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16 articles I’m proud of writing this year

26 Dec

I hardly ever post in this blog anymore, mostly because I’m too busy writing actual articles for work. But in the interest of reflecting on 2015 — and being needlessly self-indulgent — I decided to share the work I’m most proud of this year. These are the stories I spent months reporting and writing. (Along with some I threw together over the course of one productive day.) In many ways they define my year, and while that might sound a little depressing — surely there’s more to life than work! — I have to remind myself that writing is my passion, and I only really write about things I truly love. It’s been a joy covering film, television, and theater: I get to celebrate the art and artists I admire, all while furthering my subversive queer feminist agenda. If I have one regret about the work I did this year, it’s that I didn’t do more of it (hello, poor time management skills). One of my major goals for 2016 is to be more on top of everything so I can produce more. And maybe, every once in a while, get a decent night’s sleep.

1. Eli Roth Thinks Women Will Love His Latest Movie. This year I went to Sundance for the first time, and it was an incredible experience. I saw a lot I loved — and plenty that I hated. Knock Knock fell into the latter category, so it was a pleasure talking to Eli Roth about what I considered a deeply misogynistic film. I was proud of myself for not letting my bias show, because I knew the key here was letting Roth speak for himself.
2. Jeremy Jordan Has Learned From The Mistakes Of Smash. At this point in the year, I had no idea I’d go on to co-create a Smash podcast. I only knew that I wasn’t done talking about my favorite misguided musical drama. With that in mind, I interviewed Jeremy Jordan about The Last Five Years (which I loved), and I got him to be remarkably candid about one of my least favorite TV characters ever.
3. Daniel Franzese Is Still Breaking New Ground 10 Years After Mean GirlsLooking is a series that I feel never got its due, which is why I wrote about it so often. One of my other major passions is writing about size discrimination and fatphobia in the gay male community. I fell in love with Daniel Franzese’s character Eddie, and it was a thrill chatting with Franzese about issues like body positivity and fat acceptance.
4. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Musical Is Not Your Average Disney Production. This year I also expanded my theater coverage. The writing I do on theater never goes as viral as anything I write about film or television — and that’s OK. It remains one of my greatest joys. And as I toy with the idea of leaving Los Angeles for New York, I realize how important this work is to me.
5. The Definitive Ranking Of The Friday The 13th Movies. Another subject I can’t ever seem to write about enough? Horror. (Look for more in-depth pieces on the genre in the coming year.) I love revisiting films that often get overlooked — mediocre horror sequels, for example — and finding a new way to talk about them. And yes, that means I’ve watched a ton of shit, but dissecting garbage is one of the best things about my job.
6. Why Stephen Sondheim Is A Genius, According To The Broadway Stars Who Love Him. This was a project that required very little writing on my part, but it’s something I’m still immensely proud of. Reaching out to icons like Patti and Liza and Barbra, and getting gorgeous responses, was a great reminder to always make that effort, no matter how impossible it seems. And I received a lovely note from Sondheim, which I treasure.
7. What The Heidi Chronicles Gets Right About Feminism And Gay Men. Basically no one read this piece, which was a bummer, but hey, all the more reason to share it again. I was able to get more political than I usually can in my work by articulating it in terms of a play. I can’t be as public with my beliefs as I once was, but if I can remind gay men to be better feminist allies and write about theater, I’m satisfied.
8. Inside The Mind Behind The Most Disgusting Franchise Of All Time. Like Eli Roth, Tom Six is basically a troll. Again, I’m including this because I’m proud of how I’ve grown as an interviewer. When you’re talking to someone as performative as Six, you have to use a lot of restraint and ultimately let him reveal more than he intends to. Given how much I hated this movie, I was delighted by how good the piece came out.
9. Half Of the Team That Changed Horror Is Now Flying Solo. Leigh Whannell, on the other hand, is a horror filmmaker who actually has something to say. This was another one of those interviews that reminded me why I’m so passionate about the genre. I love the ability to analyze something so few people take seriously, and Whannell’s astute observations gave me a lot of hope for the future of horror.
10. The Definitive Ranking Of Walt Disney Animation Studios Films. This was a beast to get through, and I think that shows in the finished product. Rewatching every Disney animated film was a daunting task, to say the least, but what made it worthwhile was being able to engage critically with the films I grew up on. I never want to ruin anyone’s childhood, but I do want to encourage people to rethink their treasured classics.
11. How Catfish Helped Max Joseph Make His Major Film Debut. I wish more people had seen We Are Your Friends, which I liked so much more than I thought I would. I also wish more people that I interviewed were as insightful and honest as Max Joseph. This was me stepping outside of my comfort zone, which is so rewarding. I never thought I’d want to analyze “bro culture,” but here we are.
12. Olivia Wilde Is Taking On A More Active Role To Support Women In Film. You know who is fucking great? Olivia Wilde. This was another one of those interviews I did that made me feel excited about the direction film is headed. It was truly inspiring, and I was so honored to be able to pass Wilde’s message along. If I could just talk to brilliant women in film all the time, I would. It’s such a thrill.
13. The Movie That Taught A Generation Of Misfits To Let Their Freak Flags Fly. Like Drop Dead Gorgeous, another film I wrote an oral history of, Camp was pivotal to my development. This story took me months to get done, and toward the end I pretty much just wanted it to be over. But this is easily the story I’m proudest of writing this year. I wanted to capture a movie that changed my life, and I think I succeeded.
14. All 78 “Treehouse Of Horror” Segments Ranked From Worst To Best. OK, I’ll be honest: I’m mostly including this here because I’m proud of my time management skills on this one. I busted it out in a few days, because I decided I wanted to do it right before Halloween. Anyway, it was a blast and, once again, allowed me to revisit my childhood in a new way. Writing this much about The Simpsons falls under “dream job” territory.
15. How To Be A Broadway Diva, Or At Least How To Fake It. I love writing about people who just aren’t getting that much coverage otherwise. Lesli Margherita is a big name in theater, but not so much to those outside of the community. I was blown away by her humor and sincerity, and I relished the opportunity to share that with a wider audience. I’m going to continue working to force non-theater fans to give a shit.
16. The 18 Best Plays And Musicals Of 2015. And to that end, this is the first list BuzzFeed has done of the best theater of the year. It’s the culmination of my work to broaden our theater coverage, and while it’s still nowhere near my most widely read story this year, I think it’s a major step in the right direction. I can’t wait to return to New York so that I can continue to remind people that Broadway is more relevant than ever.

38 random things you might not know about me, and probably didn’t need to

7 Jan
  1. My favorite film genre is horror. It wasn’t, until I took a summer course at Berkeley that changed everything for me.
  2. I was an extra in the drag horror comedy All About Evil. I have a close-up and everything.
  3. I’ve read more by Stephen King than by any other author.
  4. The movie that made me realize I was gay, at least to some extent, was The Object of My Affection.
  5. The first person I ever came out to was an older guy from my high school who started chatting with me on AOL and asking me increasingly personal questions about my sexual desires. He was a creep.
  6. The first NC-17 movie I saw in theaters was The Dreamers. I had it bad for Louis Garrel.
  7. I was mugged by five guys when I was 18. They punched me in the back of the head, but I don’t remember any pain.
  8. I’ve had two minor surgeries: wisdom teeth, obviously, and the extraction of a benign bone tumor in my big toe.
  9. I was adopted at birth.
  10. When I was in third grade, I appeared in my Jewish day school play A Symbol of Hanukkah. I really liked being onstage.
  11. In middle school, I went to theater camp, but not the prestigious kind you have to audition for. That’s probably why I got a couple solos. Humblebrag!
  12. I also did choir in eighth grade. And then I suddenly became terrified to perform again until my twenties.
  13. I love storytelling and I think I’m reasonably funny, but I’m afraid of trying stand-up comedy.
  14. I speak Italian, but I’m out of practice. I used to speak Hebrew and Spanish, but I’ve mostly forgotten both. I can still understand a lot of Spanish, because Los Angeles.
  15. I took Italian in college because French was full.
  16. I’ve always lived in California. I was born and raised in LA, went to college in Berkeley and stayed there for a few extra years, then moved back here.
  17. Outside of Los Angeles, the cities I’ve spent the most time in are Manhattan and La Jolla.
  18. My first boyfriend was named Mark. We dated for a few months when I was a freshman in college.
  19. My first kiss happened when I was a senior in high school. It was awkward, and my mom was home at the time.
  20. When I was a kid, I briefly played piano and guitar, both poorly.
  21. I was also forced into tennis, gymnastics, and t-ball. I excelled at none.
  22. I have a serious phobia of flying and take Xanax whenever I have to do it. I have recurring nightmares about getting on planes and forgetting my Xanax at home.
  23. I’m very insecure about my appearance, but I like my lips and my calves.
  24. At one point, I dyed my hair reddish-brown. At another point, I had blonde highlights.
  25. My Bar Mitzvah portion was Noah. I still feel an attachment to the story, if not to Judaism.
  26. My Bar Mitzvah party theme was television. All of the tables were different shows. My table was The Simpsons.
  27. When I was 15, I spilled chocolate milk all over a girl’s bag, and I still feel bad about this.
  28. When I was 17, I said that I didn’t think I was a feminist, and I still feel bad about this.
  29. All of my grandparents are dead.
  30. I can count the number of funerals I’ve been to on one hand. I’ve been to even fewer weddings.
  31. I’m allergic to cats and dogs, but I had a hypoallergenic dog named Lily. She was a Bichon Frisé, and I still miss her.
  32. Other pets I have had: a tortoise, a hamster, hermit crabs, a pair of rats.
  33. I once wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic. It was not erotic.
  34. I have a scar on my left index finger from when I cut it while slicing bread on Ambien. I have told this story before, but it’s too good a useless fact about me to not share.
  35. I sucked my thumb until I was 10. I know.
  36. My nails are usually long because I hate the way that short nails feel. I get chills thinking about it.
  37. Sometimes I write because I don’t know what else to do with my time, and then I feel a little embarrassed about expecting anyone else to read it, but I’m publishing this post, anyway.
  38. I wrote a sex column in college. My mom loved it.

Stop using “free speech” to defend bigotry

19 Dec

“I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment,” said Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal in a statement defending Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s right to homophobia. Believe it or not, I sympathize with Jindal’s frustration: I remember when politicians understood the First Amendment.

Sarah Palin also weighed in on A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson from Duck Dynasty indefinitely: “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

This is nothing new. When Alec Baldwin was fired from MSNBC after calling a photographer a “cock-sucking fag,” he blamed the “fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy.” Baldwin supporters called GLAAD’s behavior “bullying.” And so, the words that the LGBT community was once forced to defend itself from — “fundamentalists” and “bullying” — are turned around on it. LGBT activists are challenged on their “tolerance.” The unsubtle implication is, you gays are just as bad as the homophobes you’re always complaining about.

That just isn’t the case. The worst thing that will happen to Phil Robertson is that he won’t get to appear on his reality show. He will not be physically assaulted for his views on gay people, the way that gay people might simply for being gay. The same goes for Alec Baldwin, no matter how sincerely he views himself as a victim. He may have lost his MSNBC series, but he won’t get brutally beaten while enduring an onslaught of gay slurs — “cocksucking fag,” perhaps.

For people who have encountered actual intolerance — in the form of schoolyard bullying, workplace discrimination, or physical violence — the perversion of these words is that much more repugnant. But the point Palin and Jindal are trying to make, however misguided, is one that comes up again and again: The “real” intolerance is in censoring people who have opinions that are not “politically correct.” Bigots should have a right to air their bigotry without consequences, because that is what this nation was founded on.

The truth is, “free speech” has never meant what A&E’s critics would have you believe. When you air your bigotry publicly, you are subject to repercussions. You have every right to rail on against the minorities you feel most victimized by — but don’t be surprised when you lose friends, respect, or your job.

And yet, there remains a concerted effort to turn the conversation in on itself. People like Palin and Jindal hope that they can distract from the truth with cries of “free speech” and “politically correct.” What really happened is that a reality show star made comments that were dangerous and shameful. His employers decided to suspend him. And two politicians attacked those employers, because in their minds, it’s more important to propagate a misunderstanding of the First Amendment than it is to engender a culture where LGBT citizens feel safe.

Stop hating Skyler White

31 Jul

WARNING: Vague spoilers through the most recent episode of Breaking Bad. Read at your own discretion.

Skyler is my favorite character on Breaking Bad. Seriously. This isn’t a new development: I’ve loved her from the beginning. But over the course of the past three seasons, she’s become the most sympathetic character. In my mind, she’s our point of identification, the sane person caught in the middle of Walt’s bullshit, trying to keep her head above water and protect her family. Skyler gets shit on the most and offends the least. She’s the victim in all of this.

These are my opinions, and I understand they’re contentious. You don’t have to love Skyler the way I do, of course, but hating her seems unjustified. Again, these things are subjective: I can’t help if there’s just something about Anna Gunn that rubs you the wrong way. But what has the character of Skyler really done to earn your hatred? How can you dismiss her as the show’s weakest link? (Especially when that position so clearly belongs to poor Walt Jr.)

Here is what bothers me about the Skyler hate: it’s the same misplaced hostility faced by countless TV wives in the past. And while you certainly can dislike a female character without being a misogynist, so much of the vitriol against Skyler uses the gendered language you might expect: She’s a bitch, she’s a cunt, she’s the shrew wife.

What it comes down to is that Skyler, the ol’ ball and chain, is a thorn in Walt’s side. She’s not submissive or even faithful. She questions his behavior and she challenges his plans. And somehow, that makes her a bitch.

Here’s what all of Skyler’s critics seem to forget — Walt is a fucking terrible person. Whatever noble causes he once had are gone. He’s a power-hungry egomaniac and a danger to those around him. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Walt as a character, but I can’t fathom siding with him. Meth aside, this is a man who let his friend’s girlfriend choke to death on her own vomit, who poisoned a child just to spur his plan into action. Hating Skyler for the way she responds to Walt is absurd: she’s reacting out of fear and a desire to protect her loved ones.

But she’s a pain in the ass to our main character, and that makes it easy to dismiss her as a “bitch.” We see this often in sitcoms: the obnoxious manchild of a leading man gets a free pass on being an imbecile, while his wife — the one who calls him on his bad behavior — is a nag. In some ways, Malcolm in the Middle is a good example of this, and not only because of the Bryan Cranston connection. It’s not quite the same in that Lois is admittedly a nutball (this being the heightened reality of a sitcom), but I still think she is unfairly maligned. Look at her husband and her asshole kids — is it really any wonder she spent so much of the series losing her shit?

Skyler isn’t without fault: she’s been put into a situation that has forced her to do some terrible things. Which is not to say she’s justified, but rather that her mistakes are a product of her circumstance. There was a time when I would say the same about Walt, but it’s clear he’s no longer doing this for anyone but himself. Skyler’s transition from ignorant wife to scheming accomplice is about protecting her son, her baby, and herself. She’s not mad with power or rolling around in piles of meth money. She’s simply the only one holding it all together.

I’ve posed this question on Twitter and on Facebook, and now I ask it here: Why do you hate Skyler? Of all the characters, she really does strike me as the most blameless. Whether or not she’s a saint, she’s about the furthest thing from a villain. And it’s silly for me to get so worked up, but so much of the response I’ve seen does tend to stem from this anti-feminist conception of a “good wife,” which Skyler isn’t. She’s a bitch because she’s difficult. I can’t accept that.

There’s no denying that, at her most confrontational, Skyler makes things harder for Walt — but can you really argue that he doesn’t deserve it?

Assorted pop culture bitching (5/15/12)

15 May

When I first started this blog, I intended it to be a mix of pop culture musings and the occasional serious business post about feelings. Somehow it became much more of the latter, which is likely because I do enough pop culture writing for actual publications, and because I no longer have a LiveJournal and this is what it sounds like when doves cry.

In the spirit of the former, though, I’m going to try to make “assorted pop culture bitching” a semi-regular feature here. Keep in mind I sometimes go a month or two without blogging. If I manage to churn out one of these posts a year, that probably qualifies as semi-regular.

This particular set of complaints is horror-themed. Boo, etc.

The Paranormal Activity series
I just finished watching Paranormal Activity 3, which was — like the previous installments — annoyingly frightening. Not frightening in the sense that I’m going to have to sleep with the lights on tonight (I always fall asleep to The Golden Girls, anyway), but frightening in that I jumped several times.

“Annoyingly” because these are cheap scares, and they are the same in every Paranormal Activity movie. These films are not without merit: the first was the closest we’ve come to Blair Witch Project since, uh, Blair Witch Project. And there’s something particularly effective about scenes of mundanity (people sleeping, chattering on about bullshit) punctuated with loud bangs and creepy shit happening.

But “effective” doesn’t mean “good.” Once the novelty wears off, we’re left with reiterations of the same concept, and that pisses me off. There was more creativity in the Saw series, which — while often uniquely terrible — at least gave us different deaths each go-around. I keep watching Paranormal Activity movies because I half-expect them to try something new. Will I ever learn?

Probably not. Look, I don’t mind sitting through 90 minutes of people sleeping and occasionally being thrown into walls once a year, but if you want to actually impress me, find something new to do with the found-footage horror genre. At this point, we’re basically over it, because we get how it works. We’ll jump, and then we’ll shrug it off. There is unique work to be done with first-person perspective. It’s just not happening in this series.

Zombie apocalypse guides
Today I got a press release about a new zombie apocalypse guide. I’m not going to link to it, because I refuse to encourage this behavior. This was (or should have been) a single-use idea. Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide is brilliant, because it follows the form of actual survival guides and gives it a fun, supernatural twist.

Treating the horror world with sincerity was a somewhat novel concept at the time, and Brooks’ execution is perfect. It’s hilarious, because you’re reading a how-to guide on an impossible situation, but it’s also a little bit scary — some tiny part of you can’t help thinking, “Wait, but what if…?” Brooks’ novel World War Z works in a similar fashion. I highly recommend both.

But seriously, fuck the knock-offs. We can stop talking about how to survive the zombie apocalypse now. There will never be a zombie apocalypse. I am not sure of most things, but I’m willing to bet on that. If I’m wrong — well, if I’m wrong I’ll be torn apart by the undead, which is at least as bad as hearing you say, “I told you so.” It’s just such an absurd concept to keep milking, and nothing anyone does will stop feeling derivative.

I guess part of me is also annoyed by the way these persistent guides remove the mystery from the supernatural. It’s fun to do every once in a while: tell me how to stop a werewolf, or the best way to ward off vampires. But when you treat this as an actual genre with new, increasingly mechanical installments, you dilute supernatural fiction as a whole. Find a way to make zombies scary again, or move on to mummies.

Horror on television
I would love to see a good horror TV series, but I recognize that’s probably impossible. There are a lot of limitations to the form — on a practical level, a smaller screen size makes it tougher to scare your audience. Also, most shows won’t kill off major characters, so there’s not the same sense of foreboding. And violence, while not essential to all horror, is restricted on non-cable networks.

Still, TV horror could be better. I loved the sequence in the season finale of The Vampire Diaries in which Alaric stalked Rebekah (just smile and nod, non-fans), because it felt like I was watching a slasher movie. On a smaller scale, sure, but the set-up, cinematography, and direction all worked together to give the scene a horror movie feel. More of that, please.

The X-Files used to do it pretty well. But Supernatural is the closest thing we have to The X-Files now, and aside from the fact the current season is awful, it’s just not scary. The pilot was to some extent, so why doesn’t the show try for that anymore? American Horror Story attempted it, but mostly ended up being really gross. I will give the show props for (SPOILER ALERT) killing off essentially every character in the first season. The stakes were high, at least.

One of my silly dreams that I don’t often admit is the creation of a horror anthology series, like Tales From the Crypt. (I’ve seen some episodes of Masters of Horror. Meh.) Perhaps horror doesn’t work episodically: colossal disappointment The River was largely done in by unfortunate pacing and commercial breaks. Anyway, if someone wants to finance Peitzman Presents or whatever, I promise I’ll at least try to creep you out.

The age of entitlement

23 Apr

Gawker turned off comments recently. I miss them. I mean, on the one hand, it’s nice to be able to write a blog post without being subjected to countless iterations of how awful I am. On the other hand, sometimes people say nice things, too. And I enjoy a spirited debate for the five seconds before it turns nasty and name-calling.

That’s not the point. What’s astounded me about Gawker’s brief foray into commentlessness (it’s a word — look it up) and the announcement of a new commenting system is the outrage. I suppose “astounded” isn’t the right word: every development on the internet is greeted with some level of horror, vitriol, and disgust. Certainly I understand that change is scary — I am 25, and I live with my parents (temporarily). But there’s something so gross to me about the way it’s articulated. It’s not, “I’m upset because a website I like is making a change I don’t agree with.” It’s, “How dare you” or “You had no right” or “Do you not care about my needs at all?”

I can’t speak for Gawker, but I can speak for myself. I feel the same way about these comments as I do when people proudly announce that I’m no longer funny on Twitter and they have to unfollow — what makes you think I give a shit?

You know how I respond to your indignation? With indignation of my own. We are absurdly privileged to have access to an infinite amount of free content on the internet, much of which is actually quite good. We don’t pay (or we pay minimally) for movies, music, news, criticism, original fiction, porn — and then we complain about it. Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s our right to do so. If I’m following a person on Twitter and he makes a joke I don’t like, surely I should let him know. Even though I’m just one of the people who follows him, and he didn’t write the joke for me, and I’m making the choice to include him in my feed.

Before you start prattling on about censorship, believe me that I’m all for everyone speaking their mind. Of course you have a right to complain about a free service. I’m just saying, I have the right to think that makes you an ungrateful tool. But that’s beside the point. What I’m annoyed by is the entitlement, the sense that you think you’ve earned a say, that you deserve one just by virtue of having internet access and a keyboard. Everyone has the right to speak, but your words may not have any effect. And that’s fine — that’s the way it always has been. Not all comments are created equal. Not all criticism is valid.

I’m not saying shut up. (Or I am, but if that’s the case, I’m telling myself to shut up, too. Not uncommon.) I’m saying take a step back and look at what you’re saying. Are you making a valid point, or are you just whining because a website isn’t catering to your specific demands? Again, I do it, too. I probably won’t stop doing it. It’s just something to be aware of, the next time you or I bitch about a Facebook redesign or a new login system on OKCupid or, yes, Gawker temporarily disabling comments. Complaining is fine, but acting like you are owed more than what you’re getting is obnoxious.

I’m going to take this in a different direction, and I hope you’ll pardon the shift. Just go with me on it, and if you think I’m an idiot, feel free to let me know! (You will.)

It’s the same sense of entitlement that has inspired much of the criticism behind HBO’s Girls, a sharp and hilarious new series that drives most creative twentysomethings a little crazy because, yes, this is what our lives are like, and damn it, Lena Dunham beat us to it. That’s not a criticism of the show: that’s a credit to the voice it has captured. Of course I relate to the English major writing a book of personal essays while trying to find a “real job” and navigate the sexual politics of 21st century dating. To quote the last generation: “duh.”

And while I’m reluctant to dismiss all criticism as jealousy — “You’re just jealous” is a useless response in most every scenario in which it’s used — I do think that many of the anti-Girls voices on the internet are simply people who wish they had written Girls. It doesn’t manifest in simple admissions of that, because this is the age of entitlement. Instead, it goes back to that same indignant question that’s asked when a website opts for a new design: “What gives you the right?”

It is fine to not like Girls. You probably like a lot of shows that I think are terrible. (Smash? Reallly?) But what bothers me is how much of that hatred seems derived from a sense of “unfairness.” The charges of nepotism are ludicrous: everyone in Hollywood has some sort of advantage. You know someone or you’re related to someone or you fucked someone or you’re just naturally more good looking than anyone else. There is no clear path, and more often than not, you don’t end up on TV just because you’re someone’s kid. If Girls were a bad show, then perhaps you could complain about nepotism. But it’s a good show that should be on the air, regardless of anyone’s parents.

Ask yourself this: are you mad at Lena Dunham’s success because you don’t think she deserves it? Or perhaps more to the point, do you think that you deserve it more than she does?

If I can tie this all together — and yes, that’s going to be a challenge — I’d say that the internet has placed all of us on what appears to be an even playing field. We all have a voice and a say and a direct line of communication to “the right people.” It looks that way, but that’s a false perception. Some of us are smarter and funnier and better than others — and I say that as a person who acknowledges that there are plenty of people smarter and funnier and better than I am. We succeed on the basis of our own merits, but also on luck and timing and, yes, who we know.

Regardless, we feel as though we deserve success. That same narcissism and privilege we see reflected in some of the characters on Girls is what drives rejection of the show. Read my blog. Watch my show. Let me be more famous than you.

And none of this is really a comment on Gawker (or its commenters) or Girls or even Gawker’s opinion on Girls. I’m just reflecting on the fact that now more than ever, everyone on the internet feels equally as important as everyone else, and that has caused a tremendous level of perpetual dissatisfaction. The world can’t revolve around all of us at once. And the ultimate irony, before someone else points it out, is that I’ve written a rambling, self-indulgent, 1,200-word post on this that I expect people to read.

Seriously, though, why should you care what I have to say? I’m just another blogger trying to shout above the crowd.

With fans like these

12 Nov

Hi, I’m a fan! I’m a writer and a critic, sure, but I’m always a fan. I have a good sense of humor about it, because yes, fandom is often ridiculous. But I try not to poke fun of it too much, because I’ve always been more on the fringes of fandom than an active participant.

That’s why I always feel a little awkward when TV series break the fourth wall and acknowledge the fans: it’s one thing to knowingly wink at your audience, and another to mock them ruthlessly. These people might be eccentric, but they’re the ones keeping your show alive. And while it’s easy to look down on them from your position as that awesome thing they admire, it’s more than a little bit shitty. Supernatural has done a great job at meta-humor, but the character of Becky Rosen (of course she’s Jewish) has always rubbed me the wrong way. And that was before the November 11 episode “Season 7, Time for a Wedding,” in which she drugged Sam, forced him to marry her, then held him captive once the spell wore of.

Now, bear with me, people who don’t watch Supernatural: I’m hoping to keep this general enough to interest those who aren’t under the Winchester brothers’ thrall. But to give a little background, Becky is Supernatural‘s fan-within-Supernatural. Long story short—the prophet Chuck chronicled Sam and Dean’s adventures in a series of books, creating a vocal online community of fans who argued over the better Winchester (Dean, obvs) and wrote fanfic, much of it Sam/Dean. (“They know we’re brothers, right?”) Fans of the Supernatural book series are basically fans of the TV show Supernatural, except they don’t know who Jared Padalecki is, and that’s a pity for them.

While I give the series credit for embracing its fans with such an unconventional story, Supernatural sure does love crapping all over them. The fans on the show reflect some fans of the show: they’re intense, deluded, often unable to distinguish fiction from reality. I’ve been to Comic-Con a few times, so yeah, I know these people exist. I also know that there are far more grounded fans, those who can appreciate (and yes, sometimes obsess) over the series without being completely fucking deranged. They don’t write love letters to the characters. They don’t spend 18 hours a day glued to fan forums. They don’t go weeks without showering. (If you’ve been to Comic-Con, you’ll note that some fans definitely do. These people are giving the rest of us a bad name.)

It’s easy to lump the unwashed masses together with the rest of the diehard fans, but it’s unfair. More importantly, it’s really mean. Who cares if socially awkward people find solace in a TV show about angels and demons and homoerotic subtext? If anything, Supernatural should be thanking its cult following for keeping it alive. This is a series that is neither critically adored nor popular in the ratings department. I enjoy it, but I watch more out of fannish dedication than out of any obligation as a critic. I’m pretty sure I could give up on The CW entirely and still be able to comment fairly on television by most critics’ standards. (Don’t worry, America’s Next Top Model. I would never do you like that.) By which I mean, screw the pretension that labels Mad Men and Breaking Bad the only shows worth watching, but know that it exists, and that the fans are what keep most genre shows going.

Back to Friday night’s episode of Supernatural. Becky, easily the most devoted of Supernatural fans, makes a deal with a demon for a love spell that will force Sam into marrying her. Never mind the awful implications (there is no actual rape, she mentions offhand, but it’s still pretty horrifying)—the suggestion is that there are fans like Becky who would kill (perhaps quite literally) to get their hands on the Winchester boys.

I know how over-the-top fandom can be. Don’t even get me started on those fans who reject Jared Padalecki’s and Jensen Ackles’ marriages to other people, because oh my God, they’re so in love with each other. But when you give the fans a point of identification in Becky, you’re implying that they are all like this—that we are all like this. Because fuck, I have never written a single page of Supernatural fanfic, but Becky is still the character I relate most to. Whether or not her actions were redeemed by episode’s end, “Season 7, Time for a Wedding!” was an overwhelmingly ugly portrayal of fandom. Becky is called “pathetic” and ugly. Despite being an adult woman, she’s reduced to the role of a little girl playing dress-up. And all because she had the audacity to connect with a piece of pop culture!

Maybe you don’t watch Supernatural, but there’s a good chance you’re a fan of something. And if you’re a fan of anything offbeat or under-the-radar or even remotely geeky, you know it’s not always easy. Sure, in this day and age, outing yourself as a Trekkie isn’t going to cost you much social clout, but you’re still going to have to deal with a lot of ignorant assholes and damaging stereotypes. I’m not saying Supernatural and series like it should stop having fun with fan culture, because there’s a lot of material there. But seriously guys, show your audience a little respect. I’m not trying to be a sourpuss. I love laughing at this show—I just hate feeling like I’m being laughed at.

Sometimes the TV is like a lover

6 Sep

“If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it.”

This seems like common sense to most, but whenever I hear it, I roll my eyes. (Or I think about rolling my eyes. I can’t always be bothered to make the effort.) That’s because it always comes as a comment on my TV reviews. No, I don’t particularly like Glee or True Blood or any number of other popular series that I continue to watch. Why should I write about them instead of about all the shows I do enjoy? And why am I writing reviews of these series when other, more loyal fans could probably provide a less hateful perspective?

It’s not just to piss people off, though I won’t deny there’s a pleasure in riling up the masses. In criticism, it’s important to get different points of view. If there weren’t any negative reviews, all reviews would be meaningless—you can heap praise on whatever you like, but if everyone likes everything, there’s really no point in talking about it, is there? “If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it” sounds sensible: it follows the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” line of thinking. But being a critic often means delving into entertainment that isn’t your first choice.

I was a TV fan before I was a TV critic, so I understand the passion with which livid commenters respond to my pieces. Do I think I should be fired for my takedown of Glee? No (I’ll admit I’m biased), but I can at least appreciate where the rage is coming from. We develop close relationships to the series we watch, and reading another person’s attack can feel very personal. I think there’s another dimension in a culture that has become hypersensitive to bullying, a legitimate problem we’ve turned into a meaningless buzz word. I have indeed been labeled a bully, because to some people, all criticism is damaging—pointing out a show’s faults is the same as picking on it. And if corporations are people, hey, maybe TV shows are, too.

I find this reaction ridiculous, and it bugs the shit out of me. But accusations of bullying aside, the anger over negative TV reviews speaks to the special relationship we have with “our stories.” It also reflects an unfortunate trend in TV journalism—the movement from analysis and response to “scoops” and “breaking news.” There are sites that break stories far more often than I do (which is never), but their reviews are so mild, I hesitate to call them that. It’s not that I reject all positive criticism—it’s more that these pieces are devoid of opinion entirely. They are fluff, designed to attract readers who know what they like and seek validation. Wasn’t last night’s True Blood amazing? Let’s OMG together.

The problem with “reviews” like these—well, there are several, but let’s narrow it down—is that they create an unrealistic standard by which legitimate TV journalism is judged. When one site blindly praises every episode of a series, another site’s complaints might come across as unfair or forced. It’s easy to dismiss the actual critic as a “hater,” another useless designation commenters love to throw around on the internet.

I guess what really bugs me is something I’ve mentioned before, this bizarre suggestion that the internet is a limited space. There is, in fact, infinite room for scathing reviews and fluff pieces, and everything in between. And yet, I still read comments that say “this is the kind of review that ruins television,” as though the mere utterance of a negative thought undermines someone else’s positivity. I assure you that my feelings about Glee have no bearing on its success—nor do my articles take up valuable space from those that would give it a weekly two thumbs up.

You know what seems common sense to me? “Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.” I can criticize your show, and yes, you can criticize my review! The key is not denying anyone the right to criticize. It’s hard when the focus of the criticism is something near and dear to you. Because yes, when I hear people shit on a series I love, it feels a little like someone attacking a lover. (Particularly if they’re talking about Breaking Bad, featuring my boyfriend Jesse Pinkman.) So while I understand the source of your anger at my reviews, I resent the implication that I am somehow “speaking out of turn.”

I’d end this post with a pithy, “If you don’t like my blog, don’t read it,” but I don’t even want to joke about you not reading my blog.

Fresh out the box—stop, look, and watch

27 Jul

I’ve been watching a lot of ’90s Nickelodeon shows on TeenNick. I don’t know if I can adequately articulate the joy of coming home at 11 and turning on the TV to find All That and Kenan & Kel and Clarissa Explains It All and Doug—these are the shows I grew up on, and while they don’t all hold up as well as I’d hoped they would, I still get a kick out of watching them.

“Are 18- to 34-year-olds too young to be nostalgic?” Brian Stelter asks at the beginning of his New York Times piece. I think this is a silly question, and I’ll expand on that in a bit. He goes on to explain, “TeenNick, part of the Nickelodeon family of cable channels for children, will start rebroadcasting old series from the 1990s that are considered classics by young adults. That’s right: classics from the 1990s.” What Stelter is saying, essentially, is that we’re ridiculous. And that is only partially true. Because while the level to which we elevate shows like Angry Beavers is perhaps a bit extreme, “20 years ago” nostalgia isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

Happy Days: a ’70s show about the ’50s. The Wonder Years: an ’80s show (or, OK, ’90s, but it began in the ’80s) about the ’60s. That ’70s Show: a ’90s show about the ’70s. Take that, Brian Stelter! Seriously, though, why the negative reaction to nostalgia for my childhood? I don’t know if you’ve heard, but people my age consume a whole lot of media. And the shows we’re nostalgic for? Every goddamn program Nickelodeon aired in the ’90s. Yes, even Space Cases.

When you hear “nostalgia,” however, it conjures a very particular image. You think getting a chocolate phosphate at the soda fountain. You think necking at the drive-in. If you’re really boring, you think Norman Rockwell paintings. But “nostalgia” simply means a longing for the past—any past. I think we’ve singled out the ’50s because they’re an easier time to idealize. (I was -31 when Rebel Without a Cause came out. Far too young for Sal Mineo, alas.) The ’90s are a little harder to place on a pedestal: I suppose it does seem strange to feel nostalgic for a time when we were coming up with exciting new piercing locations.

But TV is a different animal entirely, and nostalgia for ’90s television is completely legitimate. It’s the reason why a show like ABC Family’s Melissa & Joey has flourished—we are tuning in to remember TV of the past. (Me, I’d rather watch Clarissa.) Maybe I watched too much TV in the ’90s. Maybe we all did. I have fond memories of Nickelodeon all the same, particularly the Saturday night block known as Snick: Clarissa, Roundhouse, Ren & Stimpy, Are You Afraid of the Dark. Confession: I was too scared to watch Are You Afraid of the Dark. But the others!

Is it really so strange that I would want to revisit that time in my life? I’m sure being 10-years-old sucked for a lot of reasons, namely school instilling in me the false belief that math matters, but there was a comfort to Nickelodeon programming I haven’t been able to find since. And given the success of TeenNick’s ’90s programming, I’m not the only one. Twitter’s nightly trending topics have been dominated by these series—because, hey, we’re also the ones on Twitter!

I also resent Stelter’s condescending insinuation that ’90s TV shows can’t be “classics.” Obviously “classic” has its own connotation, but does that mean the series and movies I grew up with can never be considered as such? Did I just miss the boat on experiencing classics firsthand? (Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, three years before I was born.) That just seems unfair. On the other hand, every generation is going to have its own conception of what it means to be a “classic.” If I choose to call Clueless a classic—which, duh, it is—that’s my prerogative. (If I associate “my prerogative” with Britney Spears instead of Bobby Brown, that’s my prerogative, too. I’m not proud.)

Anyway, feel free to remind me of this in 20 years when someone calls Glee a classic and my blood begins to boil. It’s hard to imagine the 2010s will ever be a source of nostalgia, but I’ve no doubt it will happen. In the meantime, I’ll take comfort in the warm embrace of ’90s Nick: “Whenever my life gets me so down, I know I can go down to where the music and the fun never ends…”

A bit of the old ultraviolence

18 Jul

I devoured The Walking Dead in two days. (Get it? Because it’s a show about zombies.) To be fair, the first season is only six episodes—and I’ve got the added incentive of catching up before Comic-Con. See also: my seemingly endless marathon of The Vampire Diaries. Having read the Walking Dead comics, I mostly knew what to expect. But holy crap, no one told me the series was going to be so violent.

Perhaps that sounds naïve: it’s a show about the zombie apocalypse. Exactly what did I expect? Still, it’s jarring to see so much blood and gore on television. And this is coming from someone who is pretty damn desensitized. (I own The Devil’s Rejects and The Human Centipede on Blu-ray. I’m not bragging.) What I mean is, I have no problem with violence, and I actually thought The Walking Dead handled it really well. In fact, the show offers some of the most stunning gore I have seen. Violence can be beautiful—if you don’t believe me, check out those glistening arcs of zombie blood when the walkers get shot in the head.

That having been said, I appreciate the affect violence can have on a person. I’m certainly not going to revert back to the very ’90s argument that media violence causes violent behavior in young people—it’s stupid and reductive and largely disproven. But as someone who takes in a lot of gloriously violent entertainment, I understand that it can have some sort of effect on one’s psyche. Desensitization. Nightmares. Boredom with movies that don’t contain viscera. And none of this is to say that we should censor our shows, but to point out that yes, I at least get where the argument to do so is coming from. But I say that only to draw attention to our ridiculous double standards. A zombie hacked into pieces? No problem. The glimpse of a woman’s nipple? WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

The Walking Dead is the best example in recent memory of the incredible divide between our cultural perception of violence vs. sex and language. We embrace blood—even on networks that won’t allow the mere utterance of “shit,” we can see a character get both of his eyes gouged out. (The Vampire Diaries. Don’t worry, they grew back.) In a show that can’t reveal too much bare flesh, a character’s fingernail is ripped off. (Supernatural. It was a Christmas-themed episode, if you can believe that.) These moments of horror are what keep me up at night. So why do they get a free pass while sex and dirty words are kept under wraps?

There are plenty of actual reasons why we’re so squeamish about boobies and—oh, God, I can barely even say it—penises. And when it comes to language, naughty swears are one of the few things I think kids really do copy. (I don’t necessarily think that’s a problem, but we’ll save that for another blog post.) But instead of focusing on where these social mores come from, let’s chat a bit about changing them. Rest assured, nervous parents, I have no real control over the FCC.

Teenagers have sex, whether or not they see bare breasts on TV. They use a slew of four-letter words you’d never hear on ABC Family. But no matter how much torture porn you shove down their throats, teenagers (for the most part) don’t eviscerate their friends and family. If they do, there’s probably something else going on. What exactly are we shielding young people from, then? Whatever they can’t find on TV, they figure out on their own. Watching a cop show in which all the gritty characters say “friggin'” takes you out of the moment—and it’s not like we don’t know what they’d be saying in real life.

More nudity and cursing on TV! It’s a weird crusade, and I don’t think it’s exactly the most important cause I’ve taken on. But I’m interested in the implications of a media culture that exalts violence while denigrating sex and “bad” language. It’s not a matter of condoning violence—no one would argue that a series like The Walking Dead is suggesting we should get our bite on. Why the other restrictions, though? I’m not saying we should have porn on every channel (well, I’m not not saying it…), but what about some equal representation? If we’re going to show relentless brutality, is a little more explicit sexuality going to hurt? It’s ludicrous that The Walking Dead can show a squirming torso leaving a trail of slime behind it while Mad Men has to include a content warning before an episode featuring ONE tasteful nude photo.

OK, our censorship is arbitrary. But does it really matter? I think so. I look at a series like Twilight, in which vampires and werewolves do some serious damage, but which greatly suppresses sexuality. This is obviously an extreme example: Twilight is a parable of sexual repression. It is, however, a very popular one, and in the context of this cultural disparity, what does it teach young people? One baser urge is fodder for cheap thrills, while the other should be kept hidden at all costs. And let’s be real, sex and violence are natural urges—our job is to keep them in check as we see fit. So why, in entertainment, can’t we treat them the same? And hey, if someone drops the occasional F-bomb, that’s OK, too.

Nudity on TV won’t turn us all into sex-crazed perverts—no moreso than we already are. I’m as sure of that as I am that The Walking Dead‘s jaw-dropping violence won’t turn us into zombies.

Crossposted to Huffington Post Culture here.