Category Archives: television

I like television. This is dedicated to my favorite science teachers out there, Beth Mount and Joanna Santarpia.

I really enjoy a lot of television programs.

Every time I say this, there is something in me that feels like it is a confession. Perhaps the true confession is that when I didn’t watch a lot of television in college somehow thought I was better? Gotta love the pride of thinking you know everything at age 20. Granted, living vicariously though television shows is probably not smart either: there are real people out there to talk to, though I do have introverted tendencies. (The same argument could be made about incessant reading-but somehow that makes me smarter? academic looking? Ha.) And I don’t schedule my life around television shows…that’s what hulu.com and netflix are for. But. I’ve realized that I watch most television the way I read books. There are different categories:

1. I read for plot. These are the books that are mostly entertainment, pure enjoyment and often suspenseful (Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter–whose literary value is enormous to me, the Twilight series, whose doesn’t). Television shows in this category include: Bones (seasons 1-3 only, people), Law and Order, The Closer

2. I read for brilliant portrayal of or commentary on a time or place. These are enjoyable, yet artistic and thought provoking (Pride and Prejudice, The Book Thief, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Invisible Man). Television shows that fall into this category include: Mad Men, My So Called Life

3. I read to better understand people. Human complexity, heart, struggle and change captivate me (A House of Mango Street, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Anna Karenina). Television shows that fall into this category, among others already mentioned: The OC (don’t even get me started, I swear I will write you a treatise on why I love this show), Friday Night Lights, Damages

Now that that’s all out of the way. I just finished watching season one of Lie to Me on hulu.com. Today it’s description in my mind changed from pretty interesting and entertaining to brilliant. The premise is that Dr. Lightman, the main character, is an expert in reading human emotion through micro-expressions and leads a team of experts who work on various cases involving lie detection. What I realized while watching the season finale today is that one of the reasons I like this show so much is that it is courageous and timely in its subject matter. Lightman and his colleagues face ethical dilemmas concerning the nature of lies and truth, whether withholding information is playing God and the personal repercussions for working toward the greater good. The final episode of the season brilliantly (and without subtlety) challenged methods of FBI interrogation of terrorists, which I thought was incredibly interesting (and correct).

And though I’m not scientifically minded myself (as with music and art, I have to partake in the skills of others), I really walk away from shows like this one, the forensic anthropology in Bones and even the investigations in CSI wishing I knew more about science–and I think that kids who watch these shows might be more inclined to pursue degrees in science…and I also believe that every town needs detective workers with incredibly precise and sophisticated skill sets: a Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones) and Dr. Cal Lightman, for example. (Aw, and what the heck, everyone needs a David Caruso, er Horatio Caine). The most interesting layer is that both of those characters are based on real life scientists who also write regularly.

Because I am a dork and was so fascinated by the end of Lie to Me tonight, I did some research. Lightman’s character is based on Paul Ekman, who i quite prolific and someone I’d love to read more about. He also writes a blog to comment on each episode of Lie to Me.

My point is. [Some] television can make you smarter.

Of course, I can’t end it just like that. I taught my students (wait…retaught for the hundredth time) today that at the end of an essay it’s a good idea to revisit their thesis statements. I believe that some television shows explore story just as well as books or good films. Story is story is human experience and imagination. And I love that.

Love and duty, passion and indifference: Mutually exclusive?

(This post is mostly influenced by reading Anna Karenina, with hints of Romeo and Juliet, films such as Shakespeare in Love, The Duchess, Manhattan, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Brideshead Revisited and the television series Mad Men. I apologize for any incoherence or lack of breadth or depth…this issue is so so big and I’m unable to wrap my mind around it all in a single post)

Anna Karenina is the namesake and possible heroine of Leo Tolstoy’s book carrying her name. She is a woman of 19th century Russian aristocracy, a mother of one and a wife in a loveless marriage. Characterized by her passion and willingness to go against society’s norms (though not immune from the isolation it creates), she loses–and gains, then loses–herself in an amorous affair.

Her abandoning of her husband is unsettling, but a gray space in my mind because it was a marriage not born of love to begin with. (I could argue either side and probably make a lot of people really angry. But thus is the whole topic of this post and why this book is interesting. Clamor away. I can take it.) There is a part of me that admires Anna’s unwillingness to settle for a societal-prescribed, bland existence, but her potential heroism becomes shadowed in her abandonment of her son.

I remain convinced that it must be possible to live a poetic life that is responsible (be it not abandoning your family, obviously, or being a person who is dependable, invested in good), even though putting the word responsible next to poetic seems to be a desecration. Or maybe it’s just the connotation that the word responsible carries. Is is possible to create a new conception?

This issue can easily be examined through the feminist lens as well, though I’m not going to pursue that thread in this post. But my heart has broken over women from history like Lady Georgiana Spencer (characterized in The Duchess) in the 1700’s to the portrayal of the 1950’s housewife like Betty Draper (Mad Men) who are asked to swallow their intellect, ardor and hearts and accept their position gracefully and gratefully. Perhaps it makes for better drama, but whatever the reason, the mutual exclusivity of living passionately or dutifully/responsibly has arisen in nearly every book, movie and television show that I have seen or read lately. I cannot accept this, for women or for men. Go. Do something.

Perhaps this is why one of my favorite phrases in all of scripture is the pursuit of “life that is truly life.” I think. I think. That kind of life is one in which poetry triumphs, but under the umbrella of unconditional love and trust, with some grace?

The bottom line for me is that Anna leaves her husband to pursue passion and love, but ultimately is left unfulfilled, insecure and filled with jealousy. So. I am off to seek the alliance of a life that is defined by being a trustworthy friend and socially responsible citizen, but one given to fits of adventure and spirit: the intersection of passion and duty.

Lost and the Postmodern Hero?

As I’ve been studying the hero’s journey (see link in post below, think Star Wars or Lord of the Rings: a single character rises to the challenge of a quest set before him/her and goes through many trials in order to acheive that quest), I’ve been trying to think about how this relates to postmodern story telling (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_modern_literature). Pre-postmodern literature often sees a quest for meaning in a chaotic world, where the postmodern rejects or parodies this singular quest. So my question is what does the post modern hero’s journey look like?

This question came about while watching Lost this week. All of the characters seem to be on their own “journey”–mentally, as well as the obvious physical one. However, there doesn’t seem to be one clear “hero” (despite the hero complexes that many of the characters portray). Each of the survivors on the island are facing individual “roads of trial,” emphasized by the flashbacks and flash-forwards.

The modernist side of my brain wants to make it all linear: that there is one “answer” for what is going on and that all of the characters stories weave together in a single, satisfying narrative strand. But as the episodes of this season progress, I find myself being frustrated at my inability to connect everything together. The postmodern side of my brain is loving the complexity of the empathy I feel for Ben and the vastness of Juliet’s motives. It is grappling with letting go of the desire to have one, clear answer that explains everything that has happened on the island.

It appears that there are multiple levels of “quests” that are happening and have happened on the island–they include high stakes conspiracies as well as individual odysseys. Do I need to let go of the dream that they are all intimately connected? Do I need to embrace this portrayal of the potential post modern hero? (Would all characters qualify as such?)

Well, after that potentially inarticulate rant, at the very least, Lost serves as a distraction to the things I actually need to accomplish today. Sigh.

The Best Pairs on Television (Also titled "My brain isn’t working so well this week")

My weekends lately have been spent watching a ridiculous amount of television, hence a post about it instead of a book. I blame the weather and also stress. But I have come to a new conclusion…I have a new favorite couple on tv that beats out past favorites, which include:

Ross and Rachel

Felicity and Ben (not. Noel.)

Seth and Summer

Carrie and Aidan (so they broke up, whatever)

the frustrating tale of Jack and Kate

Tobias and Lindsay…there’s actually no picture of the two of them alone that I can find. ha.

But I have to say that my favorite new pair on television is Brennan and Booth from “Bones.” They are completely opposite and yet completely compatible and they are not officially together. But I think that their relationship is made up of some of the most creative writing I’ve seen on TV. And this is how I’ve been wasting my time while it’s too cold to be outside. I highly recommend…and if I can handle the gore of their cases, so can you.

In Remembrance of the Nineties.


Gen.u.ine. Adjective. Truly what something is said to be; authentic.
Au.then.tic. Adjective. Done in a way that faithfully resembles an original. (2) based on facts; accurate or reliable.

The past few weeks I have indulged in some greatnesses of my adolescent experience, including starting this post with the most basic strategy to start a paper, also reminiscent of sophomore Honors English circa 1996.

Others:

The Catcher in the Rye. Quite possibly the book that made me start thinking about what I was reading. Haven’t read it since. What that says about me, I’m not sure.

My So-Called Life. I really think Angela Chase’s voiceovers are the most accurate picture of being 15. And although this will be mostly based on Holden, as I was thinking about what I wanted to say, Angela Chase (via Claire Danes) is in the midst of an identity crisis. If you don’t remember, she has recently made new best friends, moved on from her old one and to represent it all dyed her hair. Her neighbor has a particular problem with this and in his infinite sophomoric wisdom (speaking of, weren’t you insulted when that showed up on SAT vocabulary lists, but see it’s brilliant value as an adjective now?) tells her that it’s all an act. Angela responds that everyone is an act. Interesante.

Holden Caulfield feels the same way. We get inside his head in a way not all that different than Angela—on a higher literary note, yes, but his narration takes you inside the head of someone wrestling with the world. Holden’s biggest complaint is that everywhere he goes, people are just a bunch of phonies:

“Lawyers are alright, I guess…I mean they’re alright if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot shot. And besides. Even if you did go around savings guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddamn trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn’t.”

The great irony is that, to me, Holden is a phony himself; wanting to do noble, true acts, but finding himself completely unable.

So I guess what I’m thinking about is what does it mean to be genuine? (Note the definitions now…the one for genuine is rather circular.) Authentic? Here’s what I love. The idea of resembling an original…who I was created to be by my Creator, rather than who the world wants or tells me to be. Even more so, being based on facts. And to me, the facts are that I am human. I mess up. A lot. I want to be transparent about that. I don’t want to try to cover that up and pretend to be something I’m not. I don’t want people to think that I’ve got my act together because I don’t. But the other fact of that matter is that I am loved. Jesus looks right at my messiness and loves me anyway. I am amazed at the beauty of grace. Because isn’t that our fear, anyway? That people won’t love us if they see our true selves? What a lie. The other fact is that I am blessed. There are so many hearts who mean so much to me, from Kentucky to Kenya, that I am literally overwhelmed…that my cup does indeed runneth over, which was the only feeling that rattled in me last weekend. (see last post…sigh)

So yeah. I just want to be free.