I just watched the pilot of the new show The Mindy Project, and I will probably have to keep watching it, because the first five minutes were about my life, showing a little Mindy obsessively watching and re-watching romantic comedies. I’m actually pretty sure romantic comedies ruined me for real life, which is often comedic but almost never romantic. The Mindy show even includes a clip of my all-time favorite escapist romp, You’ve Got Mail—a movie which planted a number of dangerous ideas in my head: the idea that you can find love online as well as the idea that single women in their thirties usually live in huge brownstones on the Upper West Side. These days, I know a lot more than I used to, about the reality of NYC real estate, and that I can find pretty much anything online except for love. The best part about that movie is the quaint little dial-up sound that indicates that Meg and Tom are about to connect to the internet. The idea of having to go online seems so foreign to me now, since the only way I’m not online anymore is if there’s a power failure.
The best line in the Mindy pilot occurred just after the growing-up-watching-rom-coms montage, when Mindy says in a voiceover that after she grew up and life was even better—not because she found a love of her own but because now she can watch romantic comedies any time she wants.
I too enjoy the little privileges of adulthood: having appetizers for dinner, or wasting the day watching DVD box sets of shows that were cancelled in the nineties. I remember having a vague feeling at some point in my teenage years that someday I would be All Grown Up. This mental version of me did not really resemble the real me I grew up to be in any material way. I mean, I do go to work every day, I pay my bills, and sometimes I even wear a blazer. But I’m pretty sure that mental projection-adult me would never watch ABC Family, or spend so much time playing Bejeweled on her phone.
I’m not entirely sure that I’ve grown up in the same sense that my parents did. Last week I was super excited to see that the movie Desperately Seeking Susan was on HBO-Go, and I watched it on my iPad (instead of doing something responsible and mature, like reorganizing my spice rack or something). I hadn’t watched the movie in years, and it really struck me first that the world has changed a lot since the eighties. I was thirteen when this movie came out, and back then I thought Madonna’s trash-glam look was the height of cool. I daresay I grew up expecting that one day I too could pile on the black-rubber bracelets and shimmy into a lace halter and then I too would be cool. Alas, what I got when I was finally old enough to wear a halter was a world in which oversize flannel shirts were all the rage. That’s the thing about the movies we grow up with: they get stuck in your head and shape your idea of how the world will be or should be, and then the world changes on you. I still feel kind of betrayed by grunge, possibly the least glamorous trend in the history of the world.
The other realization I had after watching Susan was that I’m pretty sure that when I watched it back then, I saw the two main characters: Madonna’s wild Susan and Rosanna Arquette’s uptight housewife Roberta as the only two choices I would have when I grew up. To some extent I think there was less middle ground back then—there was more of a sense that growing up meant giving up the things you used to love as a kid or a teen. I am all grown up now, but I didn’t pick either the wild or the completely settled path. I think Halloween is a great example of this cultural shift: for decades, this was a kids’ holiday. The adults just answered the door and passed out candy. But today, Halloween for grown-ups is big business. We don’t have to grow all the way up, at least all the time. And that’s pretty awesome. This shift also likely accounts for the mass appeal of YA lit, which is also awesome.
The movies I grew up with were the fairy tales of my youth, and in some ways they ensured that real life was never going to measure up. But at least now I get to watch them whenever I want—while eating candy and popcorn for dinner, of course.