Mom, Me, and Reality TV

By Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of FYI Network

Courtesy of FYI Network

I haven’t had cable television for nearly a year. It’s just one of those expenses that seems silly when you have the entirety of the internet at your disposal. But I often feel a small twinge of sadness when I can’t flop down on the couch at any given moment and flip through the channels in search of a Golden Girls marathon. 

I know I don’t need need TV to make me happy but there’s such a (possibly) unhealthy pleasure in old fashioned binge watching, commercials and all. That’s why, I often end up abusing the privilege when I stay at my parents house. Being on vacation and having few responsibilities affords me the luxury of ignoring all of the hiking and biking and mountaineering I could be doing. The real lost opportunity would be not taking advantage of a comfy couch with countless throw pillows, a fully stocked pantry, and a wide array of high-definition channels.

This holiday season, I discovered the wonders of both Esquire and FYI networks. Esquire broadcast marathons of Parks and Recreation three days in a row (including the final seventh season that until today, had not been on Netflix). FYI network created a glorious piece of television called Married at First Sight.

The premise is sort of outlined within the title— so-called “love” experts (in the areas of relationships, sex, religion, etc.) act as matchmakers for six individuals, matching them into three couples that will agree to get married without knowing each other until reaching the altar. Seriously, they have to introduce themselves somewhere between the “sickness and in health” and the “I do.” 

The premise was ridiculous and yet, astonishingly captivating. I was hooked within the first 10 minutes of watching. My mom was hooked within the first 30. 

The important thing to note is that enjoying reality TV wasn’t about the substance, because truthfully, there wasn’t much to go on. It was a chance to hang out with my mom for an extended period of time and talk in coded language about our ideals of happiness, love, and marriage. 

My mom met my dad when she was in her early 20’s, getting married and having me by her mid-20’s. They’re still happily married, unlike the parents of so many of my friends. I don’t know what she expects of me. I can only assume that she wants me to get married someday. I know I want to get married someday. So we watching strangers on TV pick out their wedding dresses and get ready for their big day. She remarked how the backyard, with it’s view of Lake James, a state park, and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, would be a pretty place for a wedding. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought the same thing before. 

As much as people say that reality TV rots your brain, I can’t help but get a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever I get a minute to watch some. I thought about all the times we would watch Say Yes to the Dress together and those wedding design shows—there was clearly a trend happening. I didn’t feel pressured though. I was more than happy to keep watching Married at First Sight with my mom for the rest of the afternoon. I think this is just our own low-maintenance version of mother-daughter manicures or lunch dates and I don’t even have to leave the house. 

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Geek

By Anna Brüner

Courtesy of the Weinstein Company

Courtesy of the Weinstein Company

I, Anna Brüner, being of sound mind and questionable reputation have a confession to make. I am absolutely in love with musicals. Off-Broadway or epic film, it doesn’t matter. Beneath this hardened shell of disenfranchised art school veneer beats the heart of a gawky little theater geek that just would not die. I’ve been known (by a select few) to throw on Chicago after a few drinks, was once caught listening to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack during finals one year, and may or may not have a rolled up poster of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in my closet at this very moment. But my obsession with musicals wasn’t always so secret.

I’ve written many times about my introduction to horror films by my father, because, well, that’s the kind of thing that gets you early acceptance into college. But what I’ve left out is that around the same time I was binge watching the Universal monster movies on weekends, I was simultaneously losing my absolute shit over the Hollywood musicals my mom was watching. South Pacific. My Fair Lady. The Sound of Music. Guys and Dolls. Even White Christmas every year around the holidays. It was my first introduction to Bing Crosby, to Audrey Hepburn, to Marlon Brando, to Frank Sinatra--my first film school education, if you will. A who’s who of Hollywood’s golden age, the musicals my mother watched made me see no distinction between storytelling and song. Musicals then were just movies to me.

Then I started going to the theater. Seeing productions like How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Fiddler On The Roof, Newsies, The Lion King, and others showed me what a theater production could do. The spectacle wasn’t a soundstage being viewed through the TV screen any longer, it was right in front of me and it was so goddamn awesome. As a twelve-year-old, going to Broadway shows was magical. It’s also probably the only reason why I, not having a single ounce of musical talent in my body, went out for plays and school musicals in high school (in which I was, thankfully, relegated to either a speaking role or part of the chorus, so I didn’t do much damage). And I knew I wasn’t good at it. On top of being a bad singer, I was also a bad actress. But when you’re in a public school production of Young Frankenstein in Southwest Pennsylvania, it’s really hard to look too bad doing anything. As is the fate of theater kids everywhere, of course, I was made fun of. But no worse than anyone else in high school. Plus I made a lot of good friends and had a lot of fun. And man, getting out of class for rehearsals was the absolute tightest shit.

Musicals aren’t all fun, though. Rent put a whole new generation of Americans, myself included, in touch with the AIDS epidemic from the 80’s. The most important and successful musical of the past year, Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of one of our founding fathers using a cast entirely of people of color. Next to Normal was the first depiction of bipolar disorder I ever saw that I could relate to...years before I was diagnosed with Bipolar I. With lines like “I don’t need a life that’s normal...that’s way too far away. But something next to normal would be okay,” it’s still my favorite musical to date. It is only recently that musicals are being recognized for the social issues they address, and what culturally important platforms they stand to be.

The first musical I saw in Chicago was with my mother, and it was an adaptation of Studs Terkel’s Working. A blank faced young woman holding a baby sang to almost no music to a crowd of hundreds, and remembering it still makes me cry like the existential young adult I am:

What I do is kinda boring

If you'd rather, it can wait

All I am is someone's mother

All I am is someone's wife

All of which seems unimportant

All it is is

Just my life

Musicals may be my guilty pleasure, but there’s nothing inherently guilty about any piece of art that connects with you and makes you feel something. And musicals, ultimately, have made me feel a lot of love and happiness and gratitude.

Thanks, Mom. 

In Defense of Carly Rae Jepsen and The Power of Feminine Pop

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Interscope Records

Courtesy of Interscope Records

It’s common knowledge that music made by pop musicians like Carly Rae Jepsen are often overlooked as being nothing more than a guilty pleasure. Critiques and music snobs alike are known to write pop off as being less culturally valuable, and even less artful than other genres of music. And Jepsen, who once was seen as the epitome of the thick-headed bubblegum pop princess courtesy of her hit song “Call Me Maybe,” can attest to that.

With Emotion, which dropped this past June, Jepsen proves that pop is the perfect platform for conveying that very emotion which labels the project, and the importance of agency for young feminine people.

I’ve been a fan of pop since the dawn of time (aka when I discovered “...Baby One More Time” when I was five years old), and in more recent years I’ve added “boy band luvr” to my repertoire (Directioner 4 Lyf). My love for all things pop was always undeniable, but that didn’t stop me from denying it with every music-related question asked of me. “Oh, I listen to indie stuff,” I would tell those who expressed curiosity about my music taste. But really, the “indie” portion of my music collection consisted of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” some Vampire Weekend songs, and a few Belle and Sebastian albums (hardly indie). My actual shit was blasting One Direction till my ears bled, stopping only to sample every pop musician the boys admire or have worked with. And understandably. Pop is a perfect escape and release for its listeners. And I could get on board with most of it pretty easily. Well, except Carly Rae Jepsen.

I still don’t quite understand where my initial hatred for her came from. It could have been my desperate need to retain some kind of “coolness” in an iTunes library filled with pop music. It could have been the hyperfeminine way she sounded and presented, a type of femininity I found obnoxious and a constant reminder of the fact that I didn’t fit that image. But once I let my guard down about the pop music thing (I’m pretty out and proud about my music taste now, clearly) and came to appreciate the freeing vulnerability and unapologetic femininity in some pop music as demonstrated by artists like Taylor Swift, I was ready to try Jepsen’s latest creation over the summer. And boy, was I impressed.

With Emotion, Jepsen created a beautifully constructed pop album that clearly draws inspiration from multiple members of American pop royalty, and music styles reminiscent of both 80s and 90s pop. But what’s most thrilling about the album is her unique portrayal of a human’s emotions, especially concerning love. Emotion seems to exist within the infinite realm of possibility, the moment between developing a feeling and acting on that feeling. And so Jepsen achieves writing an entire album of love songs that don’t involve a single romantic partner, with only a few exceptions, like the track “I Really Like You.” It’s empowering, hopeful, and full of promise (much like love) and a departure from other records like it.

The album begins with the rich wail of a saxophone in the opening track “Run Away With Me.” The sound alone threatens to practically sweep you off your feet, as you are completely engulfed by the song’s promise of the night ahead, as Jepsen exclaims, “Baby, take me to the feeling.” It feels incredibly romantic and full of potential, but not toward anyone in particular, making the listener wonder if it’s about a lover, the night, or herself.

What sometimes makes me hesitant about pop music is the incessant “I need a boyfriend” or “come fuck me” conversation going on in the lyrics. When I’m single or not particularly on the prowl for any sexual attention, certain pop music feels draining for me, leaving me with a peculiar feeling of emptiness. Jepsen’s album, however, fills in the empty spots with liberation and empowerment. Even though much of the songs are probably (or could be interpreted as being) about a boy, I noticed during my listening experience that it didn’t feel that way. It feels more like a series of love songs to yourself, to the night, to the future and what’s ahead. The music isn’t only more relatable that way, but also somehow gives the listener a sense of agency. Because the answer isn't a boy or a partner--it's in yourself. Now that’s the kind of pop music that I need in my life.

That doesn’t mean Jepsen shies away from sexuality either, even if she is talking more about a concept, dream or in-between moment than a full-fledged relationship or sexual encounter. In “Warm Blood,” her heartbeat and climbing blood pressure is palpable as she explains her animalistic infatuation, whispering “warm blood feels good, I can’t control it anymore.” Similarly, “I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance” asserts Jepsen as an empowered sexual being who gets lusty cravings and confidently pursues them. However, what’s missing from her portrayal of this sexual agency is raw sexuality that can be controlled or objectified. She enjoys her sexuality without caring about or getting attached to men or societal ideals. She's just doing her. 

Emotion is one of the few pop albums that is completely about love and simultaneously having nothing to do with love, seemingly detached from the male gaze (as much as that is possible, at least). The album talks about the romance of potential, forever dangling in a dreamy space where getting enraptured by self-love and the hope of the future is more likely to happen than getting swept off your feet by some random dude. Which, hey, in a modern society and in a present-day feminist, this is definitely more positive! The album puts the focus entirely on Jepsen’s thought process, a space that is often more trustworthy than in the hands of others. And so those who are afraid of pursuing love and prefer the delicious dream of it, or the first moments of courtship, can truly revel in the validity of these moments through Emotion.

Jepsen is perfect. The album is perfect. And when I listen to it, I feel a never-ending well of light and love in myself that I sometimes forget I have. No, you don’t need a man. Yes, it’s okay if that date doesn’t work out or that person doesn’t text you back. Because, as Jepsen reminds you, it’s about your emotional journey and not necessarily the destination.