Monday, September 27, 2010

My Generation 2010 - An Even Bigger Disappointment Than The Decade Itself

The genre: Mockumentary. A red flag already. The premise: A film crew who did a documentary of 9 high school kids in the year 2000 returns in 2010 to see Where They Are Now.

To begin with, this show was hard to get into. The dissonance between the Austin setting and the generic US mall accents was bewildering, even jarring. I'm guessing that "Austin" was just pulled out of a hat by a writing and production team whose areas of knowledge and expertise do not include - oh never mind.

My personal preference is to give a show more than one episode before forming much of an opinion of it. In fact, my usual practice is to let it run for several seasons, unwatched by me, end, and then several years after THAT, sit down and watch the whole series at once.

But this one had such a promising premise that I not only watched the premiere episode, but foolishly allowed my expectations to exceed recommended pre-viewing levels, thus ensuring disappointment.

The first really big lump of it plopped itself down when Steven, the erstwhile "overachiever" with "success" as his watchword, was presented as an utter failure, when my perception was that he had indeed achieved success.

He was in a place he wanted to be, doing things he enjoyed doing.

I am obliged, however, to bring myself up short right there. However content, even happy, he might be with his life, because he had neither become affluent nor chosen a career path that the culture claims to value (even if the value is not necessarily manifested in market terms) he was, in fact, made of FAIL.

Later in the episode, of course, I realized that it was necessary to portray him as a worthless piece of ish, and in a way that would indeed be perceived as such by viewers.

As his backstory was revealed, I was obliged to acknowledge that maybe I was being too hasty - maybe he wasn't all that content and happy. Maybe he was just trying to make lemonade out of the lemons life had handed him, and that I was just chillaxing up on my moral high horse projecting stuff about how he and everybody else SHOULD have this huge Epiphany that success is not about how much money you have, or societal approval (even if the society doesn't put its money where its mouth is).

I was also (a little unreasonably) disappointed in some of the other story lines. The rich boy who forsook his true love apparently motivated by filial piety, and/or loving parental dollars more (I guess we'll find out if Dad threatened to cut him off) and settled for a loveless marriage, ten years into which he still sits around watching videos of his Lost Love and pining, was Bollywoodesque in its predictability, as was the story of the wife he settled for - blonde ectomorph with dreams of stardom who makes it to maybe the second Rose ceremony in Season Two or something of The Bachelor, upon which she forsakes her showbiz aspirations and settles for a loveless marriage to the local rich boy instead.

Ditto the boy who as a high school student, claims his only ambition is to have a family with lots of kids. A decade later, not only is he still unmarried and childless, his only "kids" the ones in the elementary school class he teaches, he's still a virgin, living with and caring for a girl he's in love with, but who is married to and pregnant by someone else (Dawn, known in high school as "The Punk") - and as if that weren't enough, he's sterile!

My inner curmudgeoness hmmphed loudly that all this is evidence that the writers are not averse to taking the easy way out, which does not bode well for the future, but I told her to shut up because she was being unfair.

If some of the characters' stories were too obvious, at the other extreme we have Carolyn the ultra-timid, silent "invisible" girl, (quaintly characterized as "wallflower") who, we are told, hooked up with Steven the "overachiever" and Quintessential Popular Boy on prom night.

While such might be the dream of many an ultra-timid, silent and invisible "wallflower," who might indeed hook up (and get knocked up) on prom night, her babydaddy is so not going to be the Popular Boy. Another night, maybe. But I promise you, the Popular Boy is way too busy on prom night to impregnate the wallflower.

Not to mention that fully ten years have passed, during which she has blossomed into a beautiful, articulate and grown-ass woman, doing just fine raising her child, and suddenly she feels compelled not only to inform a sperm donor who never even knew her name that fertilization occurred, but also plants these daddyhavin' expectations into the mind of a child who has made it to the fifth grade just fine with whatever previous explanation of his parentage she had previously given.

This, too, requires excessive levels of suspension of disbelief. Either this is a call she would have made the first time the kid asks "how come I don't have a daddy like Binky and them?" or at least in the first few months, even year, of telling him whatever she told him, or the call would have been for purpose of obtaining family medical history only, as the result of suddenly becoming aware that this is Important, (but not also becoming aware that here in Modern Today, there are tests that can determine that stuff) and would likely have been made through an intermediary, since her only contact with this person consists of that one hookup, and it is reasonable to presume that had she, (who is, remember, presented to us as having blossomed into this intelligent and responsible grown-ass woman) had any desire to have Steven "be part of her son's life," she would surely have expressed that desire, and informed him of the reproductive event, long ere this.

I'm not even going to commit additional rantage on the whole thing of putting these expectations into her child's head. That might be the kind of thing that MethGranny over on Teen Mom would do, but not the character of Carolyn (unless her initial protrayal is waaay deceptive, and we have yet to learn that she is addicted to meth, or suffering from some severe and untreated mental and/or emotional illness).

Almost as ridiculous is the proposition that the girl labeled "The Brain" reacts to the casting of a particular politician as on-camera talent by abandoning her lifelong passion for science and becoming a lawyer who helps banking companies write laws that ensure that banks will receive additional revenue.

This makes me think that the deadline was looming really large, and everybody on the writing team had been really busy with something else, so there was only one story idea in the hat for Brenda, and they just had to go with it.

About the only believable character is that of Falcon, the "Rock Star," who has become a wigga who does production and post-production for bands that have not become commercially successful.

Oh, well, yeah, there's the obligatory "Jock" who sacrifices a promising career in the sport he loves as the result of a belief-based choice to participate in the implementation of business decisions favorable to the interests of key industries. Sadly, that's believable.

Even as, against my better judgment, I went ahead and allowed all these opinions and views to harden like two coats of Sally Hansen's finest, I realize that they could all come back and bite me in the butt.

But I accept only very limited responsibility, because, if they are going to do that, if all my perceptions are just so, so wrong, then the writers should have given me some hint of that.

It would be hints of that, you see, that would flame the spark of my interest, and bring about the presence of a strong desire to see Episode 2.

Not only did the premiere lack cliff-hangers, try as I might, the only real intriguing unanswered question that I can recall has to do with the rich boy forsakes true love to please/obtain money from parents story: because the rich boy is white, his true love is Latin American, and the girl he settled for is the blonde ectomorph, with the Texas setting, the obvious rush-to-judgment is that his parents had a strong preference for a white daughter in law.

BUT - we later find out that the Jock, who is African-American, is his best friend since childhood.

So does the show plan to take us on a journey through the various levels and permutations of anti-Otherness in Texas - that his parents believe that being BFFs with someone from a different ethnic group is OK but marriage is not OK? Or that the parents simply have an aversion to Latin Americans?

I mean, if they want to go there, that is actually pretty realistic. Ethnic divisions, especially those in a demographic majority/minority context, do tend to increase in intensity according to the size of the minority, with the largest ethnic minority in a given region frequently taking the brunt of impact.

For example, at least until recently, if you went to a small town in Alabama, you would typically find a mainstream demographic, or majority population, of Euromericans, or white folks, and certainly the largest, indeed frequently the only statistically registering minority to be African-Americans, a group with which the majority Euromercians have had a longstanding division.

People from Latin America or Asia, as long as there were only a few of them, might experience markedly lower levels of anti-Otherness-driven impact.

In contrast, if you went to a small town in Texas, where again, you might find that Euromerican majority, the largest ethnic minority might well be Latin Americans, and even while there might be a significant level of anti-Otherness directed toward African-Americans, it would be more intense toward Latin Americans.

Add to that the very real prevalence of the belief among some Euromerican groups that social integration, friendship, and between members of different groups, is acceptable, but marriage is not. (Though clandestine sexual activity between white males and females of other ethnic groups, whether consensual or not on the part of the latter, has a long history of quiet acceptance).

Like I said, if they really wanna go there, given the cultural context, it would be believable for Anders' parents to approve of his friendship with Rolly the Jock, but strongly disapprove of the idea of accepting Brenda the Brain as a daughter-in-law, even if they did not disapprove, at least as strongly, of his dating her in high school.

As we see, however, all that seems just a smoosh complex for any TV show, much less a network "mockumentary" whose premise encompasses a decade in the lives of nine different people, which means that Rich Boy's parents disapproved of Brenda is almost certainly for some other reason - maybe her family is poor.

Economic segregation is every bit as marked and and comprehensive as racial apartheit ever was, and in many communities (though not typically ones in Texas) has surpassed ethnicity-based social segregation, which is still pretty comprehensive and marked in its own right.

Or - and here I am clearly sailing off on the wings of imagination - one or more of Brenda's relatives has a history of having committed some crime or other, for which they spent some time subsumed into the judicial system, even generating a revenue stream for the prison industry!

Now THAT would indeed have some cultural reflection possibilities, if the crime were something like shoplifting, or even sticking up a convenience store.

That's because two of the characters were impacted by business decisions made by the Enron company, with one even sacrificed as an acceptable target of opinions and feelings that would, if applied consistently and on a larger scale, be considered anti-business!

So if they wanted, they could contrast how the child of a parent who has stolen a chicken is perceived vis a vis the perception of the child of one who has stolen the coop - white collar vs blue collar crime, etc etc.

But that is unlikely, too, since that would lead us down yet another "Do they really wanna go there?" road, and get into some pretty heavy topics, many of which would simply not be a good fit for commercial network TV.

Maybe it was the Brain thing. Maybe Anders' parents didn't feel that Brenda was a good choice as a marriage partner because they feared that with her Brain, she might not wish to be a full-time parent and homemaker, and that was important to them, or that she would become bored with Anders, which would probably be a pretty good call, had Brenda not pretty much shed herself of the whole Brain thing by ditching science for law school and ending up helping rich men make more money because some suits in another board room made a decision that as it was intended, resulted in rich men making a whole mess of more money.

Plus, ten years post-high school, Brenda continues to carry a such a big torch for the unremarkable Anders that she not only hasn't married - she "doesn't date." If she were really that much of a Brain, wouldn't she have figured out by now that her high school boyfriend is something of a dud?

This brings us, at long last, to the real meat of this episode. Well, the pit, really.

See, one of Brenda's co-workers decides to set her up on a blind date. She agrees to go, it is implied, because the documentary cameras caught her gazing wistfully at a picture of Anders the Dud, and she wants to throw us off, you know, so we won't think she still hasn't gotten over him.

Whoever this co-worker dude is, it'll be interesting to see if he turns out to be a recurring character, because he clearly has an abysmally low opinion of Brenda, because the dude with whom he fixes her up is a total asshat. "I have a small penis," he leans forward to confide, less than five minutes after Brenda sits down. "But I know how to use it," he adds, and then offers Brenda the opportunity to speak, something she has yet to do, since asshat has been sitting there rattling off one proof after another that he is not somebody with whom even a moderate Brain-owner would want to have so much as a nodding acquaintance.

But it's his table manners that Brenda cites to the co-worker in the de-briefing scene. He put his olive pits on the bread plate.

Let me preface this by stating how much I resent being in the position of defending even this minute detail of the behavior of the Blind Date From Hell character.

Though I agree it is riddled with aesthetically-challengedness, if the restaurant did not provide a plate specifically to contain the pits, putting them on the bread plate is pretty much the conventional Western dining etiquette wisdom.

I didn't happen to catch whether before putting them there, he removed them discreetly and unobtrusively, but that's what is supposed to happen.

The rule says "remove by the same method it went in" but in the case of olive pits, even if they went in with a fork, discrete and unobtrusive removal is more likely to be achieved by pretending to dab delicately with one's napkin, then swiftly removing the pit with the fingers of the other hand, using the napkin as a shield, having first (discreetly and unobtrusively) pushed the pit up to the lips/front teeth area, so that the fingertips do not need to enter the mouth). Ew.

Here's Why: There may have been a time when it was a common practice for people to hold their napkins up to their mouths when inserting a food-laden fork, but in Modern Today, this is so seldom if ever done that it would call much more attention than just holding a napkin up to dab, which is done all the time, thus exponentially increasing the likelihood that no one will notice that you removed something from your mouth. (That is, until they see you put it on the plate, whether bread or olive pit).

Unless it is a very casual restaurant with paper napkins that you can ball up, hiding the pit in your napkin is extremely poor manners, because a human being who has just as much value and worth as you do is going to pick up that napkin when they clear the table, and another one is going to unfold it, and neither is on this earth, or working in the restaurant, to have stuff that has been in your mouth tumble out into their hands. Re-Ew.

I don't know if I will bother watching Episode 2 of this show or not. Having committed such a massive word-dump on it, you might think I would be really eager to discover how wrong - or right - my initial impressions prove to be.

You might be right, maybe I should see some more of it, if only for that reason, but that's kind of the problem. The show itself hasn't given me any reason, or even particular desire, to tune in next week.

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