My Private Culture War, 2018 Edition
We’ve become unable to receive our local FOX station over the air via our antenna, which is new and mysterious, and frustrating. We haven’t had cable in nearly a decade, and the only thing we watch live is sports, or usually. And that usually just means football, in the fall. Which is usually on FOX.
And I removed myself from the sport this season, trying to keep my distance. I succeeded for the most part, usually watching a condensed replay after I know how the game turned out. Just 45 minutes or so, watching some magnificent athletes without the sturm und drang of live games, particularly since the Seahawks were in a rebuilding year, obviously. Fired a bunch of coaches, lost virtually all of their defensive stars. A long season, then, and a good one to opt out of. Football is so problematic anyway, it just felt better.
Except it wasn’t that kind of a season, it turned out. I sort of suspected this, in fact, from the first couple of games, even though they were losses. They went 6-1 in their last 7 games and now are in the playoffs, and I wanted to watch the last game of the regular season yesterday. And I couldn’t get a signal.
So I took another free trial of live streaming TV, which I’ve done before and probably for the final time; from now on, I’ll have to pay for it. And I won’t.
Seriously, if you’ve had cable forever, which probably means you’re closer to my age than to people under 40, say, you probably don’t notice it in the same way. We’re in the age of peak TV, right? So how come it looks more and more like a vast wasteland?
So right off the bat, I feel disconnected from the culture in a new way. I read the year-end reviews and I’m mostly neutral or uninterested. I don’t read fiction, and while I’ve read a few bestsellers from the nonfiction side, I can’t really remember which ones were from this year. I read what I read.
Same with music. I’m aware of what’s new, but I don’t listen and I’m not interested. Music and me, we’re weird. I’ve currently in the middle of one of those promotional periods from Amazon Music, which is fine but I still don’t listen all that much.
Movies? Naw. Four or five in the theater, all fine, and then more at home, of course, but I’m not anxiously waiting for anything and haven’t been. And with my new projector, I’ve mostly been revisiting old favorites. I look at the top 2018 films and I saw Black Panther. That’s about it. Deadpool 2 with John, because he insisted (and I enjoyed). I haven’t seen A Star Is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody or First Man or anything else where a cape and x-ray vision are featured. One of these days, and maybe soon. Oh, and there’s Mary Poppins Returns. Gotta see that eventually.
And with 500-plus television shows available, I can’t even get a grasp on what’s happening. On the other hand, at least the few I watched were spread out over episodes, so I had more of a commitment.
I watched GLOW and The Kominsky Method on Netflix, both of which I liked a lot (this is the second season of GLOW, which I started watching because I like Marc Maron and he’s a prominent part, and it’s a quality show). I saw Silicon Valley on HBO, which I’ve watched from the beginning and is hilarious and excellent.
The one cable offering I watched (buying the episodes from Amazon) was Better Call Saul, which is by far the best thing I’ve seen on TV in a while (and I’m one of those who believes it’s better than Breaking Bad, as good as that was).
I heard the buzz about The Good Place, the sitcom about the afterlife with Ted Danson and Kristin Bell, and it didn’t disappoint and hasn’t yet, now in its third season. Provocative and always changing, very funny and entertaining. I buy those episodes, too, although I started it when we had Hulu.
Hulu was also where I watched The Good Doctor, the most baffling show I watched all year. I actually began by hate-watching it, disturbed by Freddie Highland’s very odd mannerisms as a high-functioning autistic surgeon with savant syndrome. Having spent a fair amount of time with autistic people, I recognized nothing and it confused me, but damn. Compelling, interesting to watch, very slick, very network, but I kept watching. I’ve managed to catch up for free, but I’ll probably end up buying the second half of the season in some manner, just to see what happens.
This brings us to Splitting Up Together, the ABC sitcom about two 40-somethings with kids who decide to divorce but still live in the same house, which I watch because of another 2018 activity I’ve become fond of, which I refer to as stalking.
That is, there are three celebrities I follow, all women who are active on Instagram Stories. Katie Couric seemed to embrace this, sharing vacation and home videos as well as journalism and just overall goofiness. I like Katie Couric for lots of reasons, mostly because she’s around my age and I identify with this stage of life and its challenges, but there’s just a lot of joy there and it’s fun.
The other is an actress I admired years ago in a TV show, who seems to be looking for acting work as she moves into her 50s, doing OK but this is the one I worry about. I think she is really talented, and I’m sorry she doesn’t work more, but it’s funny how this works. I worry about her emotional health, and how weird is that? She seems a little depressed and too skinny.
But the big one is Jenna Fischer. I loved her Pam from The Office, and I started catching her on Twitter and then she moved over to Instagram, and just as she began this new series (Splitting Up Together) she learned how to do the gram stories, and she’s hilarious. She takes us behind the scenes, she shows us home life, she’s about as normal a human being as you’ll find who starred on a wildly success network series that ran for a decade. She has oodles and oodles of money, but I swear she just comes off as a mom, a spouse, a working actress, trying to make a living.
The show is cute. The kids are very good, Oliver Hudson is kind of fun as her ex-husband, the other actors are comical and over-the-top but quality. But it’s just a sitcom. Maybe they’ll manage to stretch it over for a few seasons, more power to them. This is the one I’ll wander away from, although yesterday’s free trial for football also gave me access to back episodes, so I’m almost caught up.
So no Westworld. Certainly no GoT or The Americans or whatever else might interest me but won’t show up on my radar. Nothing of reality TV, or even special events (Julie watched Jesus Christ Superstar but I just wandered in and out).
I just dipped in my toes, then, although I’ll reiterate that Better Call Saul is really, really good.
But my social-media experience with Ms. Fischer may be more of an influence in this past year, just because, like a lot of people, I began backing off in a big way this year. Facebook has turned into keeping in touch with friends and family, seeing fun photos, raising money for good causes, and the occasional political post that I’ll either acknowledge as appropriate or else snooze that friend for 30 days, just to see if they can get it out of their systems. I don’t need political opinions, particularly from people who don’t pay as much attention as I do.
It just got toxic, I think. Twitter has always been that way, but this year I learned some tricks to cut down on the horrible stuff, and now it’s a good source for breaking news and interesting stories, and just a few friends who share funny retweets of Trump doing something stupid or cruel once again. Just a little bit, just for venting purposes only.
Instagram is my favorite, probably. Follow who you want, look at nice pictures, post some of your own, write a caption. Nice.
But the most informative thing about social media happened on Twitter this year, for me, and it came from actor Joshua Malina. Malina was one of Aaron Sorkin’s players, showing up in his stage and filmed productions of A Few Good Men, popping up in The American President, then landing the fun role of Jeremy on the much-missed Sports Night before transitioning over to The West Wing in its fourth season as Will Bailey, a sarcastic and talented speechwriter, political operative, and eventually chief of staff and campaign manager for the vice-president in the final season.
Following TWW, Malina landed a role as David Rosen, the attorney general on Shonda Rimes’ political show Scandal, as well as cohosting The West Wing Weekly podcast with Hrishikesh Hirway, beginning in 2016 and taking us through the show, episode by episode, season by season (they’re now on the next to the last). It’s long been mentioned on the podcast how Shonda Rimes was a huge fan of TWW, and planted little Easter eggs in her show. One of these was naming Malina’s character David Rosen, as that was a name mentioned in the first season of The West Wing as someone who might have joined the White House staff, but declined a job. There were some jokes.
And then this year, someone tweeted at Malina, something about, “Hey, did you know there was a David Rosen character on The West Wing?” Malina, who is sarcastic and enjoys teasing (sometimes worse) commenters, pretended to be astonished and claimed not to believe it was possible. Someone sent him a video clip with the David Rosen name mentioned, and he complained the video wouldn’t play. Someone showed him clips with closed captions clearly mentioning David Rosen, and he claimed it was obviously Photoshopped.
This went on for weeks. This is Still Going On. People seem determined to prove to this very intelligent and clever actor that they know something about his occupation that he doesn’t, and they don’t have a clue that he’s messing with them. It’s funny, but also disturbing. This is the worst part of social media, I think, this urgent need to respond.
Resist this urgent need, I beg you. If your friend from high school goes all MAGA on you, block them, snooze them, unfriend them. Just don’t engage. It won’t end well. This isn’t the medium to change minds. It’s a medium for trolls and screamers, and the rest of us have to do the best we can, and mostly back off. That’s my hot take, anyway.
But I got to keep in touch with dear friends, old and new, well known and not so well. An acquaintance who certainly doesn’t share a lot of my political ideology called me out on a poorly-worded post the other day, which he misinterpreted. I told him he was wrong, and I got snippy. He laughed at my snippiness and apologized for misinterpreting, and even tossed in a compliment.
PEOPLE. WE MIGHT ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO DO THIS. YOU KNOW. BE CIVIL.
I’m not good at this. I want to harass trumpists, point out their lack of civics education and just the systematic cruelty that seems to be the hallmark of this administration. I sometimes want to advocate for the secession of the old Confederacy, since they seem to love that horrible flag and don’t seem all that American to me, but c’mon. I have friends and family there, I love the culture, the food, the overwhelming courtesy to strangers (assuming they’re white, although that’s changing a little, at least in some places). That makes me as much a bigot as anyone else, and I’m working on it.
As I told my friend Gordon the other day, I’ve become a fan of smaller Facebook, using private groups to share ideas and writing without broadcasting to that guy from junior high who has the Ted Nugent profile picture. There might be hope.
So that’s my year in culture. Mostly out of the loop, but dipping into some pleasure and not worrying about the rest. Trying to manage social media without alienating anyone and spreading good news. Watching some spectacular entertainment, reading some great journalism and some better biographies, and hoping for more of the same.
Personal stuff? Another post. Later in the day, probably.