Deep thoughts from Aaron Sorkin

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A few months ago, while driving back to DC from my parents house, I was listening to an Aaron Sorkin interview on a recent episode of The West Wing Weekly.  As always, Aaron charmed me, however there was one line I’ve been pondering ever since.

I’d say a very broad theme in all of the television that I’ve written is that it’s alright to be alone in a big city if you can find family at work.    (1:01)

The statement is so simple, but it resonated with me so much that I had to  replay the line multiple times before I was ready to move on.  In some ways, it made me uncomfortable.  I could spend hours digging into how this thought has impacted my decisions (or lack of decisions) over the last 5 years.   I  could use it to explain why a politics-hating girl (no longer!) fell in love with The West Wing four years ago.  I could also dig into why workplace shows can be so successful (or bomb miserably).  I could  destroy this statement arguing that it is necessary to find “family” outside of work for a truly fulfilling life.   Instead, I just want to leave it here and let you think on it.  For me, it’s a good example of how small pieces of pop culture enrich my life by forcing me to think more deeply about my own life.  Does it have an impact on you?  Is it true?  Is it painful?  Does it make you smile anyway?  Or does it simply just make you wish Aaron Sorkin hadn’t given up on television?

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Living a Teenage Dream

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Confession time:  This winter/spring, when I would come home after a long week at work and sit on the couch to catch up on  my TV — what was my most cherished item on the DVR?  Riverdale.  I’m embarrassed to admit that my favorite thing to watch starred actors all at least 5 years younger than me playing characters over 10 years younger than me.

Now just to levelset — my DVR kind of sucked this year.  There was very little on network/non-premium cable TV that really did much for me, but even so, why was it that a pretty poorly scripted teen soap made it as a favorite?  I guess you’d have to say I’m predictable.

I remember my first foray into primetime television.  And even then, when my mom suggested we start watching a “family show” on Sunday nights — it was still airing at 7 PM.  Nevertheless, upon starting 7th Heaven at age 10, I went WB and never went back.

I could spend this entire blog post confessing some of the weirder things I did during my different TV obsessions (anyone else cut out every single blurb in TV guide about their favorite show?  I didn’t think so), however, I’m more interested in the fact that my love of television about teenagers has stayed with me long past my own teenage years.   This is particularly interesting when teen television has gotten significantly worse.

Yesterday, I was listening to a Pop Culture Happy Hour episode from earlier this year that covered Riverdale.  Everyone trashed it, and I respected almost everything they said.  This made me wonder:  why then did I still adore show?  Perhaps it was the reminiscence to Dawson’s Creek.  As the podcast mentioned — so much of Riverdale called back to Dawson’s Creek’s storylines.  Perhaps it was my nostalgia for reading Archie comics on Shabbat afternoons at camp.  But I really don’t think either of those things are the driving factor.

This past weekend, I binged on the new Freeform show (I still want to call it ABC Family), Famous In Love.  It isn’t good by any means.  Whereas I at least found Riverdale compelling with some intriguing storylines (and a still very hot but old Luke Perry), this one really didn’t have it.   However, I’m going to admit — it hooked me.  And that made me wonder — why, when teen drama/soaps were so much better in my own teenage years, am I still hooked?

I am still contemplating my answer to this question, however I have one theory: drama.   In today’s world, top dramas are represented by fantastical storylines, period pieces, and lots and lots of blood.  I have never been one for action– I would much prefer a book that is all dialogue to one that has any number of pages without characters conversing.  I don’t appreciate choreographed violence (although I do recognize the skill in that acting). And while I do love the thrill of a good mystery or a crazy plot twist, I would rather watch two people talk to each other about nothing.  There are very few shows on TV that center around people talking to one another.  There are even fewer that are actually good (see– my all-time favorites).  So maybe that’s my draw to the sappy teen dramas — it’s one of few genres that still focuses on the mundane conversation.

 

 

 

Or perhaps I really just love the love triangles of 22 year old high school sophomores.

Ground Beef and Love Stories

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I just finished reading a young adult love story.  It was one of those typical girl-meets-gorgeous-boy in high school tormented type of love stories.  For all intents and purposes, I loved the book (check it out– Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins).  It was beautifully written especially in comparison to some of the other YA novels I have read this year.  The protagonist is insightful, and you find yourself sympathetic for the scenario in which she finds herself.  Despite all this, I think I finally realized why I like to claim that “I hate love stories”.  

I first realized that I hated love stories when I read The Notebook.  It is a book that is almost entirely focused on the love story, and I hated that there isn’t anything more to tell.  I know I am greatly simplifying what is a pretty well-received novel, but I am just giving you my opinion.  I need more than just your average love story.

Now do not get me wrong, I love a good romance.  In fact, I was the middle/high school girl who watched every sappy teenage romantic tv show, and I re-watched all those squeal-worthy episodes until the VHS that I taped them on no longer played.  However, there is something so different from that long-form, weekly, episodic format of a teen television show.  Plus, there were always drugs, psychotics, and alcohol to add some other types of drama into the mix. I may say that I love Dawson’s Creek for the Pacey and Joey romance, BUT, I really get hooked from the other drama, the friendships, and the banter.

Which brings me to “love story” novels.  In some of the lucky cases, these stories detail a romance in a smart way.  The reader can jump into head of the protagonist and feel the giddiness of that budding crush or the frustration of the brick wall that is his more beautiful girlfriend.  These things are great, especially when written well, but when you get sucked into things easily it can become not so great.

This leads me to Anna and the French Kiss.  I loved it.  From the moment I started, I was hooked with the witty narration.  Anna is a teenager, so she is not overly wise or self-aware, but she does have some great observations.  However, despite the fact that I have almost a decade on Anna, I find myself swept into her drama.  I feel the butterflies and the jealousy, and I want to put the book down.  But then she has that moment with her perfect guy, and I am glued.  But of course, it’s only a moment of almost-perfection, and then the roller coaster begins again.  And that’s what love stories do to me.  They tease, and they taunt, and the relief of a happy ending is just that, it’s an ending.  At which point, the book is over and I realize it was all fiction, and I put myself through the meat grinder for a moment of happily-ever-after.   

Is it just me or am I just realizing something that others have realized for years?  And will I keep reading these so-called love stories?  I know at least one of those questions is a definitive “yes”.

Pop Culture Security Blankets

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It’s been awhile.  I’ve not given up– I’ve just found myself not indulging in anything new or at least not having anything to say about anything new I’ve absorbed.  For a while, those actions led me to believe that I was a bad pop culture leech and that I was failing to keep up.  I’m not saying I’ve not absorbed anything new– if anything, I’ve caught up on more than I would have thought  (Scandal, Orange is the New black (just started so I may have more to say a few more episodes in), The Killing, many many indie movies, and more).  All that being said, I haven’t been passionate about any of it.  In fact, I was merely indulging to keep me away from the other thing I was absorbing these past couple months… or rather reabsorbing.

I’m going to back track.  Ever since I was a child, I have used  pop culture as a safe place.  Whenever anything seemed less than perfect, I was often caught absorbing something to keep me out of the real world.  I kept my mind off of starting high school by zooming through Dawson’s Creek.  The awkward beginnings of high school were dampened by the fictional life I was living in Tree Hill (and the constant internal debate of Nathan vs. Lucas).  But it wasn’t even that I found something new completely comforting, in fact, it was anything but that.  Even though I was constantly finding something new to love, whenever I was at my most vulnerable, I went back to the comforting and to the familiar.  Case and point (or multiple points): Prior to my first AP exam, I watched my favorite episode of One Tree Hill.  Any time I need a good cry, Breakfast at Tiffany’s shows up on my screen.  If I’m feeling the need for some good brainless nostalgia, I start with Saved By The Bell.  The list goes on and on.

I started thinking about this concept as Chantal Kreviazuk’s “Feels Like Home” came on my iPod this evening.  This was just as I finished rereading 3 connecting quartets by my favorite author from middle school (that’s 12 books for those needing help with the math).  I was feeling someone empty, very sad, but peaceful all at the same time.  While the lyrics are definitely nowhere near being about pop culture (but I can say that a certain WB tv show already mentioned here did introduce me to that song), it made me think of why there is this comfort blanket I find in pop culture.  With books that I can read and reread, the characters are reliable.  I know what they are going to do, and I know how they will behave.  As they continue not to surprise me, I also find myself understanding them more as I grow older and wiser.  While I may be the one doing the reading, immersing myself in the characters’ worlds allows me to feel like I’m moving along with the readers, and that I’m not growing alone.  I can say it makes sense.  In fact, there was a point in college that I actually did scientific research on these concepts (not well, mind you).  But in all honesty, it makes no sense.  Is it perhaps a fear of change that bonds me so closely to things that comfort me?  That’s highly likely.  Is it the idealism that fictional characters present (you can’t tell me that Bartlett wasn’t an idealistic version of a president with a straight face)?  Also likely.  Is it the nostalgia that I feel when I indulge myself in something I loved so long ago?  Also true.  I wish I totally understood the tendency I have to escape back to familiarity, but perhaps it’s a challenge for a later day.

Let’s end with where I started:  I remember about 12 years ago when I built myself a mini bookshelf (ironically, I did that this weekend as well).  This bookshelf was a pride and joy of mine.  I ran out of space for all of my books and this one became mine– the shelf I kept the treasured books on.  Next to the shelf, I fashioned a stack of pillows, and I deemed this location my “reading nook”.  It wasn’t the most comfortable place in my room, but it still seemed brilliant to my 12 year old self.   Not long after, I remember sitting in that corner and crying.  I don’t know why I was crying or what was upsetting me, but I remember being upset.  And what did I do?  I pulled out one of my all time favorite books, Tamora Pierce’s Squire, one of the same books I just finished reading again.  I opened to a random chapter and just read.  After enough time, the frustration and sadness was still there, but I felt comforted.  As a childhood extrovert, alone time wasn’t all that comforting, but with this discovery, I found my comfort.  Those few familiar chapters, sentences, or even words brought me a sense of calm I couldn’t find elsewhere.   And I still strive to understand why.  Perhaps it’s the charm of the male characters I latch onto or perhaps it’s the lack of surprise.  Whatever it is, I’ll take it.  I only wish it continued after the book ends, but I guess that’s what starting over is for.

Pop Culture Resolutions: Part 1

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And as I promised, let’s get those resolutions started.  I’m also going to delve more into specifics later on.  I’ll link to them on the main list, but for now, I want to pull 10 generic resolutions, that I can expand upon later.

  1. See all Oscar nominated best-picture films.   Bonus: See all Oscar nominated films from another category as well.
  2. Finally finish Homeland, despite the fact that it hasn’t blown me away that much thus far.
  3. Delve further into the world of Aaron Sorkin.  I gobbled up The West Wing this year and fell in love.  I want to try Sports Night (I have a feeling I’ll love), Studio 60, and The Newsroom.  Bonus: Rewatch The Social Network and try a few of his other films.
  4. Read 20 new books, at least 1 of which is nonfiction.
  5. Regularly, listen to All Songs Considered and find 3 new artists to indulge in from there.  I used to be good about finding new artists through college work, but I don’t have that privilege any more so I need to be better about proactively finding new music.
  6. See at least 10 critically acclaimed films that I missed during their peak.  This can refer to any genre, any decade, and any films.  The goal is to just catch myself up on the world of film.
  7. Actually make it to something live onstage in DC.  Vague, I know.
  8. Read the books based on the movies I’ve seen and want to see this year (Cloud Atlas, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and more).
  9. Try out at least 1 TV show featured in Alan Sepinwall’s book.  And then I can finally read through that chapter and understand what I’m reading.
  10. Continue my exploration of podcasts.  For once, I want to feel like I’m not just an NPR junkie wannabe, but an actual NPR junkie.