Escapism. It Helps.

Hi. My name is Shannon and I own a blog that analyzes and critiques the media I consume from a multi-marginalized lens. You may not know that based on my unintentionally long absence from posting here and to THAT, I say: okay, fair.

During my time away I have been co-hosting a podcast called Nerds of Prey, a show that simultaneously celebrates and critiques aspects of nerd culture from the perspectives of four Black women. Now, that might be news to some – and we’re still a bit new so, again, fair – but I’m hoping that’ll change as we continue share our voices with anyone who will listen.

I say all that to remind those who may not know me well that I have never been one to shy away from thinking critically about the media I love (or, in a few cases this television season, used to love…but that’s for another post). It’s a crucial element of consumerism and fandom. Our support pilots these endeavors, so we as an audience need to be vocal not just when we’re thoroughly enjoying something, but also when media falls short.

It’s also important to remember that we are people. And as a person – a Black woman, to be more specific – I am fucking hurting. Deeply.

I’m angry. I’m in consistent and sustained mourning. My mental health is nowhere near its best. I’m constantly fearful that police overreach will strip me of my husband, my mother, my father, my brother or anyone that I hold dear. I worry that my friends won’t be able to have a drink or just exist in an LGBTQIA space in peace without constantly looking over their shoulder. I worry that, despite our cries and demands for change, the world I live in simply doesn’t want me here. I’d love to say that all that ends when I rest at night, but I’m writing this on a solid three hours of sleep, which is becoming increasingly more common. I can’t sleep. I’m enraged and I’m tired and my eating patterns fluctuate by the hour and I have openly sobbed, in private and in public, more in the past month than I have my entire life. To the Publix employee who recently had to witness that: I ain’t sorry.

In moments like these I am so, so grateful for any acts of escapism. I’m thankful for the art I love, even that which is problematic (except for you, Orange is the New Black. Oh no, my rage against you has only been bolstered). I’m even comforted by the shows I’ve broken up with this year. When my family is sleeping and the night is still, I’m glad that I can find some escape in a glowing television screen and pretty images. Is there a tiny voice in the back of my mind that still reminds me that what I’m watching could do better by me and the characters I care about? Absolutely. Thankfully, she’s never silent.

Still, it’s a blessing to be able to shut my brain off and just watch, to suspend belief and reality long enough to just be entertained, if only for a little while.

And believe me, I’m not saying you can’t do both. A lot of us tend to forget that we as humans can process multiple happenings at once, which allows us to speak on and be angry/concerned about a few things simultaneously. It’s not strange to be upset about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile while expressing concerns over the absence of Black female writers at Marvel Comics. Honestly, I wonder if the people who say “how can you talk about this thing over here when other, MORE IMPORTANT things are occurring” possess the ability to blink and chew gum at the same time.

But when you feel depleted and have nothing more to say aside from “everything is trash,” it’s okay to just…opt out for a bit. So that’s what I’m doing. And I support anyone else who needs to do the same. Self care is a very unique and personal thing and this falls in line with mine. I’ll definitely return to the days of calling creators to the carpet for shitty, systemic behavior. Soon.

For right now, though, please pass me the wine and sit with me for a while. I’ll get back to work right after this next episode.

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Female Friends and Female Feuds…Let’s Improve Both.

This past week’s episode of Scandal gave me the gift I have been waiting for since the very first season: Mellie Grant and Olivia Pope, sitting on the floor while sharing a jar of moonshine and hashing shit out like good girlfriends after a long fight. They were drunk. They were emotionally bare. They were honest and in that moment, they were equals. It was incredibly satisfying to see these women – these titans – shed their Fitz-shaped baggage and gain some semblance of peace and understanding. Will this last? Probably not. For now, though, it’s the momentary bond that will carry me through the week.

The idealist in me would love to see this more: two or more incredible women who were unwillingly placed in the position of opponents come together and just take over their world as well as mine. Can you imagine a life where Cookie Lyon and Anika Calhoun put their differences aside and created an empire of their own? Or if the women of Quantico stopped, realized that all the men in their immediate circle are terribly boring, and solved some of the country’s toughest crimes? For those of us watching Jane the Virgin, we’re beginning to see a potentially budding friendship between Jane Villanueva and Petra Solano, which could bloom into something that both of them truly need.

The realist in me, however, knows that every female relationship can’t perfectly end in friendship. Surely it would be nice, but it would make for something formulaic, which would ultimately lead to less interesting television. Just as women make fantastic heroes, we also make compelling villains – or, at the very least, complex foils. As much as I loved the moments when Tara Knowles and Gemma Teller banded together and protected their family, I also sat at the edge of my seat whenever they butted heads and established their agency, ideals, and conflicting personalities. When you take the woman vs. woman element beyond the majorly sought after cat fight and flesh out both of their perspectives, you have a potentially interested layer to a great story.

As I witness the continued commodification of the Girl Squad, it makes it harder for me to say expressly say “MOAR GIRL SQUADS!” I don’t want what I genuinely want to see in television conflated with something that has been branded to the point of duplicity. And I say this at the risk of giving internet trolls the attention they certainly do not deserve: I also don’t want to see an absence of men in television, which is often the accusation that comes with expressing the desire to see something better for, or simply more, televised female interaction.

What I want is to see more women having fleshed out relationships – whether those relationship are positive or negative – that center around something other than a man.

We can always use more female friendships. That is something that I think all of my favorite shows lack, with the exception of a few (I miss Parks and Rec and Living Single desperately). Witnessing these interactions – something to combat the common notion that women just cannot get along – is important. Furthermore, there needs to be a more encompassing view of the different kinds of female friends. Let’s see more women getting into shenanigans (Leslie Knope and Anne Perkins), more deeply connected work relationships (Donna Paulsen and Rachel Zane in Suits), more instances of women leaning on each other for emotional support (Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang), women who just love each other (Abbi and Ilana of Broad City) and women who have extremely complicated relationships but ultimately have each other’s backs (I’m truly loathe to use Girls as an example here as I am not a fan of that show at all, but it is an applicable instance in this specific case). In short, let’s see more women engaging in a range of friendships just as often as men are allowed.

Additionally, if you’re going to insist on us battling one another, diversify the reasoning. At this point, centering the female feud around the affections of a man is a concept that has been mined ad nauseam. Some of my favorite men in TV have fought over women (equally boring), but they also get to clash over power, family, money, pride, justice, land, public perception, politics…there’s variety there. Variety breeds nuance. Apply some of that nuance when you have two or more women in a scene together and watch your work improve.

 

The Weighty Viewership of the Marginalized

It was  announced earlier in the season that Fox’s freshman action/sci-fi drama Minority Report, starring Megan Good and Wilmer Valderrama, had their recently ended season order cut down to ten episodes. For those of us who are all too familiar with the drama that comes with liking a show with a small fan base – tracking Nielson ratings, analyzing timeslots, full seasons vs. shortened seasons – a truncated episode order after only a handful of airings is a well-spotted nail in the  proverbial coffin. For many fans the loss would not only feel premature, but like the death of a concept that many sci-fi fans of color have been longing for: a decent science fiction program that featured well-rounded characters that looked like them. It seemed like Minority Report wants to deliver, even as the numbers reflected a dwindling viewership.

As a person who still hasn’t found a deep, sustaining love for sci-fi just yet (with the exception of a few shows and comics), I never made it a priority to watch this show. In all honesty, it didn’t seem like something that I would actively seek on my own, even though I did spot consistent support through the show’s vocal fanbase. I did, however, make a promise to myself to give the show a chance whenever I had a free moment, as I often do with many other shows (like Quantico!). I still plan to, even if the ten episodes are all we’ll likely get.

Still, I can’t help but feel a little guilty. I harbor enough common sense and humility to know that the fate of this show doesn’t rest on my very unimportant shoulders, nor is it my responsibility to advocate, advertise, or recruit. I do, however, take it upon myself to vocalize my love for the entertainment that I do support and I’ve managed to lead plenty of people, friends and acquaintances alike, to shows and artists that they now consider favorites. Why couldn’t I have done that for this particular show? Did my lack of diligence contribute, in some very small way,  to its downfall? Knowing the exclusive climate of Hollywood, as well as the probability that we won’t see a show like this again for some time, should I have prioritized it a little higher than my stable, successful favorites?

It sounds silly because it is. Nobody should blindly support something out of a nonexistent sense of obligation and unless they have a major platform, it’s difficult for one person to sway viewership significantly in one way or the other. Despite all of that, many still feel this way, including me.

It’s easy to find yourself on the other side of matters, as well. Upon my first viewing, Beyond the Lights instantly become one of my favorite films and I found it very easy to get upset with the modest box office turnout. Isn’t this what so many of us who long for representation in the romance genre wanted: complex leads of color in love? Why didn’t we collectively put our money where our mouths were? I was very upset because us romance fans of color finally got the movie we’ve been asking for and, from my limited view, we didn’t show up.

It took me a while to spot the hypocrisy laced throughout my disappointment. I had to remind myself of my reaction when I first saw the trailer for the film. As I watched with my husband, we both came to the conclusion that this film about a pop star finding real love in a police office felt like a modern day retelling of The Bodyguard, which didn’t pique either of our interests. I had no solid plans to see it until I noticed a very emphatic endorsement from ReBecca Theodore-Vachon, a film and television critic whose opinion I value greatly. Now I can’t imagine a time when I actually had no interest in such a gorgeous film, especially one helmed by the incomparable Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I’m certain that there are scores of people who saw the same advertising that I did, came to similar preconceived notions, and didn’t have the luxury of being glued to their Twitter timeline long enough to have their misconceptions addressed. A person can’t be faulted for simply not being interested (I’d be remiss to add, however, that if you are one of those people who saw the commercials and decided to pass, PLEASE RECONSIDER. Beyond the Lights is currently streaming on Netflix).

Being a viewer who wishes to be represented more in the entertainment they consume can be tough. On one hand, we understand that these shows, films, books, plays, podcasts, and comics can only survive with consistent support. Also, if these mediums seem like they want to deliver something that we can possibly connect with, then great! Let’s hope that they get the support they need to continue to provide a product that’ll make people happy. On the other hand, the limited time that we are able to devote to leisure should be spent on things that we find enjoyable. Sometimes the two concepts don’t intersect and when they don’t, we’re then faced with a unique problem: instead of the studios and creators taking a moment to reflect on how they can improve their efforts on the next project, us – the marginalized audience – are essentially punished in the long run.

Did that femme-centric movie flop? What a shame. We just won’t allow another woman to direct it the next time around.

Was the Black, Latinx, or Asian moviegoer turnout low for this particular action endeavor? Okay. Let’s whitewash the next few films and meet the resulting outcries of dissent with a shrug and half-mumbled terms like “marketability” and “funding.”

Did that sci-fi show not draw in the diverse demographic that we hoped for? It must be because Black people don’t like science fiction. We’ll just leave them out next time.

The underrepresented are rarely given the benefit of the doubt and it shows throughout the Hollywood trends. For every chance we’re afforded, white male audiences are given hundreds. It’s shitty. It’s also very difficult not to internalize to some degree. It’s what pushes us to believe that it’s our “duty” as [insert here: women, feminists, Black people, LGBTQIA, etc.] to support the few efforts there are to feature or include us, whether they truly appeal to our interests or not. In addition, it’s often the driving force behind those who feel qualified enough to command support from others within their demographic (“It’s your duty as a feminist to see Trainwreck!”). Our support comes with an expectancy of labor unlike that of the predominantly white and/or male audience. It once again puts us on unequal footing with the rest of consumers because if that effort bombs, it’s typically assumed that we didn’t put in the “necessary work” to keep it alive. When you don’t  have to really worry about seeing yourself reflected in media, you’re rarely blamed when one example doesn’t do well.

While I would love to be arrogant enough to claim that I have widely suitable answers for all of this, I don’t. Besides, the onus falls on Hollywood to churn out quality projects that are truly inclusive. I’ll only suggest that we keep our eyes open for the things that interest us and make some sort of attempt to give it a fair shake, whether that means tuning in or seeking out reviews from trusted critics. If we like what we see, then hopefully it’s good enough to inspire us to spread the word. As a viewer, any additional campaigning that you feel like committing to is entirely up to you (and appreciated).

However, if that show or movie tanks, just know that the figurative blood of a dead production is not on your hands, nor your screen. It’s okay to say “I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it’s just not for me.”

 

The Wiz Live and the Beauty of Fan Dreamcasting

The live production of The Wiz will premiere on December 3rd on NBC. I have the date marked on my calendar, the party platter pre-selected (though I’m still undecided as to whether or not I’m going to host a party to go with it), and I absolutely plan on watching the star-studded 1978 film at least five times before the event airs. Yes, I’m terribly excited and no, I can’t even pretend to care about any judgment of said excitement at the moment.

I don’t expect this to be a perfect production, especially after struggling through two prior efforts from NBC. A missed cue or stumbled-upon line are things that I’ve come to expect from any live theatrical event, televised or not. I do, however, feel like this show has cast an ensemble of passionate, almost intimidatingly talented performers who are going to do this legendary show absolute justice. I’m also thrilled to see young Shanice Williams step into her spotlight and begin what will hopefully be a fruitful career.

Looking back on the day that the network first publically confirmed that they would be taking on The Wiz, I remember that my initial response was to log on to Twitter and find out how people were reacting to the news (to be fair…that’s my general response to almost everything). I was in no way surprised to see a #CastTheWiz tag already gaining an incredible amount of steam…and it was gorgeous.

It was reassuring to see others championing the idea of Janelle Monae as Dorothy, or Jussie Smollett as Scarecrow. Many mentioned their desire to see Bruno Mars as the Tin Man, which was an idea that I can’t believe managed to escape me. A woman that I follow even proposed the idea of John Cho donning the Scarecrow costume and I, for one, am always going to support any opportunity to watch that lovely man work. The mass Twitter brainstorm session was an intriguing and welcomed one because fans of classic theater and excellent television came together to put their excitement to use.

Dream casting has to be my favorite part of any announced project (when it’s welcomed, mind you, and not when it leads to people imposing awful assertions like the ones Jessica Williams experienced), even when my predictions are entirely off base, as they often are. It has a way of bonding fans regardless of personal preferences, uniting everyone in their desire to see something turn out well. What made this round of chatter especially satisfying, though, was how many of the suggestions challenged default casting. John Cho as the Scarecrow. Samira Wiley as the Tin (Wo)Man. Gloria Estefen was even tossed into the ring of possibilities for Glenda the Good Witch, which admittedly gave me pause for a moment until I remembered just how much I loved her voice when I was younger. I loved that so many Wiz fans voice suggestions outside of the obvious choices. It was cool to see pop stars considered amongst Broadway alumni, women looked upon to play traditionally male roles, and an already diverse production being so widely embraced. To summarize: I love that fans came together to illustrate the abundance of possibilities outside of conventional casting.

This was a  relatively smooth discussion, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that we were dealing with a musical that already built outside of the realm of traditionally White casting. When we venture into other territories, like classic science fiction, those discussions tend to get a little rougher. Doctor Who, for instance, goes through this every few years when the time comes to prepare for a new lead. My husband, who is an avid fan, will discuss in great detail why he feels that Matt Smith outranks David Tennent. He will also tell you how the mere mention of a Black or female Doctor causes perpetual tantrums in many fandom circles. There are some fandoms that are so deeply entrenched in complacency that any ideas that, for once, exclude the status quo are met with vitriol and cries of “…but history!” Too often you see television and film studios buckle under these collective groans of supremacy.

And you run into the same behavior with a sect of Broadway fans, certainly. With theater, however, you get the glorious payoff of watching Broadway answer back. It answers with Black men helming the roles of Hedwig, the Phantom, and Jean Valjean. It answers with Lea Solanga getting to be the first Asian woman to portray both Eponine (1993) and Fantine (2007) in Les Miserables. It answers with Patina Miller as the Leading Player in Pippin, the first woman to play AND win a Tony for the role. It answers by taking any and every opportunity to pass the megaphone to Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Can we as fans think more outside of the proverbial box? Of course. When you see a discussion regarding a possible romantic lead unfold, the trend of possible candidates tends to work in favor of the thin-to-slightly-curvaceous, able-bodied, cisgender and/or straight. It’s a very easy habit to fall into when it’s what you’ve been presented with since the beginning of entertainment, however we are looooong overdue to see a plus size or trans woman viewed as a viable recipient of affection without it being presented as a fringe effort.

The tune, however, is changing. Best of all, you get to hear the roar of fans heralding these changes and looking at theater, both the classics and soon-to-be-classics, in a whole new light. This progress is necessary, I feel, so that when women like Queen Latifah are pegged to play the Wizard, the decision is met with predominantly encouraging feedback rather than demands for a man to take her place. It’s even more important when you consider that a young child interested in performing on a Broadway stage might see this performance and consider the spectrum of possibilities a little broadened.

So here’s to all of us unofficial casting directors who proudly call ourselves fans: may our boundless imaginations inspire boundless results.

It’s Not a Spoiler Anymore, So Please Stop This Nonsense.

A friend of mine tweeted a seemingly innocuous question today, polling her followers regarding spoiler behavior.

I did what I could to spare her my admittedly inflexible opinions about the subject matter, but we all know that good friends are our greatest instigators (at least my good friends are, and in the best way). She essentially asked me to go off. So I’m gonna.

I’ll begin by saying this much: I understand that television is not what it was fifteen years ago for a multitude of reason. The biggest variance, for me, is that my list of responsibilities is wildly different. I didn’t have a toddler to raise, bills to pay, nor a job that demanded a considerable amount of my energy. This made it much easier for me to adhere to a rigid TV schedule and watch along with a majority of viewers. Also, the absence of the DVR required people to make a choice: either make the time slot work for you or hope for a rerun. If you were savvy (and had access to a VCR, which was not a privilege that everyone had at the time) then you could stock up on blank tapes and record for your convenience. My mother kept a steady library of taped soap operas for a while to maintain the knowledge of all the complex story lines of General Hospital, All My Children, and the rest of the daytime line-up.

Another major difference is that television viewing then was a fairly solitary experience for me. When Topanga and Cory broke off their engagement on Boy Meets World, I didn’t exactly have anyone to commiserate with until the next day when I could talk about it to a handful of my classmates, and there wasn’t a whole lot of time to unpack the effect it had on us. Aside from a rushed homeroom conversation or a quick debrief during lunch, you just had to process that moment on your own until the next big TV moment came along (and with shortened attention spans, that moment could come at any time). This might have been different if you had siblings that cared just as much, but I had a brother seven years my junior who had no clue what was going on.

Things are clearly different now. We have DVRs to save these moments for you while you maintain a social life or catch up on sleep. Netflix and Hulu are available to those lucky enough to have subscriptions, and they are awesome. My favorite development, however, is the wide availability of social media, which allows me to experience television with people like me. My television viewing and social proclivities can come together in a way that really shapes the overall experience for me and millions of others. I choose (with the cooperation of a very lovely and accommodating family) to adjust my free time around a few shows that I hold near and dear to my heart so that I can tweet with different fandoms not only to squeal over those specific moments, but to engage in the resulting discussions, which are often interesting and entertaining in and of themselves. And that’s one of the coolest aspects of a form of entertainment that is often slandered as an instrument of laziness and anti-social living; it has a way of bringing people together and ushering in analysis, catharsis, therapy, and communication in a manner that other forms simply can’t. I choose to be a part of that. Every person has a right to be a part of that, if they want to be.

So if a show airs and I find a moment especially important, I’m going to talk about it and I’m going to use a microphone of sorts to do so. My mic of choice is typically Twitter, where I can interact with plenty of equally (if not moreso) passionate fans of the same thing, whatever that thing may be. Whether the fanbase is Empire big or The Mindy Project small, the conversations I have with various fandoms are treasured and they happen in Real Time. If life gets in the way (and it does), I just pray that my DVR fulfilled its one single duty (and that’s a crap shoot, but that’s an issue between me and my cable provider). I also avoid the sections of social media that might reveal certain surprises, if I care that much.

What I don’t – and won’t – do is demand silence from other fans and try to guilt them into reformatting their experience to fit my schedule.

There’s a certain brand of entitlement imbued in the attitude surrounding aired spoilers (which, by the way, is a term that really should be preserved for unknown aspects of a medium that haven’t been made public yet. Once that show airs then it should just be called “shit that’s happened”) that is extremely frustrating, especially when most programs these days rely on social media and interactive fandoms. It’s, at its heart, this misconception that individuals schedules somehow outweigh the overall experience and that everyone else should fall in line. I get that you had to work. I understand what it means to parent or to sieze opportunities to rest. I understand all of that through first-hand experience. What I don’t understand is this need to log on to social media knowing that there are other fans, like you, who may want to exercise their right to use their own space on the internet to process what they just saw. What I definitely don’t get is the passive aggressive Facebook or Twitter rant that follows said exposure, wagging their digital fingers at people they’ve, again, chosen to follow for daring speak about something that was just made available to the world.

Some will make the timezone argument (“But I”m on the West Coast!”) and all I can say to that is: there will be a plethora of things available to you where you live that won’t be available to me, a Florida resident. While I may be jealous of that fact, I won’t ask you to adjust/deny yourself to accommodate my living situation that you have no control over. Don’t expect anything of the like from me.

The only area that gets a little tricky for me is streaming because, well, convenience is kind of built into the model. Since the idea of convenience is different for everyone, it’s harder to formulate a standard of viewership. While it would be remarkable if all Orange is the New Black fans agreed to watch a certain episode at a certain time…that just isn’t happening, especially for an impatient person like me who finds a way to binge watch whenever possible. So the concept of spoilers becomes muddy, because not everyone has the ability to just take the day off and consume the entire season at once. That’s when I chose to exercise a combination of courtesy and self preservation. For example, I’ll gladly hold off on tweeting revealing specifics for at least  72 hours from the premiere while avoiding the likes of Tumblr, where GIF sets are floating around literal minutes after the big upload from Netflix. I’d likely wait quite a few hours for a weekly Hulu half-hour series before going off about it on Facebook, but I also know that if I log on, I have to be prepared for someone to have started the discussion without me. That’s just how social media works.

I should stress that this rather rant-ish post isn’t towards anyone without access or whose priorities trump preferences. All of these amenities – DVR, Hulu, Netflix, cable, internet, television – are products of privilege that aren’t widely available and not everyone can miss a show on ABC and catch it the next day on Hulu. This is also not  towards the people who have no desire to know plot points before the show airs. I’d rather not know most of the time. Also, I won’t tell you how to navigate fandom/viewership behavior within your social circle. That’s not ever my place. And I should add that if you’re having a one-on-one conversation with someone and they express that they’d rather not discuss a show just yet, you definitely don’t want to force the conversation upon them. That’s just common courtesy.

But if Hershel died on Sunday night and you’re still shouting “NO SPOILERS” to me on the following Thursday afternoon knowing that you’ve had ample opportunities to catch up and join the conversation, then I can’t help you and no, I’m not about to stop this moment of mourning I’m having with my friends. If you’ve stood by and listened to me prattle on about Scandal since 2012 and your very sudden interest leads you to ask me to edit myself, I will give you the kindest “hell no” I can muster. If you know that your Facebook and Twitter feeds will blow up as soon as Cersei so much as sneezes, then why even step into that minefield willingly? If you try to use the flippant “I have a life” excuse, I’m going to immediately call into question how your bustling social life allows you time to judge my online behavior. It’s a rabbit hole neither of us want to find ourselves in, trust me.

Because in the time it took for you, DVR owner and Hulu-subscribing braggart, to draft that “spoilers etiquette” rant you’ve had poised at the tip of your fingers, you could have just watched the show and found out what all the fuss was about.

Real To Me: When Fiction and Proximity Don’t Matter

The Degrassi fandom was the first one that I ever officially joined. I would commandeer the family television on Friday nights, equipped with my dinner, and wait eagerly for my weekly dose of Canadian drama and gorgeous boys (I was as gross about attractive TV stars then as I am now, and unabashedly so). As soon as the end credits began to roll I would jump online and log onto the fan site, where I would connect with other enthusiastic fans like myself. The experience introduced me to a lot of things that are now so common in fandom and viewership behavior: fanfiction, hate-watching (via my younger brother, who always had a handful of slick commentary, yet somehow found a spot right next to me each Friday night), online fan communities, and celebrity crushes. I created serious bonds with people, thanks to that experience. In fact, I’m STILL friends with one of those fans to this day, over a decade later (*waves emphatically at Melissa*).

The show also dealt me my first major fictional loss in the death of one of its main characters, J.T. Yorke. He wasn’t necessarily my favorite character (that honor belonged to Jimmy “Soon I’ll Be a Rapper Non-Ironically” Brooks), but there was still a lot to mourn. From the brutality of his murder (he was literally stabbed in the back and left to die in the street) to watching his death – and life – deeply affect each of his classmates for episodes to come, it was hard not to feel emotional about the loss of a character that you watched grow before your eyes for years. I remember immediately logging into my little online community to debrief about the tragedy, expecting the scene to be a fecund cyberland of recaps and exclamation points.

What I saw was genuine mourning and consoling from fans that covered an impressively wide range of ages. There was certainly discussion about the event itself, but what grabbed my attention more were the many and varied testimonies of how much this character genuinely marked their lives, whether it was through his humor or his loyalty to his friends. With millions of viewers worldwide, many had the opportunity to learn from his mistakes, relate to his bumbling mishaps through puberty, and find humor even when life made laughter difficult. Also, his death came after Degrassi High had seen its share of tragedies, from domestic violence to school shootings. This was the first time we were reminded that our beloved characters weren’t altogether invincible and that alone served a shocking blow to our collective guts. When you consider all this you begin to realize that loyal viewers like myself invested so much more than thirty minutes on Fridays (or Tuesdays, if you lived in Canada).

And that’s always been part of the beauty and charm of art, right? It’s in that privilege to elevate certain work beyond mere escapism (not to say that there’s anything wrong at all with keeping something within that particular realm). It’s in our ability to adopt these characters into our families and to carry their purpose with us. Its in the way that we dig past superficial attraction and hatred and find attributes that we wish to see (or avoid) in others. That personal attachment is what keeps good television, film, music, theater, comics, and art relevant. A friend of mine managed to encapsulate this sentiment beautifully on Twitter just recently:

So it’s important to understand that a character’s death can amount to something bigger than a simple cast turnover for some, or how the passing of a musician whom we’ve never met can trigger deep, abiding sadness in others. Amy Winehouse entirely revolutionized my relationship with music as well as how I view and relate to my own pain, so arriving home from my honeymoon to the news of her death is a moment that I will not soon forget. I’ll also remember how the expression of said sadness was not only shared by so many of my friends, but also met with the skeptical cries of those who hadn’t developed quite the same attachment with her. “None of you knew her! There’s so much tragedy in our world today that deserve our attention! Why focus on this one person you don’t know?” What they didn’t understand is that the focus was not just on this person, but this person’s impact and how the loss of her also signified the loss of that connection we had forged between our own intangible emotions and something so damn beautiful. That shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.

That’s why my lack of familiarity with Grey’s Anatomy didn’t lead to some jaded write-off of the passionate response to one of the most monumental deaths in television history. When you get to know and feel for someone over the course of eleven years – fictional or otherwise – a sudden change like that is harrowing. It’s a sign of personal relevance and if you’re unable to understand  that, than maybe that instance is simple not meant to be understood by everyone. That’s okay. It doesn’t make it any less important.

I say all that to ask this of anyone who may be reading this: make the effort to understand why the death of a make-believe doctor, a comic book superhero, or charismatic Canadian student on a teen drama might be received with more than a few tears. Understand how the loss of a pop icon may be deeply mourned for a while by someone who may never have shared the same space with them. Hell, try to understand why some people are still super upset with the How I Met Your Mother finale or the departure of a band member. Just understand that, like you, there is much more than meets the eye.

And if you still can’t understand any of it, then that’s more than fine. Just…you know…don’t be a dick about it.

When Reminiscing Goes Wrong: Rewatching After Your Personal Growth

There’s nothing that 80’s/90’s kids love more than talking about how unequivocally great the 80’s/90’s were. I wholeheartedly include myself in this sentiment.

It doesn’t take much to spark the toasty flame of sweet, sweet nostalgia – an old TLC track, a picture of that hideous Dream Phone, the far away crinkling of a geo-patterned windbreaker – and before you know it, you’re listing every cartoon that ever grazed your television as a child, whether you genuinely enjoyed it at the time or not. The subject often shifts fluidly from cartoons to films and sitcoms, which were always my personal favorite talking points. I still beam like an idiot when I think of Boy Meets World and the phrase “I dropped a SCREW in the TUNA!” makes me guffaw today in a way that no damn-near-30-year-old should. Nostalgia is magical! I’ve seen sworn enemies come together over their love of Joey Lawrence circa 1993 (which I understand in a way that’s only fractionally embarrassing. Also, his debut album is not on iTunes, in case you were wondering and didn’t want to learn the hard way like I just did).

So how does one ride the high that comes with remembering the glory days? If you’re like me, you pray that Netflix, Hulu, or On Demand will come through with something that’ll allow you to travel briefly back in time and just bask for a weekend or two. Sometimes it’s just as phenomenal of an escape as it was before.

Other times, it’s a goddamn landmine.

I’m going to strictly speak from my experience here, which is in no way universal but certainly shared by a few of my good friends: once you start experiencing anything through a lens – whether it’s one of feminism, social justice, politics, spirituality, sexuality, parenthood, whatever – it’s pretty difficult to enjoy it the same way again. It’s not necessarily a matter of something not aging well. It’s about watching something with a new (to you) wealth of knowledge. A recent experience I had with this included a viewing of Dave Chappelle’s HBO stand-up special, Killin’ Them Softly. It’s always been a favorite of mine and I’m able to recite most of it by heart, which I’m sure is the case for most comedy enthusiasts. It’s a bonafide classic! “Gun store, gun store, liquor store, gun store…” I don’t know many that couldn’t finish that joke. As soon as I remembered that I had an HBO Go subscription I immediately dove in with the anticipation of renewed joy and for a while I had it.

Then we arrived to the bit about the dying traditions of chivalry and courtship: “Yeah, chivalry is dead…and women killed it.” He then went on to explain how the sweeping lack of disrespect was directly caused by the feminist movement, our sexual agency, and how we dress and act in public. Upon this, I immediately react.

“Wait, WHAT?! THAT’S BULLSHIT! I’M UPSET! WERE PEOPLE UPSET BACK THEN? I’M UPSET!”

Don’t get me wrong, the hour-long special was full of sexist generalizations and socially-adopted misogyny, but that instance garnered the most outrage. Then I began to second guess myself. Was any of this ever actually funny, or am I blinded by nostalgia? Does this mean that all of my favorite entertainers are actually horrible people? Am I overreacting? Wait, is the very act of me questioning my reaction right now just institutionalize misogyny at work? Dozens of questions later I found myself retroactively angry at a program from fifteen years ago.

And it won’t be the last time. Beauty and the Beast, Saved by the Bell, Grease, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…it’ll be hard press for me to find an old favorite that isn’t somewhat tainted by sexism, classism, prejudice, or some brand of intolerance. Can we write this stuff off as products of a less progressive time? Possibly, but how can we continue to enjoy classic entertainment that the world is convinced is timeless, even when we know that most of it is so horrendously dated?

For me it was simple: understand that problematic content and valuable content are not always mutually exclusive.

Like Chappelle, for instance. His stance on the behavior of women back then (which could have totally changed since 2000. I honestly don’t know) is just something I’m never going to find amusing or relatable. That, however, doesn’t entirely detract from his ability to bring humor to hot topics that most are afraid to touch – institutionalized racism, class division, hypocrisy within our government, etc. These are the things that are going to continue to draw me to his comedy, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. The sexism in Grease and the entitlement and classism in Ferris Bueller make me grimace, but are heavily outweighed by my childhood memories of watching alongside my mom and my little brother (and the dancing…oh, the dancing). One of my treasured daughter/father dates was a trip to the movies to see Beauty and the Beast and I’m so grateful that I walked away with a starry-eye appreciation for books and pretty gowns instead of an incredibly flawed understanding of Stockholm Syndrome.

Looking back doesn’t always have to be a disappointment, either. I’m thankful that my new lens has led to a deeper appreciation of Whitley Gilbert’s growth as a socially conscious feminist in A Different World, or Daria’s unapologetic take on the working mother with Helen Morgendorffer.

On occasion I might revisit something that I loved a decade ago and conclude, “Wow, this is utter trash.” That’s cool, too. Context shapes experiences. That’s not new or revelatory, but it’s something that we have to remind ourselves every once in a while.

So, fellow 90’s kids and TV enthusiasts, look back every now and again. Fire up Netflix and appreciate the memories. On the occasions when you run into a moment that gets your blood boiling, treat it like an old picture featuring your less-than-stellar haircut and chunky earrings: through your cringing and “What was I thinking,” be entirely proud of how far you’ve come.