Thursday, May 03, 2007

One down, three to go

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A short post, because I really do need to pull a last-ditch effort not to fail Civil Procedure. Con Law exam was yesterday. I can't say how i did because my critical skills are inadequate when it comes to law school, but I really did try as hard as I could. In fact, I tried so hard that I felt depressed afterwards. What if no matter how hard I try, I just suck at this?

Which is why I then went to the gym and watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy from season two. Completely overstimulated, I thought about how the media takes extraordinary people and tries to make them seem just like "us." I mean, surgeons who go to Stanford are nothing like me, unless you count overeducation. Nothing. They are smart enough and talented enough and disciplined enough to go through doors that few of us will ever, ever have the chance to enter. You can go to school your whole life and still be mediocre compared to such people.

But Grey's Anatomy makes it all seem so . . . level, somehow. See that brainiac intern? She's brilliant and credentialed, but YOU have better interpersonal skills. See that world-class surgeon? He can't keep his marriage together. Aren't you glad you can? Look at all these doctors trying unsucessfully to balance work and a personal life! Aren't you glad you have a dead-end job and can see your kids/dogs/plants every night?

One of the emblematic shots in the opening credits shows two sets of feet touching in a hospital bed. That picture promises something most of us also never find in the real world: love and sex and meaningful work all in one place, symbolized by two people touching each other in a semi-private/public context. As if we want life and work to be so connected. Do we? Don't we?

Now, I know people in communications and media studies ask these questions all the time. Is television supposed to make us feel normal, not just in its content, but in our participation in its rituals? Because I think I experience it that way. I mean, when GF and I sit down at night to watch tv together, it's not as if we are sharing intimacy--in fact, she yells at me if I talk too much, which I often do, because I get a little lonely and bored. So what are we doing, exactly? We're not together, but we're not apart. We aren't in company, but we are somehow sharing something with an imagined community of people we will never meet or know. Is that what it is? Imagined community--like Benedict Anderson's theory of national identity? It would certainly explain why live network tv is so much more comforting than more divergent cable stations, and why GF and I seldom watch DVDs when we can flip through the channels.

Imagined community explains the appeal of shows like Grey's Anatomy, which are about being young and finding comeraderie in the Rat Race. It explains Seventh Heaven, a wretched show GF adores. I imagine that I watch them because I want to be like the other people watching them. Or at least, share something with the other people watching them. But what?

There are no gay characters on Grey's Anatomy--thought there are gay actors. This is probably part of the point. We are all watching and none of us feels like we can figure it all out, and we want imperfect perfect versions of who we might be, but aren't. Kind of like the theory that women buy more clothes when they hate their bodies than when they like them (do they ever like them?). We all feel inadequate, lonely, queer, poor, stupid, ugly, old, declasse, outmoded. These shows allow us to experience ourselves being constructed in this way, as yearning for a normal ideal and falling outside it at the same time. There is immense pleasure in this, and sorrow, which is also quite pleasurable. The shared sorrow of all of us who don't fit in--because none of us do, really, do we?--getting old, side by side without talking, in the Rat Race. Thinking about what it would be like if things were different, but not really wanting to change anything.

Anyway, there's no point to this musing, except to point out how oddly lonely and communal modern life seems. This may be particular to my being a 44-year-old lesbian stuck in school with 23-year-olds I almost never have a converstion with, or it may be more general than I think. Which is fine, because uncertainty about the universality of one's experience is, I think, the point of these shows, or at least, a big part of their appeal.

I think I'll go to the gym now, where I'll get on the elliptical machine, surrounded by people I will never speak to--and in fact who are usually freaked out if I accidentally talk to them in order to get a machine (they are 20 years old and wear tiny shorts with sorority letters across their asses. I should be the one screaming.). We will all face front, listening to our individual music players, watching the tvs in the front window, or, as in my case, watching our video ipods, and move our limbs in a strangely synchronized sea-dance under the blue light of the television screens, and the early May Scorpio moon.

Happy finals to all, and here's hoping there's a conversation or two at the end of the work--and workout--tunnel.


adjunct whore said...

funny that you say you and gf only watch network tv. i can't, it really and trully depresses me beyond words. only in special times can i even watch movies without feeling strange and lonely.

i wonder about your anderson thesis: what are we sharing with these tv people? the sense that if you work hard, good things will happen to you most of the time? that we all feel the appropriate emtional responses in the appropriate degrees for each curve life throws you (cliche intended?)

like i said, it all depresses me. so good to read someone else clearly relating to the sense of alienation one feels watching tv, either alone or with partner.

What Now? said...

My frustration with most television shows (and I've never seen Grey's Anatomy, but I'm sure it shares this characteristic) is that most plots revolve around poor communication skills. The stupid lie, the pointless insult, the ridiculously erroneous assumptions that could be so easily cleared up with a simple question, etc. D. teases me that, if it were up to me, television shows would mostly show well-adjusted, reasonably emotionally healthy people getting along pretty well while they, I don't know, drink milk before bedtime. Now *that* would be television that would make me feel normal!

While exercising I prefer to watch either "Charmed," which is so stupid as to be not overly annoying (perhaps the same reason GF likes "Seventh Heaven"), or "Angel," which is mostly brilliant.

Good luck in the rest of your exams, and I'm glad you're about to enter summer and get to talk with real live grown-ups!

Lawfrog said...

This is an interesting topic and I enjoyed reading it. In difficult times of my life, I actually found TV shows to be oddly comforting, particularly The Golden Girls. I can't explain why it soothed my psyche, and continues to do so through the DVDs, but it did.

I actually do not watch much TV at all these days. I watch Dr. Phil and Gilmore Girls. That's pretty much it. I am not at all a fan of reality TV, which really isn't reality at all, but that's a whole different discussion.

Elizabeth McClung said...

First, I have never understood the "female ass as advertising space" thing - Certainly aware that butts are checked out, but to leave messages there like brand names or where frat house people can find you?

TV - The thing I find most unrealistic is a) that TV characters have so much time to do anything, especially sit around having multiple breaks together talking - which never reflected my uni or intern days in which I was usually working 1 or 2 other jobs on the side, so no parties; it was like teach students as grad student at university then serve them in resturant on weekends (ironically the university turned me down for a lucrative admin job because I taught there and it wouldn't be "appropriate").

and b) there are never the really odd characters who have been there forever and horde information or decide to hate this or that person so that your time is more taken up with strange and bizaare politics than the actual purpose of job, internship, education.

c) gay people - there aren't even alternative people! I watch NCIS even thought I KNOW they are going to have a few lesbian pyscho killers each season simply because they keep a goth girl in the basement who has tattoos - once the gilmore girls stopped dying their hair, I dropped it.