Not that I have a particularly good answer to it, but would like to at least suggest a way to start thinking about it. The balloon, of course, has always served as a poetic index for childhood, and has been often invoked in the movies, for example, most famously by the French film the Red Balloon, recently "remade" into a beautiful film by the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao Hsien. the figure of the Balloon has also been invoked most recently in the great animated film UP. In brief we can say that the balloon belongs to an extent to a class of special OBJECTS  that we designate as toys, and whose place in existence always belongs to a class of objects the psychoanalyst Winnicott named transitional objects (the most basic of which is a child's blanket) which mark as their name indicate a certain transional moment through between the dependence of childhood and the independence of the adult, the child needs the blanket - and the toys later on - as an object that will help him/her transition from the complete dependence of the mother to the independence of being grown up. to play with the toy is to slowly practice in this sense a separation from the mother or the parent in general. the toy both stands as a certain substitute, in a way a technical prosthesis, for the mother, at the same time as an object the child can control and through which to learn to control himself and be independent. The balloon seems to me to occupy a special place in such group due to its airiness and, in a way its own independence, being able to fly on its own. in a way the balloon is the child of the child, gaining independence from its first master, when it can fly on its own. As such the balloon both stands for the toy, but also in a way for the activity of freedom and adventure, when one goes off on one's own into the unknown, flying up. But there is also a sadness and a fragility to this wondrous object which is the balloon, both because in its independence and tendency to get away from the child if not held onto fast it seems to stand for an event of abandonment and loss, both from the point of view of the balloon, when it flies away it seems as if it was abandoned by the child, like a small kid who lost the hand of his mother for a moment and now is lost in a crowd without help, and from the point of view of the child who seems perhaps to have been abandoned by the balloon/protective parent (for remember that the transitional object is also a prosthetic replacement for the parent). the balloon thus seems to stand both for independent adventure as well as for fragility and abandonment, both at the transitional moment between the helpless child and the adult world. It is due to all these senses, it seems to me, that you were all of a sudden treated differently at the party. for a grown up to hold a balloon means that the grown up all of a sudden also occupies the transitional space of the child, both in a way calling for help, displaying a certain fragility of possible abandonment which the grown up would like to help, are called as protectors, and also as marking the beginning of independence and possible adventure (the proposed kiss). the balloon, marking the fragility and independence of the one thrown into the world, provokes all these reactions.   
Books Discussed
Home Is Where We Start From: Essays by a Psychoanalyst
by D. W. Winnicott
Playing and Reality (Routledge Classics)
by D.W. Winnicott

Films Discussed
The Red Balloon (Released by Janus Films, in association with the Criterion Collection)
Flight Of The Red Balloon [DVD] WS, Juliette Binoche
UP (Two-Disc Deluxe Edition + Digital Copy)

What a wonderful question Edna!

I think balloons make not only you but also everybody who sees you feel like a kid, and as Dave said to want to play games with you. The inappropriateness of playing with adults similarly as one would with a kid suggests that perhaps kissing games with kids may also be inappropriate (For example post post). Especially as when women feel like kids is not necessarily the time you want to ask them for a grown up kiss.

Your question also asks why would a round, usually red, object give people so much pleasure? I think it’s from the movement up, from feeling light and then light headed. Feeling free. Even if one never saw a balloon before, at whatever age, one would feel freer, as balloons float so gracefully.
A friend of mine is terrified of balloons. Balloons can burst, can go pfff. That's a big part of their attraction, but also why some people are afraid of them. People love those soap bubbles, especially trying to hold on to them without bursting them.

Perhaps there is something of the element of borrowed-suspended time with the balloon.

(Like these moment in cartoons where the villain ran off a cliff only he hasn't looked down yet to find out about it and fall.

)
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Latest Post: July 27, 2010 at 11:30 AM
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