Thursday, December 27, 2012


Hate-Watching television is a thing now, apparently. I get all my most important information from Entertainment Weekly, and they say it is. The term was coined by someone in the New York Times, even, so all the more reason to put stock in the idea. Hate-watching is just like it sounds: the idea that we watch shows primarily because they suck. We watch them to dissect why they suck, to have something to tweet and text about. The article I read also name-checked “super-watching” to refer to the idea of watching and immediately commenting on social media. Am I the only one who wonders what happened to just plain old watching?

I must confess I do sometimes miss the days before short-attention span theater: when there were only four channels, and whatever you picked got your full attention. I almost never just watch TV anymore. I usually have my laptop in its destined place—my lap—and I’m working on something while I watch. When I’m not working I have trouble shutting the damn thing, and I end up surfing: Twitter, Tumblr, online shopping. Sometimes I don’t even have a destination. Surfing is probably the wrong word, as surfers are always aimed towards the shore. There’s a destination. We should probably call it online floating. Or maybe dog-paddling.

So I realized that I almost never just watch-watch anything. But do I hate-watch anything? Some shows I’ve stuck with out of inertia. Revenge is a good example. It seems as though it was sort of a good show last year. And now this year, not so much. Madeline Stowe’s Victoria is basically a cartoon character at this point. She’s like a non-puppy wearing Cruella DeVille. And don’t get me started on the whole Initiative situation. Shadowy organizations with vaguely evil names are my very favorite. I’m still not sure I’m hate-watching it though. It’s more like Revenge is a new friend I made last year who turned out to be not quite what I expected, but I still hang out with them sometimes, hoping maybe they’re not quite as crazy as I suspect.

I don’t always hang on forever, though. I’ve stopped watching lots of shows—even shows I once loved, like Supernatural. But, now that I think on it, this blog contains evidence I did in fact hate-watch it for a while before giving up completely. Maybe it’s the ones we once loved that turn to hate. Although I could probably destroy that theory if I ever actually tuned in to watch something like The Wrath of Honey Boo-Boo, or whatever that show’s called.  I feel pretty confident that I would hate it based purely on its own merit. Or as one of the harbingers of the apparently-delayed end of our civilization.

So is there such a thing as hate-reading? I want to say there probably isn’t, because reading requires so much greater a time commitment. I hardly ever hear people kvetching about books they hate online. The most grumbling comes, not surprisingly, when someone’s waded pretty far into a series, and things don’t work out as expected. Or things get kind of boring. I still haven’t read the third Hunger Games book, in spite of my love for the first two, because several friends whose opinions I trust seemed pretty disgruntled by the final chapter of the series. Although, come to think of it, I also bought it in hardcover right before I got my Nook. I suspect I may have become too lazy to hold an actual book. And the march toward the end of days continues.

However you choose to read or watch: hate-watch, super-watch, total fandom immersion—there’s no question that the experience has changed as the world gets smaller and our focus gets narrower. I’m still not sure hate-watching is a thing. After all, it doesn’t really matter how or why you watch. If the set’s turned on, they’ve got you. Think of it this way: poll one hundred random readers. Probably almost none of them will admit to reading the top selling book of 2012 (it’s just what you think it is). Then ask yourself how that book got there at the top of the list, when no one read it. Viola, hate-watching. We can't even admit we read the freaking thing. 
And, thinking about this top title of 2012, cue apocalypse-appropriate music one last time…

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Closing of the Year

2012 was a pretty good year. For me, the ’12 was sort of the jelly part of the sandwich: last year, I found out TTIJTC was going to be published—next year it will be. In between, we have 2012. There have been some minor triumphs: my 1995 Honda Civic didn’t die *knocks on wood*. I wrote three books and then re-wrote one of the three.  I pretty much decided that Garamond was my signature font. These are the days of my life.

I have also resolved not to look at that “This is Your Life” year-in-review situation that Facebook always offers up this time of year. I mean really, it’s just a bad plan. In a year in which something really big happens, I mean hooray for that, but then the rest of the year is going to pretty much pale in comparison. And if, heaven forbid, it’s a year when not much of anything happens, then you’re just depressed at a time when the house is probably filled with enough cookies for a massive eating-your-feelings binge. 

I would actually be in favor of moving Christmas to a less pressure-filled time of year. Perhaps February. That’s a pretty boring month. The way things are now, we have this gigantic holiday, with all the attendant pressure and stress, and we also have the closing of the year: looking back, taking stock. And then we have New Year’s Eve, which is the Kobayashi Maru of holidays. It’s a no-win scenario. Either you go out and spend approximately ten times more than at any other time of the year to enter and eat and drink—or you stay home and watch something truly terrible on television, like a live performance by Ke$ha, before the ball drops and you then it’s time for bed (true story). 

So before all the holiday craziness really kicks in, I’m taking a pressure-free look back at the year that’s about to be in the rear view. There have been ups and downs, just like any year. But when it comes to what truly matters: movies, TV, books, and music, it’s been a pretty great one.

Favorite Movie: The Avengers. My Joss Whedon goes mainstream? This is a no-brainer. Also with added Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. goodness.

Most surprising movie that I actually liked although I really didn’t expect to: Tie: The Hobbit and Breaking Dawn Part II. I showed up at the theater with money in hand for both of these out of a weird feeling of obligation. Once I start something, I like to see it through. I had no expectation that I’d actually enjoy BDII, but somehow they managed to make it pretty good. The jk/gotcha moment was a good one.
The Hobbit was pretty enjoyable and also there were at least two cute dwarves which I feel a little weird about but whatever. “Hot Dwarf” is now searchable on Tumblr, btw. 

Favorite book: It didn’t come out this year, but I found out about it from the movie version that did: Don Winslow’s Savages. I really love his unusual style and his funny acronyms. I intend to address someone’s Christmas card to PAQU this year and she’ll never even know. Oh, wait, that sort of makes the acronym apply to me too. Crap.

Favorite YA book: Again, it came out in 2010, but I mostly read for AP Lit and AP Lang. But I finally read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and I loved, I loved it.

Favorite TV show: This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read this blog. The Vampire Diaries! Ian Somerholder=swoon. I love a good antihero. I’ve totally forgiven him for ripping out the hot werewolf’s heart. Bygones. Besides, hot werewolves were so 2011. It’s all about the hot dwarves now.

Favorite album: Night Visions by Imagine Dragons is pretty doggone good. But I am a singles girl at heart. So here’s my humble playlist for the year that was:

Radioactive- Imagine Dragons
Ho Hey-The Lumineers
Stubborn Love-The Lumineers
Headlights-Morning Parade
Queen of a Sad Land-A Silent Film
Dark Again-Gold Fields
I Will Wait-Mumford and Sons
I Knew You Were Trouble…-Taylor Swift
Carry On-Fun.
Fear and Loathing-Marina and the Diamonds
The Pit-Silversun Pickups
Towers-Bon Iver (okay, it was 2011, but so awesome)
Breath of Life-Florence+The Machine (best part of the disappointing Snow White and the Huntsman)

Happy almost-2013 to all and good luck solving the no-win scenario on December 31.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You're Beautiful

How did you read that title? A little breathlessly, like a teen girl in love with an impossibly handsome man whose form seems to have been carved out of marble? Or sarcastically, as though you meant beautiful as kind of an insult?

I was quoting the 1989 movie Heathers, so in my head it’s sarcastic.

In the film, MC Veronica Sawyer is writing in her diary about her best friend (and worst enemy) Heather Chandler: “I said, so, you teach people how to spread their wings and fly? She said, yes. I said, you're beautiful.” Heather is one of three popular mean girls—all named Heather—who rule Westerberg High in a parody of every teen movie cliché. Heather is predictably blonde, pretty, and evil. She terrorizes the unpopular Martha Dunstalk, and pretty much everyone else. But the crazy thing about this movie is, Heather does not learn and share and grow and change. Instead, her best friend Veronica semi-accidentally kills her, and when Heather's ghost shows up later on, she’s bragging about how many people she had at her funeral.

This movie is black comedy—pitch black. There is no real afterschool special-ness going on. When I watched it again recently I began to wonder when this generation’s Heathers was going to happen.  A lot of folks have said: it’s Mean Girls! But the thing is, in that movie, everyone Learns Their Lesson. All the characters, even those who have been hit by a bus, turn out just fine, and they find their own happy little high school niche.

The best part about Heathers, I think, is that the film takes the usual tropes of teen films and embraces them, but then subverts our expectations by going just a little too far. I’ve written here before about the fact that films and books made for teens are not as populated by stereotypes as they used to be. There’s less trying to force a forty-something’s idea of what’s cool and more actually bothering to find out what is cool in terms of dress, speech, and so on.

So maybe in the late eighties, when those fakey teen movies were still all the rage, there was more of a need to subvert those expectations and mess with our minds. Except I’m not really sure the behavior of teen stock characters has actually changed. On an episode of The Vampire Diaries last year, there was a power struggle between two blonde, mean, control-freaky cheerleaders. They taunted one another at practice—a practice conveniently not attended by any sort of coach or advisor (TV teens are unfettered by most adult figures, not just parents). The only real difference between this show and a scene from an 80s movie was that the teens were probably more accurately teens on the surface: their clothes, hair, and speech were au courant. Underneath, these two characters were the same Blonde Cheerleader from central casting that’s been hauled out in movie after movie, show after show.

Are we all just like endlessly fascinated by the Wakefield twins of Sweet Valley High? Why do these characters keep showing up? We have the aforementioned B.C. We have the Rude Jock Bully. Sensitive Brunette Girl Who Reads Books. Quiet Loner Guy with Cool Hair. Funny Sidekick Guy (or Girl). Mix and repeat.

The most enduring stories, though, take these same elements, lull you into a false sense of security, and then shock the hell out of you. Witness the famous first scene of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which the cute blonde girl turns into a monster and kills the date we thought was about to force his attentions on her. 

Looking over the TV, movie, and book-scapes right now, I wonder if we need more subversive cult voices out there. For one thing, a lot of these stories take place in an alternate world (though many of the same character archetypes are often employed). But with all the supernatural window dressing, sometimes it’s even less clear that the story, stripped down, is is really just Loner Boy + Brunette Book Girl +conflict=happy ever after.

It’s a super PC world (and I don’t mean vs. Mac) so a Heathers reboot is probably not in the offing. But I am glad to see on that today’s Tumblr teens have rediscovered it. It’s always good to mix a little acid in with the sweet. As long as it’s not liquid Drain-O, of course. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Shipping News

         I’ve always been an obsessive TV watcher. I have DVD sets of my favorite shows, and I re-watch them in rotation, never getting sick of Firefly or Buffy or Roswell or Veronica Mars. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of them. My bff and I were Christmas shopping last weekend, and I suggested she buy someone on her list a copy of her favorite show, but she said no, once this person has watched something, they never want to watch it again. I’ve met quite a few people who feel this way, but I can’t even conceive of how they have the same kind of brain as me. Maybe they don’t. When I love something, I will watch or read it over and over. Probably forever.
So speaking of obsessive viewage, last week I was having a terrible week, and at the top of the short list of stuff I was actually looking forward to was watching the new ep of The Vampire Diaries. Damon and Elena were finally going to hook it up, after years of her pining over Edward Cullen-Lite™.
But then the writers pulled a JK, and explained away their entire relationship with another of their murky supernatural explanations as some kind of magical vampire sire bond. Whatever.
            Right after the episode, I was outraged, and I realized there was a virtual place for me to go, a place where I was guaranteed to find others who felt the same way: the web, and specifically Tumblr. One quick word in the search bar connected me instantly to a community of other people who also had nothing better to do on a Thursday night than watch a TV show and then obsess over the way the storyline was going.
            I’ve been watching and re-watching and getting pissed off at TV writers for what they do to my characters for a long time. In the olden days, though, there was no way to connect to other people who felt the same way, unless you had a friend you could call up right after the credits rolled. The immediacy of that connection is the biggest change—now, right after the show airs you can jump in and discuss the situation with at least everyone else in your time zone who gives a crap.
            Hanging out on Tumblr has introduced me to a whole world of people who are every bit as invested in their shows, books, and movies as I am—and a lot of them are even more invested. I haven’t created fan art or videos or written fan fiction, but if I were a teenager or didn’t have jobs plural I probably would. Fandom is an interesting world, with its own rules, and its own language. I learned last week that if I were a TVD shipper, then my OTP was now canon and that that was both an exciting and paradoxically upsetting thing. Rooting for a couple to be together is probably more fun than actually just sitting back and watching the relationship play out. Shipping itself is an interesting word—it comes from relationship, of course, but think it also resonates a bit with worship. A phrase you see a lot on Tumblr is “I will go down with this ship.” Often the fangirl or boy has chosen to invest a lot of time and feels into a pairing that is never going to happen. And maybe that’s part of the lure. It’s about identifying with the characters and the story—when writers capture a fan’s attention to this degree, the audience feels something. We are connected to the characters.

            But everyone in the fandom is also connected to one another. Each fandom is a community, and it’s always on, just a few clicks away. When I was a kid, I didn’t know anyone who was obsessed with the same shows I was. (They are too embarrassing to name, btw ;) But kids today are luckier in that way. For all the evils of the internet and technology, the web can bring us together. No matter what niche you pick, no matter how remote and small it is, you can probably find somebody else, somewhere, to hang out in it with you. And that’s kind of a beautiful thing. So let’s hear it for the shippers, the fangirls, everyone overcome by feels because they just love their characters. Ship on.