Pop Culture Love

I’ve been thinking about how shows aren’t just deep immersive experiences in their own right, they’re also fuel for the thick conversation of friendship. TV sociality: what’s behind it? Why? When I see a good show, I find I instantly want to re-watch it WITH someone. Watching alone is a thin, unrewarding experience. It’s nothing compared to the exquisite pleasure of re-watching it through someone else’s eyes. The double spectacle, it enthralls. You see them see it for the first time. And then you talk. You saw it that way? How? You walk your friend through the steps of why you saw it the way you did. Then she does the same for you, and so the two of you you walk back and forth through the show together as if it were a park, and you British and observant and commenting on the passersby. This is what really pleases, this small rehearsal of interpretations, this comparison of codes. Shows become a game and an occasion to reveal your interpretive apparatus to each other. Here is how I see the world! you say to your friend, and here is how I see art! And here is the exact distance I like between the real world and art! Here is what makes me laugh, and here is why! AND YOU? What do you think?

The flip side obtains too: never happier than when I get to watch someone watch something I’ve already seen, I’m briefly heartbroken when they don’t like it.

Ironically, I’m exactly the sort of person who doesn’t like things when they’re introduced in this particular way. It’s karma that I get my heart broken by people not loving the things I watch them watching, since I’ve spent a lifetime being an accidental Debbie Downer raining on people’s televisual loves.

It’s not annoyance, though I know plenty of people I’ve annoyed by talking up a movie too much, thereby jump-starting their assembly of reactionary hate-bricks. Annoyance with hype is probably a part of my resistance, but the bigger part is severe performance anxiety. For all that I love watching people watch shows I like, I’m horrible at being watched watching. I get anxious. I’m instantly defensive. I spend the entire time much too aware that I’m supposed to be reacting—what am I missing? Which reaction am I supposed to have and which one am I actually having and what, precisely, is the difference between the two? My brain shuts down. I don’t understand what’s going on. I sort of panic.

I’m not aware of any of this—the flurry is all just under the surface. But panicking, however unconscious it might be, is unpleasant, and I suspect the unpleasantness of feeling panicky has a lot to do with my thinking I don’t like the show when I do (or will). This happened when Danielle (Carla Fran) showed me Peep Show for the first time, and when Sandi showed me That Mitchell and Webb Look, and when Rachel showed me A Bit of Fry and Laurie. These people are all cooler than me, and so I watched, uncomprehending, suspicious of their cool, failing to trust the experience.

This is now way to live. All three of these people have incredible taste, and to say I warmed to all three shows is a massive understatement. I’ve since watched all these shows eighty times if I’ve watched them once, and that’s a conservative estimate. Yet this strain of reactionary ungraciousness remains. How do I make it stop?

That I’ve been lucky to have a few friends who put up with this insufferable quality in no way excuses the fact that I can’t seem to short-circuit it. Danielle introduced me to a myriad of wonders including the BBC Pride and Prejudice, BBC’s The Office, My So-Called Life, Green Wing, Peep Show, and Nighty-Night. Rachel introduced me to Gilmore Girls. Jane lent me Arrested Development. Kia introduced me to Once. Gina showed me Firefly, and she and Irene have been trying to get me to watch The Good Wife.

I have not yet watched The Good Wife. I am disinclined to watch The Good Wife. WHY, in light of all the aforementioned gifts I’ve had at the hands of all these great people, all things I came to love despite my original resistance, WON’T I WATCH The Good Wife?

There’s a reason, and it isn’t a good one.

It’s for the same reason I almost never read another book by an author whose book I particularly loved. It’s an anxiety about friendship. What if it fails to be fed by this latest show? What if it turns out the deep resonance between us was a one-off? What if what I see as high art you see as schmaltzy, cheesy, or otherwise bad? What if you think James Franco is brilliant? What if our friendship was founded on a misunderstanding? What if now we see things in different ways?

These things are never quite true, but terror lives in the possibility that they might be. Friendship love is like romantic love; the hypotheticals are where things really fall apart. Drop them instead. Dig in: DO YOU LIKE JAMES FRANCO? TELL ME ABOUT THIS LIKE! Does Daniel Desario remind you of Jordan Catalano? Or of your high-school boyfriend? Or was 127 Hours amazing? Where is his brilliance? His prose? His acting? His multiple graduate programs? What of his do you admire?

The real question is obvious: where do our perspectives reconnect? Whatever you do, and whatever I do, may we never let our likes and dislikes stand as final pronouncements. Dismissive judgment is condescension is scorn is death. “It’s just not my thing” is a refusal of friendship. Get back to first principles. If I dislike James Franco and you don’t, it’s not because I am high-brow while your brows rest mawkishly beneath your nose. I dislike him because he is greasy, and because I think he is a poor writer who wrote that shadows are shadow-like, and because I find teaching a class on yourself hubristic, and hubris troubles me since I suspect it too often gets mistaken for talent. (Particularly when men have it and perform a Rebel Without A Cause sort of masculinity that somehow makes this regrettable comportment acceptable.) His eyelids droop and make him look sleepy, and it’s rude to look above it all and sleepy all the time. (Yes: rude! Behold the schoolmarm within!) But there’s more: If a lack of effort is unpraiseworthy, and I think it is, then an effortful display of a lack of effort is contemptible. He made Anne Hathaway work harder at an awards show than any human being should ever have to emotionally work. It wasn’t just wasteful, it was mean. He did that because he thought it was the cool thing to do, and coolness drags people toward ethical emptiness. (I just said that as an absolute, but of course what I really mean is that I was never cool growing up, so cool is wrapped up with rejection, and all the self-righteous justifications rejection brings.)

I know next to nothing about James Franco, but I think he’s empty. Above are my reasons, and they aren’t so much profound as frankly (ha!) autobiographical. What matters more than my objective assessment of James Franco (I mean really, who cares?) is the subjectivity behind it. What’s yours? Can our subjectivities hang out?

None of that conversation can happen till I shake myself loose of my bad habits. I’m going to watch The Good Wife.

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