Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh TV, I've come home...

Now that I am back from the heart of the mountains-- land of bike rides that only go uphill, land of no cell phone reception and hundreds of miles without services or people-- I am left thinking about what it all means. The city. The frontier. As I drove south, the colors diluted from those deep Crayola colors, the sky a royal blue, to earthy pastels. The rain came and the humidity made me remember my hair really wants to be curly. There were billboards again, and then people, and then city hum, city noise. The city barking and wailing all through the night. It never quite seems totally dark, and I have to remember to lock my doors again. I have no schedule, but unlike in Montana, the pace here makes me think I must stay busy, and I struggle to assign myself things to think about, things to do.

The truth is, I only want to watch TV.

But somehow in my absence this summer, Highway 40 seems no further along and everything in my house seems to have broken. Stuck in modern times with no modern conveniences is not the way to get reacquainted with the hustle. No TV, no DVD player, no dishwasher, a dripping sink and faucet that continually runs. But, I do have a new computer, and with that, have finally entered the 2000’s.

I can watch TV online. Oh, technology, I do love you. (Secretly.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about popular culture lately, and it seems increasingly obvious to me that popular culture these days is not just entertainment, but rather entertainment technology. MySpace and YouTube are not just a part of the zeitgeist anymore, they are verbs, passtimes, careers, obsessions. It’s about the iPhone’s and iPod’s and Wi’s and other small things that fit in our pockets or make us think that we are more than mere humans.

It’s taken years for me to even want to keep my cell phone turned on. Maybe in a few more, I will actually answer the damn thing. I do enjoy the texting. It feels less intrusive and can happen on my own timeframe. I no longer email for fun-- only to impart information. And for communication, I have turned back to real letters. (Yep, they still deliver mail-- real physical pieces of paper with words meant for you to read.) A funny symptom of no longer working in bars, I actually have evenings free and have begun to want to say yes when people invite me out. Just like in the old days, I started catching up with friends in person, without the limitations of a conversation lasting the length of time it takes me to make their drink.

But all these things aside, and negating the fact that I just started (and we’ll see how it goes) Twitter-ing, I still love technology. I get sad when I don’t have the internet. I am a Look-It-Up-aholic, addicted to Google, researching things that simply catch my fancy. And now... watching TV whenever I want-- even without a TV or cable. It’s like my own personal pop culture servant, my own free Tivo. If only I could watch True Blood online... Damn you, HBO.

So, in my aggressive TV Online Watching, I have discovered a few things about the state of our current popular culture. I thought I’d share.

1. In the past decade we have accepted gays and lesbians on our television. Now, we have moved even farther. Transgender reality stars abound! And I am super excited. Hurrah for the CW’s America’s Next Top Model and VH1’s I Want To Work For Diddy.

The fashion world has long accepted and loved the gays and transgendered, but we are not just living in the world of RuPaul anymore. The transgender lifestyle is not just about showmanship or ostentation. It is not a lark, but a serious decision which many people face. On ANTM, we are not seeing a transgender on the sidelines, but as a contestant in the spotlight, and in the first episode, a contender. This is obviously challenging many of the other wannabe models’ prejudices and attitudes, but it also serves to challenge America’s notions of beauty, of femininity, and of gender constructs in the first place. So many models are employed for their thin androgynous beauty, this seems to push the same envelope and tease out the relationships between sex and gender, appearance and fact, “understood” beauty and beauty articulated.

On I Want to Work For Diddy, we see a show transgressing again-- this time a transgender in the business world. Women suffered for many years to gain footing in the business world, and we know that too often it is not about performance or professionalism, but it is about staying with the safe and staid, reinforcing a status quo. We are judged not for what we can do, but for who others think we might be. In business, if you do not fit the mold, you are immediately suspect and must work twice as hard to even be considered. It’s interesting watching this play out on television, but the fact that two mainstream icons (Tyra Banks and Diddy) and mainstream network TV are taking on the subject means there is progress. I think it’s telling that it happens to be two successful black people who are willing to challenge America’s notions of beauty and success. I’m sure both Banks and Combs dealt with Otherness and marginalization enough to write volumes, and I love that they are giving these new recruits a shot.

2. My mother and I have gotten into MTV’s From G’s to Gents (and I am not ashamed). When dissecting the attitudes of these gentlemen, I was telling my mom I like the show because I see so many people I know within it. I taught community college for years and I saw so many young men who were trying to educate themselves and create better circumstances for themselves and their families. So often, we get bogged down in circumstance, and again, public expectation doesn’t allow us to move forward, regardless of our own capability. In every G, there is a gent. Sometimes it’s just buried. I have always loved the grills and the braids, the badassness and the drive. If there’s one thing a G knows, it’s how to keep going, how to drive forward-- even though sometimes that forward momentum and direction creates more problems. I once knew a man who changed his name legally to Pretty Tony New Millenium. I’ve known former (and probably current) crack dealers, a murderer, felons, men with eight kids by six moms, men who con-- and every one of them, once I knew them long enough and they let their guard down, showed me a wonderful person underneath. Makes you think sometimes we’re all facades... Some people just need to cling to theirs more for survival than others. Anyway, I’m diggin’ the show, and I am totally rooting for Shotta and Creepa, but I think Shotta has it in the bag.

3. And then there’s LC. Not having had cable for the past 12 years, I have been able to avoid the past several years of Lauren Conrad Mania-- to a point. I certainly follow the zeitgeist enough to know who she is, but I filed her with Paris Hilton and other celeb-u-nots whom do not deserve the airtime or idolatry they get. But, a rainy day in Montana and a fall off my bike had me temporarily sidelined and drinking beer during a Laguna Beach Marathon. (Curses, MTV, for these strategically timed marathons on rainy weekends!!) In a particular episode when Lo was left out of a camping trip to Catalina because there would be boys there overnight, I thought, “Wow, these kids actually have parents who parent.” Not what I expected. I mean, there was the usual sex and drinking (though it all seemed a bit implied), but still, they seemed like real kids-- aside from the sun and beach and slightly larger incomes. I was in. Crap.

And so, then came The Hills. And while it is certainly more trumped up, and I still ignore Heidi and Spencer much as I did before (though now I leave the room when they are onscreen), there are still elements of real life. Of love and friendship, of navigating people and fame and rumors, of dealing with betrayal and gossip. I realize my own life has been a little more dramatic than I’d like in recent months, but I felt like what I was seeing was as totally foreign as I had expected. It’s kind of a guilty pleasure, but wowzers, I do love it, so help me.

Due to the writer’s strike last year, there is very little new TV to look forward to, though I am eagerly awaiting Joss Whedon’s new show, Dollhouse. (Meanwhile, I have been loving Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog on for the rec.) And Fox’s Fringe was pretty great the other night, even though I was worried about an X Files redux.

So that’s it, it seems we are living in a world of (sur)reality TV and sci-fi. And it’s interesting, because I don’t know which one is more far-fetched anymore, or what’s farther from real reality. But trying to decipher those boundaries feels a little bit like the distance between myself in the mountains and myself in the city. The truth is out there. Hopefully people will tune in and watch.

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