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Birth, School, Work, Death: Why Do We Take Our Television and Film So Seriously?

By Cindy Davis | Think Pieces | April 26, 2012 |

By Cindy Davis | Think Pieces | April 26, 2012 |

You know those moments when you’re lying in bed at night and can’t sleep; your mind is racing with so many thoughts that don’t correlate, so you just keep trying to slow it all down? And then out of nowhere, all the seemingly unrelated things converge and you nearly sit up straight—but that’s too much effort and you’re trying to go to sleep—so you mentally slap yourself in the head because you *should* have a notebook by your bed (do people really do that)? In the dim hope of remembering something in the morning, you try repeating the more sensical thoughts in your head over and over, marveling at how the universe finally makes sense and still wondering why you’re clearly wide awake and yet too lazy to get out of bed and maybe go write a few things down. These musings are the result of one of those nights and you can believe me when I tell you, the shit in my head was effing brilliant even if it ends up making no sense now.

I have moments of being a control freak. Sometimes I even see those moments as they happen and I try to recognize and even understand why they’re happening. The thing about control is, when we feel it’s out of our hands in a big way, we tend to exert our influence over little things that we actually can control. The freak part comes when we go bananas over too much stuff on the counter or the way the guy we live with can never manage to wipe up the crumbs after he makes a sandwich. It ain’t about that, we just need to feel in charge of something. At that particular moment, we need to feel like something is in its right place. I heard some bit of craziness about how the state in which I live wants to put up new tolls on I-95, not to raise revenue, to redesign or make badly needed improvements that might relieve congestion in areas the road was clearly not prepared for, but to get people to go a different way (there is no other way) or pay for the privilege of getting through the existing mess quicker. The Department of Transportation has no idea how to fix the real problem, so instead they’re just going to affect things in any way they can, not unlike me and my fellow control freaks. I’m sure you’re wondering what in the fuck all this has to do with television and film; just hang on a second and you’ll see where I’m going with this. Maybe two seconds.

Back in the olden days (used to mean pioneer times, but now means 1980s), people would go see a movie and if they really liked it, they might tell a friend or even call someone (landline) and get together over coffee to discuss it. If there was a good television show on, we might not answer our telephones (again, landline) during the program, but we’d call a best pal afterward to review it. I’ve always been into films and television, always been a little more “enthusiastic” about them more than most people I was around, and I sought out other likewise folks with whom to discuss a movie or show in detail, especially when I considered something really good or bad. You know what never happened though? Those discussions never devolved into an insult-fest or came to threats; I don’t recall talking about critics’ views in the way people do now, calling reviewers stupid, fat, ugly or using “woman” as an insult when I disagreed. Pajiba is fairly sane when it comes to these things, but still, it wouldn’t take you long to find a review where someone went a little nuts disagreeing with a writer or a commenter. And it’s not just about the impersonality of the internet—there’s something more going on here. Sure, the web provides anonymity and people probably do let loose more than they might do in a face to face conversation, but at the same time, we’ve all gotten a little more obsessive about the things we watch. Everything seems a little more personal, because we’ve taken what used to be mere entertainment into our hearts and lives—they’ve become more than just short escapes. Why is that? Is entertainment that much more engaging or do we just have a sense of powerlessness that we need to overcome?

Now finally, here’s the part where the things converge (in my brain, anyway). The world, as it stands, is a big fucking mess. For those of us in the United States, the past several years have been maybe just a little too eye-openingly bizarre and out of control. That sense of hope we had when Obama was elected in 2008 is almost gone, and many of us were forced to face the fact that it doesn’t matter which party holds office. The economy is in ruins and no matter how many news outlets try to convince us things are back on the upturn, everyone who is losing jobs, can’t find jobs, giving up on being able to pay for their homes or facing foreclosure, unable to sell or buy houses and every other depressing thing going on out there in the real world tells us otherwise. And nobody knows how to fix any of the big stuff so we keep drawing inward; we find solace in a semi-fictionalized existence that cobbles together television and film with our own lives. Never mind what’s going on out there, I’ve got my big screen to keep me warm. Where television shows and film (and video games) used to be temporary escapes, they have now become a bigger focus in our lives; we think about last night’s episode of “Community” when we wake up and we fall asleep with an image of a Bran’s direwolf in our heads. We watch, we study every DVD bonus feature, then we read every word on a movie’s Wikipedia entry—every critic’s slant—until we can quote lines, recite each character’s family history and even better yet, go after any and every motherfucker who dares to disagree with us.

Like I said, things don’t go too terribly here at Pajiba, but those of us who have read at places like Television without Pity or IMDB have seen the comment sections devolve into something akin to The Hunger Games. In its own effort to maintain control over people discussing television shows, TWoP has a set of rules its moderators enforce with swift severity as if they were the Lannister Kingsguard, reminding commenters they must read all ninety-seven pages of previous comments on a show before daring to type, and not to state their own opinions as fact. But people don’t give a shit and suffer demerits or get kicked off and move on to the next site to exert power their own way, insulting critics or commenters who don’t like what they do. As we all grow to feel more powerless over the Big Stuff, I can only assume we’ll keep heading in this direction—our fictional worlds continue to feel better than and outdo the real thing. Every time I drive anywhere in the vicinity of New York City, I look around at the decaying roads and the traffic that’s been backing up for the last few decades; the never ending construction that ostensibly purports “fixing,” but solves nothing. How does anything get fixed? Where is progress? Where is our Blade Runner/Fifth Element-al world? Why don’t I have a chip in my head and a personal flying machine? Where is my National Healthcare? Why do my friends have to quit their jobs to get the right medical treatment? What has Occupy Wall Street gotten us? Why does everything I eat or drink have something in it that will kill me? Why do my kids’ schools serve nothing but cafeteriacrap made with pink slime? Why is Congress all up in my uterus? Why can’t we get past the oil industry? Why is Arizona allowed to exist? Why am I having palpitations and want to go hide under my bed? Does anyone have a pill? What about the side effects? It’s all so overwhelming…I feel dizzy.

I can’t deal with this shit anymore, I have to go watch “Battlestar Galactica” again so I can argue how good that damned ending really was, and tell everyone why I’m okay with (SPOILERS!) Starbuck being an angel.

Cindy Davis is just a girl.