Stop Reading the Cosmo Snapchat

Hi, I’m Maggie. I don’t wear make-up , have had boy-short hair for much of the past 3 years, and have zero interest in dating men. Why did I read the Cosmo Snapchat every single day?

I read it all. The articles about what men think about blow-jobs,  about whether bra inserts work as well as a beauty blender, about whatever new product Kylie has come out with. If there are 10 little articles each day, I read the whole text of 8 of them and a heavy scan of the other two.

I could have been reading Octavia Butler. I could have been studying for the Jeopardy! test. I could have been meditating, flossing, petting my dog, or even sleeping for god’s sake. What a waste of time.

In the year since I’ve had an iPhone, I’m becoming disgusted with the amount of time I spend scrolling through articles I don’t care about. Sometimes it’s through Snapchat Discover, sometimes I just click on links through Twitter and scan all the way to the bottom before I realize I don’t care at all. It extends to TV watching as well – how many times have I plopped down on the couch on a Thursday night and sat through whatever Steve Harvey hosted show or NCIS spin-off was playing just because I was already sitting there and it was already on?

It seems silly to have to fight this instinct – reading what I want to read, watching what I want to watch, doing what I want to do, those are things that are supposed to be easy, instinctive even. Yet somehow inertia is so strong, habits are so well developed, that I have fallen into these routines that I do not enjoy.

Even though I have long since stopped going to church, Lent still seems like a time to better oneself. My Lenten goal this year seems self-serving and trivial, but it’s actually been a little difficult: I will not turn on the TV unless I know what I want to watch, and I will not read the Cosmo Snapchat.

The TV goal has been more fruitful. Instead of scrolling through Twitter while Modern Family re-runs play in the background on a Saturday afternoon, I’ve been watching The Great British Bake-Off with my mom. Yes, I am replacing TV with more TV, but this is better. This is debating whether we will ever try to make baguettes at home and rooting for Nadiya and Tamal. This is googling the American word for creme pat and making fun of Paul Hollywood. This is purposeful and meaningful (well, as meaningful as a bunch of innuendos about muffins can be).

Snapchat has been a little more difficult. While I technically have stopped reading the Cosmo Discover page, I have instead substituted in Refinery29, which is not much better, now matter how their brand pretends it is. I have tried to pass on articles that do not matter to me, habits are habits and they do stick.

I’m trying to embrace this more broadly, especially when it comes to media. Don’t listen to a song if silence would be better, don’t push to finish a book you have completely lost interest in. Instead I’ll use that energy to do the things I like, or the things that at least have a benefit to me. If I’m not gonna enjoy it, I should at least benefit from it, right?

So farewell, Cosmo Snapchat. Farewell, Vice Snapchat. Farewell, Dancing with the Stars and the local nightly news. I’ve got better things to do.

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blackish Goes to Disney World

I love ABC’s family comedies. I have been waiting all summer for them to return, eagerly watching reruns of The Goldbergs and Modern Family in the meantime. So you can imagine my excitement on Wednesday when 8 o’clock rolled around and my favorite shows returned to my life.

The Goldbergs was a great homage to The Breakfast Club and Speechless looks like it has potential. Even Modern Family, which I often find myself tiring of, showed a great 22 minutes of comedy. blackish is one of my favorites, though, and I was ready to see what they had up their sleeves.

What they had up their sleeves was a half-hour Disney World infomercial. Read More

Better Birthdays and Other Goals for Being 22

I have been 22 for 2 months now and time feels like an illusion. While we’ve all watched too many Youtube videos and read too many Refinery29 articles about what it means to be in my early 20s out of college, I’m still thinking about ways to improve my own early 20s life.  This year, I’m trying to be a better friend, be a little calmer, and spend time on things I care about. Here are 3 ways I’m working towards that.

1 . Be better about birthdays

I never really cared that much about my birthday, satisfied with eating a meal I liked at home with my family. My friend group for most of my life was not good about remembering, so it was always very low-key.

In high school, a group of friends that I knew went all out for birthdays. Instagram collages, carefully selected gifts, cupcakes at school, the whole shebang. I always really admired this, all the effort they took to make their friend feel special. Recenty,  I’ve been really touched by people who took the time out to text me on my birthday, rather than relying on that Facebook reminder. Waking up to those messages on my phone made me feel special and valued.

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Thank You For Voting for Contestant 3: A Love Letter to American Idol

americanidollogo

I wish I could say that I was with American Idol from the beginning, but I really started watching Season 4. I was ten years old and watching real network TV for the first time, a big step up from my decade of PBS Kids. I watched every episode that season, from the first auditions to Carrie Underwood’s finale victory. The first album that I ever owned myself was from American Idol, an album of the top ten each singing a song they had performed on the show (I don’t think they even make those anymore, since individual songs are more easily released on iTunes). The finale aired the week before my eleventh birthday and that album was the present I was most excited about.

In early middle school our bus driver listened to morning radio talk shows on the way to school and on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings we all listened to the American Idol predictions and recaps, yelling at each other to be quiet so we could hear the WXLO discussion over the sound of the bus motor. We compared how many times we were allowed to vote over the phone before our parents sent us to bed, whether we were allowed to stay up until ten o’clock to watch the entire finale. Was our hatred of Katharine McPhee was reason enough to let the mediocre Taylor Hicks win? Was Elliott Yamin going to have a career? I don’t even remember those kids’ names, but I do know what they were doing every Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 o’clock.

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Netflix and I Have Drifted Apart

It was a slow process.

I watched Season 3 of Orange Is The New Black as a force of habit, really. I wanted to keep up with what everyone was talking about and figure out how the gifsets I saw on Tumblr fit into the story line. Then I got into Bojack Horseman, watching it after work towards the end of a sad summer, feeling smug that I got in just before my friend’s at school started talking about. And then…

The Internet in my room at school was terrible. Our apartment had two other PCs so I couldn’t blame it on my dad’s long standing avoidance of Macs. My two roommates had no trouble in their rooms or the kitchen, but my busted laptop was hooked up to a monitor and it seemed like a deadzone surrounded my desk. Tumblr would load unbearably slowly, I would click play on a Youtube video and then brush my teeth while I waited for it to buffer, Googledocs was even worse. Netflix disagreed with the Wifi situation most of all, refusing to show a single frame of video no matter how long I waited.

This was the beginning of the end for Netflix and me.

I loved Netflix. I spent a week of my junior year of high school watching all that was available of The Office and I earnestly credit it with saving my life. I remember fanatically updating the queue when everything was still DVDs in the mail, making sure that the next season of my sitcom arrived before my dad’s hastily selected action movie. Netflix got me through the empty afternoons of my freshman year of college and I would listen to episodes of 30 Rock and Parks and Rec while putting in my hours for a data-entry job. We were tight, Netflix and I. I was never a person who let days fly by as the auto-play sucked me, and I never got into House of Cards or the thousands of bad movies. But Netflix was there for me when I needed it.

My Internet situation has thankfully stabilized and we have an old Wii hooked up to a television so we can watch Netflix on the big screen. Except I don’t, really. There were the few days here and there where I needed the soothing sounds of House Hunters after a too-tense episode of Elementary. Detectorists gave me panic attacks, the shows my dad watches at night are too violent, and watching Love was ruined by my dad’s cries of “this is so awkward!”. I would rather watch Youtube during the day (shorter videos! more variety! creators I have built a relationship with over years!) and then when primetime rolls around I’m on the couch with the network shows right when they air.

Now when my dad turns the Wii on (I know, we’re very 2007) I get up and leave. The process of selecting a new show or movie is too much, especially in a group. My dad likes to fall asleep watching shows on an iPad, but the bluelight keeps me awake. Binge-watching tests my attention span and I can rarely even commit to a 44 minute show. So I’ve stopped.

Maybe I’ll go back to watch a super-popular show that ~everyone’s talking about~. Or return to an old favorite during a time of crisis. But for now, no. Thanks for the good times, Netflix. I’m sorry to have left in this time of tremendous original programming, but we’ve simply drifted apart.

The Bachelor Is About Women

At the start of some season finales, the host Chris Harrison and the bachelor will surprise Bachelor viewing parties. Accompanied by cameras, they knock on the doors of nice little suburban houses and surprise the groups of women who are inside getting ready to watch a new episode. While I sometimes can’t quite believe how excited they are to meet Chris Harrison (I frequently want to wipe that stupid smirk off his face), those fun teaser clips remind me that this show is about women.

The women are what make this show popular. Yeah yeah Ben Higgins is pleasant to look at, but his personality, in the words of one of my Bachelor-loving friends, is milquetoast. The personalities and journeys of the women on the show are the reason that women across America tune in every Monday. Watching the finale last night, we care way more about the feelings and lives of JoJo and Lauren than we do about Ben (especially after he made some seriously stupid decisions).

The classic catchphrase of the woman dubbed the villain of the season is “I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to find love.” While this attitude highlights the competitive nature of the show, the odds are clearly stacked the other way. The friendships that are created between the women on the show are boldly displayed across the Internet and last much longer than the engagement that concludes the season. I love seeing these women retweet each other and post pictures on Instagram of when they get to hang out in real life; Carly was even Jade’s bridesmaid. They’re just like the friends I watch the show with. And after all, they just spent up to six weeks locked in a house together; making friends with your roommates in an emotionally tense and vulnerable time seems like a great and not unexpected outcome. Yes, it’s a competition, but the opportunity for female friendship is much greater than the opportunity for the prize of romantic love.

The Internet was thrilled to hear that JoJo would be the next Bachelorette. It’s a chance for redemption after she was so rudely dumped by Ben at the end of this season and besides, we really liked her all season. But The Bachelorette is much less popular as a show and many  Bachelor viewers will not stick around for JoJo’s next shot at love. This is partly because it airs in the summer, that time when TV-watching is much lower. And it is partly because the format still feels a little weird, this men competing for women. That weirdness particularly manifests at the end of the season when a proposal is supposed to happen: the final two men usually each bring a ring to the rose ceremony. If she’s not quick and clear enough, a man on one knee will then get rejected. This doesn’t make sense – she’s running the show, she should be the one proposing! This uncomfortable dance highlights how you can’t just flip the genders on the show in the name of equality, sexist norms are still at play.

But I think that a larger reason that The Bachelorette is much less popular is that it’s mostly about men. And the men are very boring. The sisterhood of The Bachelor does not comfortably switch into brotherhood on The Bachelorette. The conversations that the men have in the mansion feel more stilted and less intimate; you find yourself rooting for a guy simply because he seems nice enough and has a mildly pleasant face. (This feeling is probably exacerbated by my being gay – perhaps straight women feel more interested in the male contestants).  This is not compelling television – this is why ABC has introduced more gimmicks, especially last season with two Bachelorettes at the start and the return of a villain from a previous season. The female fan-base does want to watch Desiree and Andi and Kaitlyn take charge and be in control of their destiny and send those lousy jerks home as they call all the producer-approved shots. But with just one woman to root for as she’s faced with a sea of beige boring beta men, it’s not any surprise that women in living rooms everywhere tune out.

Women want to see themselves (and root for themselves) on TV.

Yes, this is a horrible premise for a television show. But I don’t think we need more feminist critiques of how sexist it is to make twenty five women compete for the love and attention of one man. Everyone knows that the premise of the show is sexist. I refuse to believe that the average viewer thinks this is real or natural (my friends say I have too much faith in the average viewer). Yes, send me more articles about how The Bachelor interacts with race, and how messed up it was that those two guys on The Bachelorette pretended to fall in love. I want to here about the potential and success of queer Bachelor look-a-likes on other channels and how soon we might see that on ABC. (Also, if you want to watch a more equal but still heteronormative dating competition, Bachelor in Paradise is fantastic).

But this TV show features women more prominently than any other network television show. And groups of female friends across the country will sit in their living rooms and dorm rooms together, see these female friendships and journeys form on TV, and appreciate that while the premise revolves around one dopey guy, this is a show about women.

 

 

 

How I Watch The Bachelor

America’s guilty pleasure concluded another season last night with a three-hour extravaganza of love and tears: two hours of the finale where the winner was revealed and then one hour of After The Final Rose where the rejected gets one final chance  at an explanation. I, along with millions of others, watched it all.

I started seriously watching The Bachelor last year during Chris Soules’ season, but I had caught a few episodes here and there before and definitely joined in on the Juan Pablo hate. The show takes up a lot of time on the ABC Monday night schedule so if you’re channel surfing around the networks it’s hard to miss. In the two years of watching I’ve learned a lot about the way that the show is made and marketed and how other people watch it.

Last year, I started a Bachelor-routine with some friends at school. Several of us had class during the Monday night airtime, so we all pledged not to watch or read spoilers and would save the episode to watch on  Thursday as an early-weekend treat. Five or six of us would spend two hours crammed into a dorm room watching the show on a precariously perched Macbook. I loved watching it with this group of girls. A couple people were film majors and talked a lot about editing and the role of producers. Copious feminist commentary filled the commercial breaks. It was nice to relax with some silly enticing addictive TV once a week.

This year an early graduation and a few study-abroads have separated the crew, so I spent this season watching with my mom while dramatically texting and Snapchatting my friends. I also became entrenched in Bachelor live-Tweet culture. I mostly follow members of the Bachelor family: my favorite contestants from previous seasons like Andi Dorfman, Sharleen Joynt and Becca Tilley. The contestants from this season also often live-tweet the show as they watch back their whole experience, sharing where they bought their outfits and what they were really feeling in the moment. The next-day is recap time – bloggers across the Internet post their predictions and analysis.

Sharleen Joynt posts recaps on her blog every week and often focuses on editing. She focuses a lot on how the different characters are created, particularly who is dubbed a villain. This season, Leah became a villain for about twenty minutes as she tried to take down Lauren B by talking to Ben about how Lauren acted differently around the girls. This tiny little plot, as Sharleen talks about beautifully, had no basis and was here and gone in a minute. It didn’t make any sense. The characterization of Olivia was much more interesting; she was portrayed and edited as a condescending mean person when in reality she might just have been an introvert who didn’t click with the other girls (though the Teen Mom comments were definitely out of line). Sharleen has a large audience because of her dramatic exit from Juan Pablo’s season and because of her detailed explanations of how things work filming. She has spawned many other bloggers who are talking about the show in so many ways: how the show has changed with the growth of social media, how race is a factor in what contestants stay, how girl-on-girl misogyny manifests itself each season.

The director of The Bachelor is an alumnus of my university and last year he came to speak at homecoming. He talked a lot about how much footage is taken, how late the nights are, how the alcohol keeps flowing. He’s the one responsible for helping create the ‘story’ of a  season, especially with regards to the visuals. Listening to him speak made me pay much more attention to the production elements of the show. Are the in-the-moment talking head clips filmed outside or inside? Can we tell how far into the evening it was filmed? What questions might they have asked her? Is the camera-man right up in her face while she talked about her divorce? At this panel discussion, there were many questions about how the show would evolve to keep up with the times, when we could expect to see a POC Bachelor or Bachelorette, when we would see an LGBT season. This keeps me thinking about how the show maneuvers each season to set itself up for these possible shifts and evolutions.

This is how I watch The Bachelor. And I want to think that this is how other people watch The Bachelor, too. One of my friends says that I have too much faith in the average viewer, that most other people really are sucked in to the manufactured romance without thinking critically. But the communities I’ve engaged with around this show say differently. The community, both online and in real life, that is built around this show is strong and passionate and prepared to analyze every clip and voice-over. We know that this show is silly and contrived (and sexist and hetero-normative and often racist) but apparently it is not going away any time soon. These questions and critiques are what watching The Bachelor is all about. Now excuse me, I have to go read some more recaps.

 


 

Apparently I have a lot to say about this topic, so tomorrow I’ll be talking some more about The Bachelor and its relationship to women, both fans and contestants.

 

 

I Love TV

Last week, I was talking to someone about how I could make the routines of my day more invigorating and more productive. In my unending quest to improve my life in arbitrary ways, I often find myself forcing new hobbies into my life. I should try yoga before bed, and maybe jog before I shower in the morning, and commit an hour a day at least to practicing piano and ukulele, join a hiking club, start knitting again, take up quilting, commit to writing everyday. I have been incorporating these activities into my days and weeks with various success over the years. There was the weekly knitting club at the first college, the yoga date with a group of girls for a semester, the biweekly morning jog/walk with a new friend. Here we are on day 14 of one of my more recent endeavors, this blog.

“I just want you to have more happy things in your life,” she said.

This surprised me. When I think about my day, yeah there is time spent beating myself up for not being more productive. Periods of self-doubt, boredom, frustration. But the overall tone of my day, most days, is not one of sadness. What am I doing all day?

Well, every night I watch TV for two hours…

I watch TV in the traditional way. My family has a weird kind of cable, where we get the networks and then a variety of channels: Univision, public access, CSPAN and CSPAN2, and a lot of syndicated re-runs. So while endless HGTV marathons call to the deepest parts of my soul, my cheap budget means I mostly watch network prime-time TV. Every night.

My love right now is focused on sitcoms. I feel so much more efficient having watched four shows in two hours rather than two, I love not having to have watched the previous week. I love the just-right amount of investment required. I love The Real O’Neals and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The Goldbergs grows on me more every week and my dad and I have a Tuesday night tradition of arguing about whether The Grinder is kidding or not.

At ten o’clock inertia keeps us on the couch and suddenly I have watched entire seasons of Dick Wolf’s newest empire: Chicago Fire, Med, and PD. Somehow I still know none of the characters’ names but have become very invested in the career of the female detective, though I am increasingly aware that this is very effective police propaganda packaged as a predictable procedural.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover my addiction to The Bachelor.

I love TV. This isn’t a passive activity turning me into a zombie like parents used to worry about. I look forward to my shows every week; I’m excited about the premiere of new sitcoms and mourn the death of dramas I don’t even watch. I love knowing what new shows are debuting on channels we don’t get. I love watching the cast livetweet episodes. I love knowing that thousands of people are also watching it right now with me. I love eating dessert on the commercial breaks and trying to remember actor’s names with my dad.

What I hate is feeling ashamed of my love of TV. I watch it every night, I occasionally have rearranged plans so that I can watch a show. It is not the only thing I like, but it is something that is regularly part of my day and something I can count on (except when news and football intervene).  But somehow I don’t feel comfortable telling people “oh yeah, I watch a lot of procedurals and sitcoms, it makes me really happy”. Why should this part of my routine be less valid as a source of happiness than a regular yoga practice or playing an instrument?

I love TV, I watch it live everyday, it is important to me. I’m still probably going to try to get some downward dog into my life as well, but not if it conflicts with Fresh Off The Boat.

 


 

Tune in later this week to hear about how I watch  The Bachelor and why I stopped watching Netflix!

 

Being Gay, Irish Catholic, and Watching The Real O’Neals

My family is very dedicated to ABC sitcoms. Wednesday night is a very important night of TV, when ABC shows four family sitcoms: The Middle, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, and black-ish. Last week a new show was thrown into the mix, with two episodes before and after Modern Family (sadly replacing our two favorites). The Real O’Neals, after their two episode debut week, returned this week to its to-be-regular spot on Tuesdays after Fresh Off The Boat.

I’m very excited about The Real O’Neals. The incessant promos before it’s premiere got a little old (“wait you mean this show hasn’t even started yet?” -dad) but I didn’t care. I’m in love.

The premise, as the promos have no doubt informed the whole world, is an Irish-Catholic family with some problems. As is revealed in the premiere, the parents are getting divorced, the older son has an eating disorder, the daughter is a thief, and the younger son is gay. This is combined with lots of guilt, shame, and judgement to produce a delightful family comedy!

Like Kenny O’Neal (why is his name Kenny), I grew up gay and Irish-Catholic. Now, my mother is not the judgmental hell-fire reputation-preserving mother portrayed by Martha Plimpton and my siblings and I did not go to Catholic school. When I came out to my family, it was not an open conversation where we were all clued in together. It was whispered a few times over six years and never openly talked about. I felt like Kenny in the first episode, when he comes downstairs the next day and says “Aren’t we going to talk about this?” Kenny’s siblings are on board, asking ignorant but well-meaning questions and helping him get ready for a date. I have never properly come out to my siblings, but I thought they knew for a while until my brother tried to buy me a Magic Mike XXL calendar for Christmas.

I watch TV every night in our family room, usually with my dad. He was hesitant to watch this show, saying that he didn’t want it to make fun of Irish-Catholics because a big part of our family is Irish-Catholic. I don’t understand how he doesn’t understand why I would like this show so much (no, I’m not going to change the channel to watch Grandfathered).

There are some elements of the show that I don’t think really fit. Kenny and his siblings are very open about confronting their mother on how judgmental she is. The mother, in turn, talks about Kenny being gay a lot, suggesting that he give up being gay for Lent. This doesn’t seem realistic to me; in my mind (and experience), it would be something that would just be ignored, everyone carefully stepping around each other. Kenny also makes jokes about being gay to his mother (“What’s in that closet?” “Not me anymore!”) in a way that I find so distant from my life. Guilt and shame are talked about as values that their family has but you don’t really see that in the way that the characters behave. Of course, that wouldn’t make very good TV, and this is a sitcom at 8:30.

I also think about how this show would be different if the gay middle child were a girl. In the first episode, Kenny’s girlfriend Mimi wants to have sex with him and he (obviously) is not into it. Even after Mimi learns of Kenny’s sexual orientation, she sees no reason they still shouldn’t lose their virginities to each other (Mrs. O’Neal encourages this). This scene feels very different with a lesbian and an ex-boyfriend who still wants to have sex with her and possibly straighten her out. The questions from the siblings would be different, too, and probably the relationship with the mom. (More queer kids on TV! More lesbians on TV!).

My family watched the third episode of The Real O’Neals together last night. Towards the end of the episode Kenny has a touching conversation with his mom, and in turn my mom says “Oh, maybe this show has some nice moments.” It’s not making fun of Irish-Catholic culture like they thought, but we can see our immediate and extended family in it, warts and all.

I’m excited to see where this season goes (please don’t get cancelled). The way the show (and cast) presents itself online sometimes seems like they think it’s more groundbreaking than it is (gay Catholics have been joking about their guilt for decades). But I’m excited to have a happy gay kid on TV. I’m excited to see some of my sad gay Irish-Catholic experiences turn into happy ones, even if my dad is sitting next to me with his arms crossed.