Category: Television

Return to Reality

I wasn’t allowed to do much as a teenager. I couldn’t date boys or go on overnight trips in groups where boys would be present—I wasn’t even allowed to cut my own hair (which made me all-the-more alluring to said forbidden boys).

I grew up in an ultra-strict household, ruled by my abusive, alcoholic Greek immigrant father who had irrational views on child-rearing in 1990s America. Never mind that my mother (the sweetest, kindest woman you could ever know) was American and had been raised in a household with few rules, yet turned out as prim and proper as one could hope. Never mind that I was an honors’ student who had skipped a grade, never got into trouble and possessed an IQ that qualified me for Mensa membership. Never mind all of that. I was pretty, so therefore would certainly ‘sin’ if given the chance.

Around age 16, as a junior in high school, I began considering colleges for a future escape. Learning that I was investigating schools close to home in Oregon, my older sister gave me perhaps the best advice I’ve ever been given: “Go as far away to college as you possibly can—something not within driving distance. Get away from him.” And as the Universe so often does, once that seed was planted, it began conspiring to make it happen.

Soon I was writing for a regional student newspaper, working in the newsroom of the city’s daily paper, The Oregonian, and solidifying my plans to pursue a career in journalism. One of the “perks” of this new role was the opportunity to represent the West Coast at a journalism workshop that summer in Washington, DC, where I’d live in a dormitory at George Washington University with fellow teenage journalists from around the country and work on a national student newspaper.

In the months leading up to that trip, I took solace in one of the few things I had total freedom to do: Choose to watch whatever I wanted to on television.

I chose The Real World on MTV, which ran on an almost continuous loop from May to August that year. It was the perfect coming-of-age show for me, as I could identify in some way with each of the cast members, all of whom were just a few years older than me.

I was a dancer like Julie—captain of the dance team at school and enrolled in private lessons for my true love, ballet.

I was a writer like Kevin—captivated by poetry and journalism alike, he was discussing the things that mattered and doing so in an eloquent way that I aspired to emulate.

I was musical like Heather, Andre and Becky—blessed with perfect pitch and years of playing the flute, I was always singing or performing in some capacity or another.

I was a model like Eric—my first jobs were fashion shows for my local Nordstrom store, which evolved into additional work as I got older and more comfortable in my own skin.

I was an artist like Norman—though not professionally, I offered my best attempt at watercolors for anyone who would observe.

The original Real World was nothing like the trashy shows we associate with reality television today. It was an unvarnished look at seven young artists trying to make their way in New York City, living with a group of people completely different from them, yet also so alike in many ways. It was most profoundly a metaphor for life: We are all constantly navigating the world with people very different from us, but yet, whether we see it or not, people who are very much the same.

I wanted so badly to have an experience like theirs—and in a way, I did. The journalism workshop made me take my first solo flight (which began a compulsive travel habit that only paused for the pandemic) and delivered me to a group of soon-to-be close friends from the Midwest and East Coast who were of different faiths, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.

The workshop itself was life-changing—the first conversation about the still-recent Rodney King trial and resulting rebellion led to very uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations amongst the students; my time with a mentor from the Hearst Newspapers taught me interview skills I still use today. And it nudged me to take my sister’s advice, moving a year later to Columbia, Missouri to attend Mizzou for their award-winning journalism program.

But I could never shake the emotional attachment I had to the seven people I watched repeatedly in my youth, at a time when I needed them most, which is why when they returned this year for The Real World: Homecoming, I literally cried. I’d thought about them all over the years, catching various reunions they filmed and Googling them every-so-often to see where there lives landed, but this was different. They were moving back in, to the same loft in New York City, with the same people.

I had apprehension, as I didn’t want the sanctity of the original to be compromised, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. This new production captured all of the magic of the original by showing us how the individuals had evolved (or in one case, regressed) and most importantly vibrated with the love they all still feel for one another and their shared experience.

After a year of almost complete solitude (my only visitor being my 80-year-old mother), curling up to watch these six sacred episodes felt like more than a guilty pleasure binge. It felt like a reminder to reflect on how far I’ve come from that damaged, naive young girl from the rough side of Portland and give thanks for the continued learnings about race, spirituality and love that our present world brings.

Catch up in 10

U2 in concert

Opening night of The Joshua Tree Tour 2017. Photo by Chris Enns.

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, so here’s an update for all who may read this …

Here are 10 updates about my life:

  1. I started a new job in March (yep, still in Tech Marketing).
  2. The U2 tour (see above) started in May!
  3. I wrote this about the best song on that tour.
  4. I wrote this about perhaps what was the most anticipated song on that tour.
  5. The 43rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival started in May!
  6. Yes, I still cover it. Just on my own blog instead of Cinebanter.
  7. This site got a makeover a few months back, thanks to Lemon Productions.
  8. Twin Peaks is back, and this is a great post that mirrors my thoughts on it.
  9. I joined Orange Theory in April, and have lost 10 lbs. (so far).
  10. I discovered Positive News via Twitter, and I check it every day.

I promise, I’ll check in more often.

Why Jimmy Fallon is the Perfect Man

Even his products are funny and sincere.

He knows what you want and what you need.

He goes to his neighborhood haunt on Record Store Day to buy up the best vinyls.

He is a respectable family man who clearly adores his wife and daughters.

He makes mistakes at work, but still manages to keep his job (and get even better ones).

He was a top contender for the Sexiest Man Alive title (and really should have won).

He knows how to party.

He writes books for kids.

He is so unaware of his appeal, he doesn’t even realize when famous movie stars want to date him.

He makes a graceful exit.

He is generous with his time and money.

He loves nostalgic pop culture, like many of his fans.

He is not afraid to get emotional in times of sorrow.

He likes to laugh and he makes us laugh.

He is a fantastic dancer.

He “gets” Twitter.

He is a wonderful singer.

Most importantly, he loves U2 as much as we do.

The Hypocrisy of Hysterical Parents

Why Toys R’ Us Should Have Never Caved

Since the early days of PTA Mob Mentality went mainstream with Tipper Gore’s founding of the Parental Advisory in 1985, mothers and fathers everywhere have found irrational things to get angry about.

There were the spelling bee protests of 2010, which argued for the phonetic spellings of words; the same year, a school district in Ohio banned their high school teachers from showing historically valuable films like Schindler’s List after parents protested their violence; and then just last month, some Texas moms and dads successfully pressured the school their kids attend to stop letting them read 7 notable books because they had subject matter that made them uncomfortable.

Yesterday, after a Change.org petition started by a Florida mother reached upward of 9,000 signatures, toy giant Toys “R” Us removed a series of action figures based on the popular show Breaking Bad from their shelves. An excerpt from her petition stated, “While the show may be compelling viewing for adults, its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters.”

The chain’s initial response had been to continue carrying the product because it was only made available in their section that is for customers aged 15 and older, but perhaps fearing bad PR on the cusp of the holiday shopping season, they deemed the risk too large to stand their ground and flip-flopped, cowardly adhering to the noise.

This is ridiculous.

First, because from a completely corporate standpoint, these dolls had the potential to be a top seller for the chain. Though Breaking Bad ended last year, its prequel spinoff Better Call Saul is slated to debut in February, which has kept the characters front of mind for many fans. Plus, the publicity surrounding the petition made many aware of the toys who may not otherwise have known about them. Even the show’s star, Bryan Cranston, poked fun at the controversy with a hilarious tweet directed at the Florida mom.

Second, because it’s nothing short of hypocritical to pull one type of item from shelves for what it represents and then leave the others available for purchase.

Specifically, Toys “R” Us proudly offers the video game Grand Theft Auto, which has a “Mature” rating and features a content description that reads, “Enter the lives of three very different criminals, Michael, Franklin and Trevor, as they risk everything in a series of daring and dangerous heists that could set them up for life.” Warnings include: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol.

In the action figures category, they also sell a variety of G.I. Joe products, some that contain words such as “ambush” and “attack” in their titles.

Are you seeing my point here?

Though I would never be interested in violent video games or war toys, I certainly think Toys “R” Us has every right to sell them, just as I think they should have continued offering the Breaking Bad toys for those of us who have a sense of humor. In essence, this Florida mom has not removed any potential danger from children’s lives by causing this stir; she’s simply created an expensive collectors’ item that is now in much higher demand.

At the end of the day, if parents are worried about what types of toys their child is playing with (or, gasp, seeing on a store shelf), they should become more present in their lives.

The Good Show

Spoiler-friendly Coping for the Grieving Fan

My sister, who lives in the Eastern time zone, sent me a cryptic Facebook message last night, less than an hour before The Good Wife was set to air on my coast. She advised me of watching it like this: “Have your sedatives handy and for God’s sake, stay off of Twitter and FB until you’ve seen it. Not even remotely kidding. I’m in shock.” She told me to brace myself.

I got excited—let’s face it, the show has never been better. Five seasons in, the writers, directors and actors are all at the top of their game. I thought she was preparing me for another roller coaster episode like October’s “Hitting the Fan.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The episode began and it was solid. Alicia was cocky and confident with the pesky investigators; Kalinda was threatening to walk and Will was turning around a case that seemed to be tanking. It was solid, but not yet remarkable. Just when I started to yearn for my favorite guest regulars (Michael J. Fox and Carrie Preston) to appear and spice things up, the unfathomable happened: shots were fired and Will Gardner was gone.

It’s a testament to the writers that I felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. In fact, I went through all of the physical things one goes through when they receive traumatic news: chills, tears, nausea (in that order). The stages of grief were beginning. Denial was evident in the amount of times I re-wound my DVR to make sure I’d seen what I thought I’d seen. And I tried so hard to un-see it.

After I believed what happened, I settled into Anger. How could this show do this to the fans? Why couldn’t they just send him to New York? Didn’t anyone else think that Alicia and Will would end up partners again—in law and in life? Peter can’t get the girl. He doesn’t deserve her.

Next was the stage of Bargaining. Well, they surely will resurrect his character. I mean, he could come back as a ghost, right? It could have been a nightmare, right?

Of course not. The writers are too classy for that. And the scene was captured with such a haunting grace (we didn’t see him get shot; we only heard the firing of the gun and watched the horrified reactions of his two colleagues) that to make it all for nothing would be to disrespect the art.

This realization, of course, brought on significant Depression.

I couldn’t sleep. I watched a few more shows (comedies) and tossed and turned and had a dream about JFK with Will Gardner after I finally dozed. I think my subconscious was telling me I will always remember where I was when I saw Will die (or that Kalinda’s comment to Louis Canning in an upcoming episode had a “You’re no Jack Kennedy” ring to it).

As I awoke this morning and talked with more friends and fans about the revelation, I settled into Acceptance, proud of the show for being so fearless and intrigued by what must lie ahead.

As I cope with my Good Wife-induced post traumatic stress disorder, I hope that everyone involved in this epic twist will be handsomely rewarded for their genius. I can’t imagine what the show will be like without the sexual tension and chemistry of Will and Alicia, but I will stay the course.

I know we’re in good hands.

The Downton Defense

Why “The” Episode Was Good for Women

If you aren’t caught up on the current season of Downton Abbey, and you don’t appreciate spoilers, please stop reading right here.

If you have seen the show—specifically the episode where Anna gets brutally raped by a visiting valet—then I’d love to know in which camp of viewers you’d place yourself.

Camp A (the louder camp): The show pulled a horrific ratings stunt and degraded women by allowing a beloved character to be sexually assaulted.

or

Camp B (the calmer camp): The show should be applauded for weaving in a realistic, terrifying act of violence upon a strong female character, who has so far beaten life’s challenges.

As you may have guessed, I’m firmly in Camp B, and honestly quite astounded that Camp A even exists.

For a show that’s constantly ridiculed for its soapy story lines, and a narrative that shockingly killed two major characters off last season, I can’t imagine how anyone could be surprised that violence would make its way into subsequent episodes.

Not long after the season premiere aired here in the U.S., I read a number of whiny social media posts about how “boring” the show had become in its fourth installment.

Still bored? Didn’t think so.

Placing a well-liked, strong, feminine character in such nauseating peril is a perfect way to communicate the restrictions of the era and the reality of class division.

If the rape had happened to Lady Mary or Lady Edith, the police would have been called or Lord Grantham would have handled it with no fear of repercussions. There would have been what we would now call a media “gag order” to protect the Lady, and—save for the victim—everyone would move on.

If the rape did happen to a servant like Anna, it would be her word against her attacker, and if she reported it, she’d undoubtedly bring shame to the residence. Furthermore, she’d most likely be shamed out of her job, leaving her penniless and without a sense of normalcy to help cope with her pain.

Just a few decades ago, the British royal family underwent scrutiny after a male servant alleged rape by another male employee of higher regard. The Palace denied the event took place, and the victim died of an “unknown illness” at age 44. Princess Diana was said to have a recording that would reveal the truth about the incident, but that was lost shortly after her death. Whether the victim was telling the truth or lying to damage the royal reputation, the whole situation is tragic.

Quite frankly, us Americans shouldn’t be criticizing any writers or actors about choosing to spotlight the horrific crime of rape. We practically ignore it here, allowing an estimated 400,000 rape kits to go untested because of “budget restraints” or “inadequate funding.”

Never mind the ladies who have suffered at the hands of these attackers; just think of the women still out there who will soon be in their line of fire.

And that’s another point: Sometimes viewing a television show of something horrible that’s happened to you in life can inspire you to seek help for the first time. A spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, is quoted as saying, “When an episode is well done, it can really help viewers.”

On March 18, 2001, I sat down with my ritual glass of red wine and a bowl of pasta to watch my favorite show, The Sopranos. In that episode, a strong, beloved female character was raped in a far more visually graphic way than Downton depicted. We saw nudity, we saw facial expressions, we saw the emptiness of the parking garage, devoid of people to hear the victim scream.

Following the episode I promptly threw up, cried and went to sleep, only to have nightmares about the fictional attacker. I parked only on the street for about a year thereafter.

It was a disturbing, sickening episode, but I don’t remember the outcry surrounding it nearly as much as the overreactions I’m seeing in regard to Downton.

Some may argue that The Sopranos was an inherently violent show and those who are bothered by such violence wouldn’t watch it anyway, but I beg to differ.

Just because Downton Abbey doesn’t feature mobsters, doesn’t mean it should be exempt from exploring real-life scenarios. In present-day U.K. an estimated 1 in 5 women has experienced sexual violence; in the U.S. the number is 1 in 6. Until we recognize that these statistics are unacceptable, we need reminders of the crimes.

No matter how painful they may be to watch.

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