I’ve become, quite accidentally, a devotee of reality television as self-care in recent weeks. I’d always been a fan of things like Top Chef or Project Runway, but had stopped watching some years ago due to an outside influence that turned them from guilty pleasures into shameful ones; something I internalized, sadly. It took the one-two punch of Hulu offering up seasons of both shows on its launch page and a randomly stumbled-upon NYT article about the latest season of Project Runway to draw me back in and, reader, they were everything I need.
There needs to be an essay written — perhaps there already has been — about the way in which the familiarity of these shows is comforting, that each episode is constructed both as a complete narrative in and of itself (Who Will Win being the primary plot, the artificial machinations and rivalries of the contestants as subplots, with special attention spent on one or two contestants’ backstories providing more emotional context each episode) and part of a greater, season-long storyline. That there are few real surprises beyond, perhaps, the winner and loser of each episode isn’t the bug that some complain about; it’s a feature. These shows aren’t watched to be surprised, their value is gladiatorial soap opera.
I’ve written before, I’m sure, about the emotional value of trash culture — that something you enjoy but feel unchallenged by can be relaxing and good for you purely by distracting you from real worries and allowing you to de-stress and let your mind relax from panic mode. It’s on this level that Project Runway and Top Chef work for me, and so, so successfully. Getting sucked in to who’s in and who’s out, or watching chefs screw up during Restaurant Wars, feels like the very best way to unwind after work, and stop thinking about more important things for a brief second.
And then there’s Queer Eye, but that’s another thing altogether…
I’ve been thinking about “influencers” since watching that Netflix documentary about Fyre Festival recently; the notion of holding such social currency that a recommendation from you has monetary value to others. I’m egotistical/realistic enough to know that I’m a quasi-influencer in the world of comics — at least, insofar as what I write about in outlets can be influential — but no-one has ever tried to pay me for that purpose. It’s something that makes me uncomfortable, anyway, the idea of me recommending some random comic and it becoming a thing, and I do it far less often than I might otherwise for that very reason.
(Also, I tend to recommend things that are niche, if not downright obscure, which arguably devalues my nascent influencer status. This might be unintentional self-sabotage, I wouldn’t like to say.)
Still; I cant quite get my head around either the influencer or the influenced. What is the appeal? That you too could be like this person if you like what they like and buy what they buy? Is it aspirational in that sense, or simply the effect of fandom and wanting to understand and share your hero’s tastes? Is there a hope that, if you follow in their cultural and capitalist footsteps, they’ll know and like you more, or that you’ll share their inexplicable power, somehow?
All of this was in my head as I watched Fyre, distracting me from the (genuinely staggering) story of mismanagement and enabling and greed, because even as the festival got shoddier and more pathetic as it edged closer to existence, I couldn’t shake this one thought: All of the attendees kind of deserve this for falling for it in the first place.
Like most good people, I’m currently watching/enjoying/theorizing wildly Netflix’s Russian Doll — I’m only halfway through the season and watching sporadically, on the evenings where my brain feels up to it, so no spoilers, please. In addition to all of the many joys of watching Natasha Lyonne’s wonderfully subtle, off-kilter performance (I love the way in which she continually veers from losing it to faked-confidence, trying to convince herself as much as anyone else that she can work out what’s going on, that she’s in “control”), I’m constantly in awe of the musical choices of the show. It just sounds great.
Of course, the Harry Nilsson of it all is central, with “Gotta Get Up” playing with each reboot. It’s such a smart choice of song; the repetitive sound of the piano echoing the ways in which Nadia can’t stop returning to that point, the obvious lyrical note with “Gotta get up/Gotta get out/Gotta get home before the morning comes” seeming to explain what Nadia is going through with each successive reboot, and the fact that it’s such an earworm of a song, one that starts off being fun and addictive and then, the more and more and more you hear it, it becomes wearing and exhausting and ultimately annoying. (And I say that as someone who genuinely loves the song.)
But it was only this morning that I realized that the real lyrical key to the show was midway through the song: “There was a time when we could dance until a quarter to ten/We never thought it would end then, we never thought it would end/We used to carry on and drink and do the rock and roll/We never thought we’d get older/We never thought it’d grow cold, but now…” For a show that is — to the point I’ve watched, at least, like I said, I’m only halfway through the season — as much about the idea of being forced to re-evaluate behaviors and re-examine choices made to that point, it’s so on the nose, I’m amazed I missed it to this point.
Of course, wait until I catch up with the rest of the season and realize how wrong I am about it all.