Introspection is Exhausting + Why I Love ABBA

I’ve seen over a dozen movies in theater this year, and over a dozen times I have almost happy-cried when they played the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again trailer. I was so unexpectedly moved by this 2-minute blip of a movie franchise I had only ever thought of as My Big Fat Greek Wedding but with singing and dancing. I didn’t understand the plot of this movie, but when they set those nostalgic flashbacks of the characters then vs. now to Dancing Queen, I was on board. I had to see this movie. 

I won’t go into detail about the movie, because I feel like everyone has already seen it, but ugh, it was so perfect and fun. I was so charmed by Meryl Streep, the three dads, everything. Then I started listening to ABBA, urged on by a friend who’s a super-fan, and I’ve listened to nothing else in the past 10 days.  I love the ridiculous costumes, the fanfare, the relentless optimism that pervades so much of their music. I’ve been listening to them while at work and I feel like they’re making me a couple notches too excited for the workplace. It’s almost embarrassing to be at this level of energy while editing spreadsheets and sending emails. How did I miss out on this cultural phenomenon?

I wouldn’t consider myself musically adventurous. Music is an area that I’ve never felt comfortable speaking to, since I’ve listened to much of the same music over and over again for years. I don’t know the difference between a soprano and a contralto or what exactly timbre is. I have never meaningfully contributed to the music round of any trivia event. I don’t know who half the people on the radio are anymore, and it comes less from a weird anti-establishment hipster pride and more from the fact that I will listen to the same 2006-2012 pop and alt-rock trash every single day of my life.  I couldn’t intellectualize music or write true criticism if I tried. It’s one of those things I will assume is magic and call it a day.

And music is also just intensely personal to me. I can’t disentangle a song from the circumstances in which I first listened to it. And while I repeat these songs because I obviously love them, it’s like being taken on the same ride all over again. I don’t always want to be reliving the emotions I felt as a teenager, stuck in a recursive loop of introspecting, reflecting, and soul-searching. Wishing I was here, wishing I was there. This can’t just be a “me” thing, so I’m also posting this as a way to shout into the void and see if anyone returns my call.

I’ve spent so much time in my head, especially in these last few months, that it has been refreshing to listen to music without emotional baggage or built-in opportunities to re-litigate my life. Eventually, I’ll get tired of ABBA, or maybe it’ll become part of my regular rotation of like 6 artists, as their music comes to represent this moment in life. I’ll hear “Waterloo” or “The Day Before You Came” a year later or 20 years later in a grocery store and think about who I was then, reminiscing about the person I am now.

But I’m glad that now, while my life is in the upswing, I can listen to ABBA’s inspirational, poppy ballads and relish in this new ability to look forward instead of backward. This weekend, I’m planning on watching ABBA: The Movie and possibly a couple documentaries, because my obsession knows no boundaries. Maybe I’ll get one of those sparkly jumpsuits too. Who can really say?

Don’t Do Homework with Your Life

Yesterday I came across an interesting sentiment in this Gizmodo piece about the director Guillermo del Toro, who made Pan’s Labryinth and The Shape of Water.

The last question of the night was about videogames. Del Toro, a dedicated gamer — his children serve as his “wingmen” when he plays Left 4 Dead — is moving into making games, stating matter-of-factly that they’re as legitimate of a medium as film and literature. “I expect and hope to create what I would like to see in a videogame,” he says, after rattling off some of his favorite videogames at near-incomprehensible speed, just as he did when someone asked him his favorite authors: Shadow of the ColossusIcoGadget: Invention, Travel, & AdventureMarathonHaloGears of WarCall of DutyKatamariLeft 4 DeadRed Dead RedemptionPrototypeBioshockUncharted 2. He plays a ton of games, though he doesn’t finish anything he doesn’t like — and this holds true for books, film, whatever. “If it doesn’t engage me, I leave it,” he said. “I do not do homework with my life.”

And this really struck me. How many times have I plowed through books I didn’t enjoy just to be able to say I finished them? How many times have I made myself watch to the end of movies I wasn’t interested in just so I could get my “money’s worth”?

For me, part of this is the sunk-cost fallacy of “I invested in this, so I shouldn’t abandon this,” but another component is feeling like I need to do or enjoy certain things because it’s in the zeitgeist. And in the past few years, I have learned that keeping up is exhausting. Having to learn and care about everything in pop culture is a full-time job in itself and is also just impossible. You can’t win here.

This isn’t an argument against challenging yourself or trying new things or seeing difficult things through, but rather, permission to do more of what you enjoy and do less of the things that feel like an obligation. If it’s purely for your enjoyment, then why put these rules and expectations on yourself?

In the spirit of transparency, here’s a non-exhaustive list of things I have toiled through long after the point of enjoyment:

  • Pretending to enjoy professional football
  • Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder
  • Online coding courses
  • “Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere” by André Aciman (sorry, dude, but it’s been three months since I started your book, and if I have to hear about you strolling through one more piazza, I will die)
  • Pod Save America and all of its associated podcasts (Of “Lovett or Leave It,” I chose Leave It)
  • Top 40 radio stations
  • Wearing cheap, sweat-inducing polyester business casual clothing
  • Any news articles, explainers, and thinkpieces about Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, the Kardashians, and Kanye West
  • The Hunger Games, movies and books
  • Western movies and most rom-coms
  • Hate-watching Tomi Lahren (I have muted her name on Twitter forever)
  • Royal Family and Royal Wedding content
  • Eating pineapple, even though I never slice it correctly and the core cuts my mouth
  • Caring about Pokemon in any capacity
  • Top hats (lol)
  • American Idol
  • Forums about Myers-Briggs personality types (summary: INTJs are the best)
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  • Thinking about what Hogwarts house is best for me
  • The Sherlock fanbase
  • Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate (my answer: neither)
  • Westworld (perhaps it’s early to say since season 2 just started, but does this show ever get fun?)
  • SNL skits and late-night TV segments about the Trump administration
  • Blogs exclusively about paleo, Whole30, gluten-free, vegan, and keto lifestyles
  • Beauty vloggers so wealthy that they seem untethered from reality
  • New York media scandals and spats that play out on Twitter
  • Starbucks Frappuccinos
  • Muse (your poster has been on my wall for 8 years, but I like to pretend that you stopped releasing music after Black Holes and Revelations)

Selfies and TV Network Self-Sabotage

selfie-tv-review-abc

As you may have heard, promising rom-com series “Selfie” has been canceled by ABC with only six episodes under its belt. This show, heavily advertised on the network, features an insufferable woman who is famous on social media but unable to form real connections with friends and co-workers. Realizing this, she enlists the help of a marketing guy to fix her image and coach her through basic social niceties like “How are you?”

I can’t comment on the quality of this show’s characters, plot, or humor as I haven’t watched any episodes, but I can certainly tell you my first impression:

“This show will not end well.”

Did it look charming? Yes. Did it have the potential for salient cultural commentary? Absolutely. But I didn’t think that Americans could handle it. The main character Eliza is irritating, but more importantly, she is a product of society–a reflection of how our generation is perceived.

No one wants to be reminded of the vanity inherent in selfies, no matter how the issue is spun. No one wants to admit that social media can–and often is–a substitution for genuine interaction. Why? Because it’s extremely uncomfortable. It’s like a mirror being turned onto ourselves. It’s not fun. I don’t even want to think about it.

Eliza’s newfound advisor and love interest Henry tells her that she is “addicted to instant gratification.” She’s more interested in “getting likes than being liked.” The narration in ABC’s teaser trailer opens with, “You probably know someone like Eliza.” The objective of the line is to separate you the viewer from people like Eliza, who favor their phones over their friends. But the thing is, are we Eliza? While the character is obviously exaggerated (posting nude selfies on Instagram and responding to compliments with agreement), she is more or less meant to be a vision of young people. This show may have alienated the very audience it targeted.

This is not to say that this show has done the wrong things, that we should reject or be sheltered from portrayals of modern narcissism, or that all the clickbait op-eds about us Millennials are even true. I only offer my perspective–a view that I haven’t really heard–on why this show that seems to be beloved by so many in its infancy is being cancelled.

I also have a feeling that “Selfie” suffers the same flaw as other former ABC shows. That is, the Crappy Name Syndrome. It’s very real. When approving ideas and programming, a network should be mindful of what will tip the scales in its favor (i.e. what will compel a viewer to recommend a TV show to a friend) and what won’t.

How do you know your next new flagship suffers from CNS?

  • It makes people uncomfortable.
  • It offends even the most sensible of people.
  • Even if the show is of high quality, people are embarrassed to talk about it.

CNS-ridden patients of ABC include “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” and “Cougar Town.”

“Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” lasted for two seasons before being canceled because of Nielsen ratings. It had its own hindrances to a wide audience (a parental warning, a historically bad time slot unsolved even today), but it was pretty well received by critics. I don’t know what made the suits cancel the show, but I can’t imagine that the name made viewers eager to watch it. The name is a turnoff to both potential viewers and viewers who would consider recommending it.

“Cougar Town.” A surprisingly witty show with a crappy name and a crappy beginning. It started as being about a recently divorced 40-year-old woman trying to rediscover herself by dating younger men, but the premise was ditched after the first season, making the show a lot stronger. The characters were rounded out and the humor was better. However, they were still stuck with a title that had unsavory associations and an irrelevance to the direction in which it was moving. It was a roadblock to potential viewers who would enjoy it if they watched an episode. The producers tried unsuccessfully to change its name for a few seasons–the silly name even became a joke–before it moved to TBS for better horizons.

That being said, the word “selfie” can bring to mind narcissism and Millennials, who have been criticized fairly or unfairly for being shallow and obsessed with technology. The word is loaded. Right now, I can’t imagine many people I know posting on Twitter, “Go watch the show ‘Selfie’!” In my opinion, it is a sufferer of Crappy Name Syndrome. Granted, the word is very much representative of the program’s content (unlike “Cougar Town”), but show me a significant amount of people unfazed by the name and I’ll show myself out.

I don’t know what the future of “Selfie” may hold. It may be picked up by another network–who knows? All I know is that if “Selfie” is enjoyable as people say it is and it sparks interesting, un-self-serving conversations about what it means to live in the digital age, I wish it all the luck in the world.