Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reflections on childhood, and What is art?

My dad has this theory that four is the best possible age to be. You're old enough to make your own decisions, but you don't have any real responsibilities yet. You say, “Mom, I'll have a PB & J and some juice. I'm gonna watch some cartoons, and then I think I'll take a nap." Mom brings you the sandwich and the juice while you kick back. Then you’re lured into kindergarten with all the stuff you did in preschool: macaroni art, naptime, etc. All the toys are still there. My younger sister walked into the first day of first grade, and her jaw dropped. “Where are the toys.....? You mean we have to do work ALL DAY?" Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life, as they say. For a lot of us, college (COLLEGE!) is like being four again; Mom and Dad aren't around anymore, but (for some of us) they're still footing the bill while we figure out what we want to do with our lives. But soon enough, the toys will be gone again – and that thought is a scary one.

My dad is a TV producer with 6 Emmys under his belt. I am currently in the sometimes-grueling process of trying to follow in his footsteps. I consider myself lucky to have a dad in "the industry" (which will henceforth be referred to as such in quotation marks) who can help me get on my feet and whatnot (“It’s all about who you know,” they keep telling us), but I promise I’ll never be that girl whose daddy got her the job. Ever since I was a child, for better or worse and whether I was aware of it or not, I’ve been studying and criticizing TV and film. Whenever we’d sit down and watch something as a family, we used to whine about how Dad would never shut up and ruined everything we watched. I’ve become that person. I know I’m coming into “the industry” at a scary but exciting time. There are limitless opportunities with these expanding and evolving technologies. But with the refinement of this technology comes the refinement of its content. I want to make sure that what we’re watching is as good as the technology we watch it on, if not better.

My parents met when they were lowly NBC pages. On November 26, 1987, John Palmer announced my birth on the Today Show. Two years later, I learned how to read, primarily with the help of a show called “Sesame Street." My parents took me to a Christmas party at our neighbors' house where my father chatted with a man who prided himself on not owning a TV so that his kids wouldn’t be “brainwashed” by it. My father then mentioned that he worked in TV. Minutes later, this man saw me reading to the other kids at the party. "Where did she learn to read so young?" he asked. "TV," my dad replied.

“Why do I want to do this again?” I find myself wondering every now and then. Whether or not our society accepts it, television and film have evolved into modern forms of literature and Western art. Our (and I use “our” in the most relaxed sense) attention spans are too short for books. We learn about philosophers like John Locke not from reading about them, but from watching “Lost.” I don’t consider the TV an “idiot box” – I learn a lot from watching “all that crap,” and I really do watch all of it. Sue me. I love picking up on references to Hamlet and Hitler in “The Lion King.” This is what gets me off.

In a society that has become so postmodern (I fucking hate that term, but what else is there to use?), television and film have become intermediaries between pop culture and history, classic literature, religion, and mythology. We're well-read enough to notice these references. Hell, we even notice references to other movies. People complain about this; that we’re getting all our information secondhand – but it’s what makes our generation so unique, and for better or worse, that’s how it is. It all fascinates me, which is why I want to study it further. I am a devoted fan of “30 Rock,” which hits the nail on the head when it comes to what I’m really trying to say here:

"More than jazz, or musical theater, or morbid obesity, television is the true American art form. Think of all the shared experiences television has provided us......from the moon the Golden Girls Walter Cronkite denouncing Oprah pulling that trashbag of fat out in a wagon.....from the glory and the pageantry of the Summer Olympics, to the less fun Winter Olympics. So please, don't tell me I don't have a dream, sir. I am living my dream."