Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seriousness...just for now

So, it’s been a while…February was an incredibly crazy month for me – between work, trying to keep up with a life outside of work, and all the other drama, I haven’t had much time to reflect on pop culture. But now it’s time to jump back in. I’ve been working on several ideas over the last few days – jotting down concepts and themes I’ve been thinking about over the past month and making them reality this month.

I’m going to start with something a little morbid, and surprisingly it’s not Shutter Island (I know it’s probably awesome, but I can’t get into horror, even when Leo is the face of it). You’ve been warned. Leave now if you’re already in a bad mood, because this is not a happy-go-lucky post.

One of my favorite television series is Brothers & Sisters, which unfortunately, has been all over the place this season. The plots have been contrived and ridiculous, summed up as “Oh no, I can’t tell my family that, but oh they found out anyway, and now I’m going to make a big fuss about how I didn’t want anyone to know but really I did want people to know, so now I’m just going to whine about it.” Not that families don’t actually do that on occasion, but unlike previous seasons where those tensions were nuanced into interesting family communication dynamics, they've devolved into campy banter that rarely hits its mark.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised by the crazy turn of Rebecca’s pregnancy, Kitty’s cancer, Kevin's issues, Nora's man-crush and all the other dramatic silliness. It was kind of an escape, a way of saying, hey, my family communicates oddly sometimes, but we’re not that bad. I guess since the show falls in that landscape for me, I wasn’t prepared for it to hit home as closely as it did with the Valentine’s episode – Rebecca loses the baby, and Emily VanCamp brilliantly conveyed the isolation and frustration of the situation in painfully accurate terms (despite some poorly written dialogue). Her desire for comfort is contrasted with a need for “something to go as I plan,” her inability to talk about loss, though not written particularly well, captured the struggle many women face after the loss of a child.

Last year at this time, I lost a child. It was one of the most devastating, life changing events I’ve endured. And the sad thing is that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, but miscarriage is so rarely conveyed in public contexts, it continues to be a silent struggle for millions of women who have difficulty expressing their experiences in a culture surrounded by representations of healthy pregnancy and birth. Culturally, we understand grief when it is attached to a person – there are traces of that person that can be understood after loss – but when the person has yet to be, the only person they were “real” to in a sense is the future mother (and to some extent the future father). Support networks are essential in dealing with grief, but often an individual’s interpersonal network might not know how to support grief associated with the loss of a vision of how life was supposed to be, or might have been.

Not to be entirely morose, I think the experience put me in a much better place today, as terrible as it was at the time. But I think it’s important that popular culture takes up these hidden, yet serious, issues as part of a fictional landscape. There is something to be said for an image, beyond statistics, an embodiment of grief, that is missing from our cultural lexicon of images. Grief in popular culture is momentary, not pervasive; a narrative catalyst to move characters forward in particular way, not an event that forces one to look at life like a kaleidoscope, seeing every angle of what might have been, or what could be. The good part is that grief can warp things out of focus or pull them back into clarity you never thought possible. I’ll be interested to see how they finish the line – and I hope it’s not some trite write out that basically ends with Nora solving everything by being super mom.

Guess I needed to get that off my chest and start there. I promise the next post will go back to silly pop culture stuff with less personal stuff – still working on finding a balance of those voices for this venue.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pop Culture Rewind: Groundhog Day!

It’s Groundhog Day! And apparently, the breaking news is that Phil saw his shadow this morning, meaning more winter ahead. But, Phil isn’t the most accurate forecaster, so I hold out hope for sunnier, brighter days ahead.

While I’m bundled up with my hot chocolate, fire and dread of the next six weeks, I figured what better way to kick off the holiday than by doing a pop-culture rewind to one of my old favorites Groundhog Day! It is amazing to me how much has changed since 1993. Here are four random bullets/observations about this film seventeen years later (older and perhaps wiser):
  • In this day and age, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t sell a romantic comedy pitched on leads like Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. They both seem so painfully average looking in comparison to what flies as a romantic lead these days (that, or we simply need more than two pretty people to entertain us with the turn to large star-studded casts like Valentine’s Day is boasting).
  • Although lauded for its “originality” in terms of narrative, the film still always reminds me of Sure Thing.
  • It’s pretty sad that in the end, MacDowell only starts to take Murray seriously and fall for him when he puts her on the backburner. For much of the script, he tries to be the man she wants and needs, and then when he decides to put everyone else first (including himself), THEN she falls for him. I get frustrated with the repetitive representation of women in romantic comedies, always wanting the mysterious guy rather than the one that’s in front of their face and trying. I know it makes sense and sells tickets, but it bugs me in terms of gender expectations in romantic attachments. 
  • No one is better at depressed, pathetic, life contemplation than Bill Murray. Except maybe George Clooney.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Going Up?

I meant to go see Up when it came out in theatres, but it was summer and I had beaches to go to. Since then, I’ve had so many people talk about how wonderful this film is, I figured it was time to see it. Plus, one of my students lent it to me, so I didn’t even have to spend money at Blockbuster.

Boy am I glad I didn’t go to the theater for this one! Up?! They should call it Down! A handful of barbiturates probably would have seemed like an upper in comparison. It was only about three seconds into the movie when I was bawling like a three year old when the film is saying “I regret being old and never doing anything remarkable with my life!” And later bawling again when it’s all like, “life together with someone I loved was all the adventure that I needed!”

I guess it probably hit me harder than others who were able to see the more positive aspects of these messages. A few days ago, a student asked me what my biggest fear was, and I said failure, because that always seems like it’s the right answer (especially to over-achieving, stressed out students). But after watching the film, I don’t think that’s right. Because I’ve come to accept that failure has an element of control. I don’t really feel like I’ve FAILED something unless it was within my control and I screwed it up. If I don’t succeed at something as a result of factors beyond my control, I don’t really conceptualize that as failure (I used to, but I guess I grew out of it). What really scares me is loss. I’ve dealt with a lot of loss in my life – albeit not very well – and it’s never a feeling that I want to repeat. And that kind of loss, the loss of the one person who truly gets you? Gets all the crazy silly things about you and still doesn't want you to change? I just don’t know that I’d want to go on and have adventures after that. So I had to admire the main character, and worry about myself the whole time. Not exactly a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

My own psychosis aside, I did like the animation of the Paradise Falls region, and the DVD bonus feature about the art direction and their trip to South America made it even more interesting. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a cute film. Not one of Pixar’s best – the main character is interesting, but beyond that, most of the secondary characters are fairly one-dimensional (which was apparently the goal of the production team given their discussions in the bonus features, so I guess they accomplished what they set out to do…).