Fangirl Thursday: Look for the Hope

It’s been an emotionally draining, depressing, and frustrating few weeks in various fandoms. It seems TV show after TV show has been doubling down on the idea that shocking deaths make for good television, without thinking about what certain deaths might mean for large groups of their fans. And even if characters aren’t dying on your favorite show, chances are it’s still gone into darker territory this season. It seems almost every show I watch has dealt with heavier material this year. Even the usually light Brooklyn Nine-Nine ended with an atypical life-threatening cliffhanger this week. (Even though I think we’re all 99.9% sure Holt’s going to be fine.) And the offerings at movie theaters aren’t much better lately, with superheroes fighting each other all over the place.

In short, if you feel a little beaten down by the media you’re consuming lately, you’re not alone.

There’s a tendency to judge the quality of a piece of media by how serious it is. Most of the “prestige dramas” we hear so much about are incredibly heavy and often bleak. So people often stick with television shows that make them feel hopeless and upset more often than not because they think that’s what “good” television is supposed to do. They think that walking away from a TV show when it starts to feel oppressively negative says bad things about them as a viewer instead of bad things about the show that made them walk away. Because a good drama can never be “too dark,” right?

WRONG.

It’s not just okay to walk away from a TV show when it starts negatively affecting your emotions on a consistent basis; it’s smart. There’s nothing wrong with putting your mental and emotional health above a television show’s ratings or your reputation as a fangirl or fanboy. Even if you loved a show for years, if it’s making you feel miserable or triggering you in some way, you’re not less of a fan if you stop watching something that’s not good or healthy for you anymore.

This trend of prioritizing shock value above quality character development needs to stop. This is especially true when the shock value comes from killing or traumatizing characters simply to show that no character is safe and that the world they inhabit is awful. If a character dies, that death should mean something—and not just that anyone can die. And if a character is put through a traumatic situation, it should be treated with care not just in that moment, but in all the moments that follow it. Death, beatings, torture, and rape shouldn’t be added to stories only to get people talking or to show how horrible a person or a society is. They should resonate thematically; they should carry weight not just in one episode, but throughout the rest of the series. They should matter.

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Fangirl Thursday: The Case for Crying

do you cry

Hi, my name is Katie, and I’m a crier.

I cry all the time. I cry when I’m sad, when I’m happy, and sometimes when I’m really angry. I cry when I’m overwhelmed, when I’m scared, and sometimes when I’m really proud of myself or someone I love—or even someone I don’t know. And I cry all the time when I watch TV, go to the movies or theater, or read a book.

I think I’m supposed to be ashamed of that. I’m supposed to think that makes me weak and that I need to try harder to keep my emotions below the surface. But that’s never been who I am. And I’m done feeling bad about that.

I was only nine when a movie made me cry for the first time not because I was scared, but because I felt so deeply. It was an animated movie about cats in Old Hollywood called Cats Don’t Dance, and I cried so hard when it looked like the main cat was going to have to give up his dancing dreams to move back to his hometown that my mother had to turn the movie off and tell me things were going to be okay.

I feel things deeply; I always have. However, we’re taught from an early age that it’s dangerous to feel things deeply. We’re taught to be afraid of intense emotions. But the intensity with which we feel things and the ways we express how we feel are some of the most important parts of our collective humanity. Our emotions—even when they’re strong and sometimes overwhelming—are part of us. And that’s not something to be afraid or ashamed of. Instead, it’s something to understand.

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Love What You Love: Some Thoughts on Guilty Pleasures

We all have our guilty pleasures.

For some people, it’s Nicholas Sparks novels. For others, it’s romantic comedies. From the high school melodramas of ABC Family to the sexiest scenes on Scandal, everyone has a secret indulgence programmed on their DVRs, sitting on their bookshelves, or waiting for them on Netflix. We can claim to have the most discerning taste when it comes to media. But each of us—no matter how astute we pretend to be—has a guilty pleasure.

What’s my guilty pleasure? Reality TV.

Yes, I love the competitive reality shows that actually do earn some critical acclaim. I obsess over So You Think You Can Dance every summer. I thoroughly enjoy The Voice and used to thoroughly enjoy American Idol as well back when it was in its heyday (which has long since passed). Top Chef is one of my favorite shows on television.

But I also love the “trashy” stuff. I will watch any Real Housewives series (except Atlanta and Miami), including the marathons Bravo is so fond of airing. I will also watch basically anything else Bravo throws at me—from Most Eligible Dallas to Don’t Be Tardy. I religiously watch Dancing with the Stars every season for reasons beyond the sparkly costumes and shirtless male dancers; I actually like the performances. And I adore The Bachelorette.

Yes, you heard that correctly: I adore The Bachelorette. I watched and re-watched Meredith’s season back when I could only do that on a VHS tape. I cried when Ashley married J.P. last year. I fell in love with Jef probably even more than Emily did. And I watched the season premiere last night ready to spend my summer Mondays with Desiree and her suitors. Monday nights are one of my favorite nights of the week in the summer. I curl up on the couch, open some Starbucks ice cream (preferably Java Chip Frappuccino), and watch one lucky girl be romanced by a bevy of beautiful gentlemen.

I don’t want you to think that I believe I’m watching great television. I know The Bachelorette and The Real Housewives of New Jersey aren’t exactly comparable with Game of Thrones or Parks and Recreation. But that doesn’t mean I have to look at everything on TV the same way. I like some shows because they make me think; I like others because they allow me to turn my brain off for a little while.

And I’m not so sure I should feel guilty about that.

Why should we feel the need to add “guilty” to some of our pleasures? Does everything that makes us feel happy, relaxed, or emotionally invested have to be critically-acclaimed? Can’t we just like something because we like it, because it’s fun?

Yes, I consider The Great Gatsby my favorite book, but Bridget Jones’s Diary is also high on my list. Yes, I love watching Casablanca and The Empire Strikes Back, but I also love The Wedding Planner and Tangled. My iPod has Mumford and Sons on it, but it also has One Direction. And I don’t feel particularly guilty about loving any of those things.

The media we enjoy—whether it’s reality TV, romantic comedies, sappy county songs, or anything else—should be celebrated, not hidden away in case someone judges us for loving what we love. If something makes you happy, it shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure; it should just be a pleasure.

Grab your ice cream, your wine, or your chocolate. Open your romance novel, turn on E!, or grab your DVD of Dirty Dancing. Let’s all take some time this summer to enjoy media that makes us happy—critics be damned.

Perfectly Imperfect

Unrealistic expectations are a fact of life. From the fairytales we were told as kids to the TV shows (and commercials) we watch as adults, we are more than familiar with media-perpetuated standards that don’t quite exist in the real world.

I can’t speak to the experiences of the male half of the population, but I know that, as a woman in today’s media-saturated society, I’m constantly bombarded with images of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be. From Victoria’s Secret ads featuring models with bodies I’ll never have to movies featuring action heroines with courage I’ll never possess, it’s enough to make a girl feel like she should just throw in the towel in terms of finding relatable images in the media.

In a (well-intentioned) effort to give young women positive media role models, there has been an influx of “strong” female characters in the last few decades: women who can beat up bad guys (while wearing heels!), outsmart the craftiest villains, and play the lead role in their own stories—all without showing a shred of weakness. These characters don’t make mistakes; they don’t have anxieties or insecurities or character flaws. They are—for all intents and purposes—perfect.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find perfect characters a little depressing. How are we as women supposed to learn to love and accept ourselves as we are if we are constantly reminded of the things we should be but can never be, simply because we’re beautifully fallible human beings? And how are we supposed to gain respect for ourselves through all of our messy growing, living, and learning when it seems like the media likes to depict women as one of two things:

1.) Emotionally unstable, overly dramatic weaklings who need a good man in their lives to complete them
2.) Flawless automatons with beauty, brains, and none of those pesky emotions that are often signs of “weakness”

I like to think that I exist closer to some kind of middle ground between these two extremes, and in my experience I think most women exist there as well. We’re all a little flawed; we’re all a little messed-up, but that’s what makes us human. And that’s what I want my heroes and heroines to be—human.

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Fandom: From Pathological to Personal

Nerdy Girl Contributor Heather gives us an inside look at what it really means to be part of a fandom: 

Historically, academic perspectives on fandom have been limited. Fandom was often portrayed as pathological and dangerous. It was the result of people being brainwashed by the media. Popular culture was eroding our ability to think. Media consumption, particularly television, was a passive activity with little value. These thoughts were not limited to academics, however. Stereotypical images portrayed fans as crazy, costume-wearing, socially-inept individuals who would never be successful in life.

Conceptions of fans have shifted away from notions of us as dangerous individuals, but there is still a stigma against those of us who heavily invest in any form of pop culture. It’s fine to critique a book, movie, or television show on its artistic merits and technical aspects, but once we start talking about how certain characters or stories have impacted us on a personal level, we still become the people dressed in Star Trek costumes at a convention in the minds of many. We become the teenage girls who want to date Edward Cullen. We are still seen as people who care too much about something trivial.

Things are slowly changing again. Fan experiences and fan terminology have become slightly more recognized, with references to fan fiction and ship names found in television shows such as Castle, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Glee. However, even the increased knowledge and acceptance of these references don’t get to the heart of what fandom is for many of those involved in it.

Fandom is about passion. It’s about critically engaging with the media we watch and interacting with it on a deeper level.

Fandom is about understanding the influence popular culture can have on our lives. It’s about allowing popular culture to transport you to another world. It’s about an understanding of characters and recognition of themes that can’t be found through superficial reading and viewing. It’s about wanting a fictional universe to continue and be explored more than it can be though a book series, television show, or movie.

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love television. I love it as a source of entertainment and as an outlet for analysis. Besides books, there is nothing I love to analyze more than television shows.

Television gets a bad reputation as being “mindless entertainment,” but I believe that reputation is not totally fair. Like all forms of media, you have to choose to see the positive examples and focus on those instead of the negative ones. Besides, it’s not just television that can be trashy. There are plenty of distasteful, mindless, and just plain awful films and books as well.

For every terrible television show (Sixteen and Pregnant, Bad Girls Club, every dating show ever aired on VH1, etc.) there are great television shows (The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc.). And there are fewer things more enjoyable in the life of a media studies geek than following a great television show through to its conclusion.

Television as a medium is like literature in a lot of ways. Each episode is like a chapter of a book, and each season is like a book in a series. If done correctly, television shows allow for the possibility of deep analysis and thoughtful discussion because of the depth with which stories can be told in this medium. Unlike films, which last two hours (or sometimes more – especially if you’re Peter Jackson or James Cameron), television shows can last for years. This allows for a kind of storytelling which, when done correctly, has the ability to present deeper characters and richer plots with more emotional weight than even a novel can present.

The emotional connection between the audience of a television show and the show itself is often stronger than the connection between other forms of media and their audiences. Viewers let television characters into their homes for an hour (or half-hour) every week for around 22-23 weeks per year (depending on the number of episodes in a season). There’s a sense of familiarity that develops in watching the interactions of characters for season after season of a television show, and that familiarity lends itself to a more emotionally engaging media experience than a standalone book or film. Put in the hands of capable writers and actors, these characters grow and develop over the course of a television show’s run, and viewers are able to watch that growth and personally connect with it.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Bella Swan: A Woman’s Place in the Modern Media

It’s a confusing time to be a young woman in America.

Whether or not we want to admit it, much of what we believe about ourselves and our place in society comes from the media. And right now, the media is a minefield of mixed messages when it comes to what we as women are supposed to be.

Be strong, but don’t be bossy. Speak your mind, but don’t be a bitch. Act sexy, but don’t act like a whore. Work hard to get a good job, but don’t be a cold, spinster “career woman.” Be proud of your femininity, but don’t be too “girly” or “high-maintenance.” Strive to be skinny, but don’t lose your womanly curves in the process. You are more than your body, but it is your most powerful asset. You don’t need a man to validate you, but every happy ending involves a Prince Charming.

It’s enough to make even the most confident, well-adjusted woman’s head spin.

Young women have more stress, body image issues, and doubts about their self-worth than ever before. They also have more options when it comes to media consumption than ever before. Is that just an unpleasant coincidence?

You would think that more options would lead to a more balanced depiction of women in the media, but it often seems that more channels, advertisements, and social media outlets are in fact leading to the increased reinforcement of damaging ideas about the female gender.

Sometimes it seems like it’s better to become complete hermits, taking the media and its negative stereotypes completely out of our lives. But eventually we reach a frightening conclusion: For as frustrated as we get with the media, we simply can’t live without it.

The key to developing a healthy sense of self as a young woman in this media-driven society is to remember something that we all-too-often forget: We have a choice. We can choose what media we consume, and we can choose to educate ourselves about the impact the media has on our lives.

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