The Binge-Watch/Re-watch Contingency

Published 8/10/13 by:

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     Here’s a little lesson in American pop culture history: in the 1960s and 70s there were folks who devoted themselves to bands or singers and called themselves groupies. In the 1980s comic books and video games created subcultures in which people banded together according to which game or comic was most beloved to them. In the 1990s we sort of circumnavigated back to music, but it was split between those mourning Kurt Cobain, and those trying to ask a boy band member to marry them (Taylor Hanson, please return my fan mail). As we head towards the middle of the 2010s, I can’t help but think that our stamp on fandoms will most likely be known for rallying around television shows.

    The TV fangirls and fanboys of the 2010s can most directly be linked to social media. Social media has played an unbelievably large role in developing fan bases that are capable of protesting major networks and getting their favorite television programs renewed (most notably: Chuck and Veronica Mars’ fans). Fans also feel like they have a very organic and personal relationship with the actors on their favorite shows, because social media connects them to the stars of the show, as well as other fans via live-tweeting or chats. Tumblrs, blogs, Twitter accounts, Vines, Instagram accounts, and Facebook pages can be found for essentially any television show currently airing, as well as shows recently canceled. People have a new forum for how they interact with a show, and can instantaneously look up quotes, featured music, behind the scenes facts and shooting locations for just about any show filmed in America. The evolution of TV fangirls and boys has become much more intense since social media’s rise in American culture, but it’s also in part to online streaming capabilities. Netflix, Hulu, and networks such as NBC, ABC, CBS, etc. all provide online streaming that anyone with internet can access (some have subscription costs, some don’t). This means that people who don’t have cable are still able to access their favorite shows on their phones, iPads, computers, and so on. This idea of streaming television shows has led to two new phenomena: TV show binge-watching and “the re-watch”.

   I know a lot of people who binge-watch television series because they can. You’ve never seen Weeds, and the entire series is streaming on Netflix? I know what you’re doing over your summer vacation. You live in Boston and 24 inches of fresh snow is about to get dumped on you? Sounds like you’re about to indulge in the entire first season of House of Cards in three days (guilty as charged). Americans are greedy, demanding, impatient people. You wanted to know if Seth Cohen really made it to Tahiti in his tiny sailboat when the first season of The OC culminated. When Dawson and Joey finally kissed, you needed to know immediately what this meant for their friendship. We want answers the second something unchartered occurs. It’s our nature. When entire seasons of shows are streaming on Netflix, Hulu, or whatever else is out there,  we can’t say no. We binge-watch because we “have to know what happens.” It’s still unclear to me why, and how we got this way, but I don’t know many people of this generation that haven’t binge-watched at least one show. Now, what tends to happen when people choose to marathon through an entire show (because they love it and are dying to know what happens) is that they return to the show at a later date to re-watch it because “it all blended together” or they “forgot a lot of it”. This has certainly happened to me, and additionally, a lot of folks just like to go back to their favorites. It’s this idea of a re-watch that I’m currently fighting in my own life.

   Last week I moved into an apartment in a town I’ve never lived in, with a girl I just met. In college, I knew all of my roommates prior to living with them. During grad school I lived with my parents, and last year, my dental school student younger brother was my roomie. So, I’m definitely treading in some unfamiliar waters. Every time I’ve gone through a major change in my personal life, I find myself clinging on to things that are memorable. Sometimes this means I re-read a favorite book (hello Last Days of Summer), thumb through all of my photo albums, or (and this is usually the frontrunner) I re-watch a favorite television show from start to finish. When I finished college I re-watched all of Dawson’s Creek. When I was unemployed I re-watched all of One Tree Hill. When I moved in with my brother I re-watched all of Friday Night Lights. This is just something I tend to do as a coping mechanism. I yearn for things that I attach to certain times of my life, as well as things that will invoke in me my favorite sensation: sentimentality. While some people may have feelings triggered by a song on the radio, this most often happens to me when I see an episode of a favorite show. The first time I really associated a time, place and feeling with a TV show was in the tenth grade when Nick at Nite decided to re-run all of The Wonder Years. It was the first time I actually felt older (not to be confused with old). I could identify times in my past that I had sat down on a Thursday night to watch The Wonder Years in my old house. I was only 14, so this was a real revelation – one I don’t think I have ever recovered from. I can’t determine why other people re-watch shows, I can only ascertain that I watch them to avoid what I’m dealing with, and succumb to being sentimental for simpler times. I doubt this is normal, but it’s cheaper than therapy. Could this be the tagline for American fangirls of the 2010s?

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Teach Your Children Well: Tackling “Coming of Age”

Published 8/4/13 by:

“Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.” 

-David Bowie

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“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Stand By Me

There are many times per week, day, hour that I feel inadequate as a teacher. Sometimes it’s my own unpreparedness, often times it’s the limitations of how I can approach a topic. Frequently this inadequacy stems from how much time I can allot to something that requires a lengthier discussion or exploration. Since I began teaching middle school, the unit of study that leads me to this type of frustrating standstill which I encounter in my line of work, is a unit aptly titled “Coming of Age” or, “Growing Up Is Hard To Do”. Prior to teaching sixth grade, when I was previewing the six thematic units of study I would be teaching, this unit was the most appealing to me. What could be more appropriate than to discuss change, time marching on, responsibility, crushes, consequences and anything else that begins when you approach teenage-hood? What I quickly realized was that the coming of age unit I would be instructing would be a lot more “Full House” than “Modern Family”.  Thus my sense of inadequacy began.

 

In order to understand how I want to cultivate this unit, you need to know what I’ve covered, please see below:

WRITING: Narrative writing techniques, autobiographical writing, plot maps & their parts: rising action, falling action, climax, exposition, resolution, how to write an opening, how to use dialogue in writing.

TEXTS: “The Giver”, “Walk Two Moons”, “Al Capone Does My Shirts”, “Maniac Magee”, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”, “The Wednesday Wars”, “Tangerine”

TOPICS OF DISCUSSION (developed from novels used): Homelessness, learning disabilities (specifically Autism), going against society and/or your family, war, absent parents, segregated communities, abandonment, reluctance, accepting differences – especially your own.

 

Looking at the list of things I teach during this unit makes me feel pretty groovy. We talk about some hard-hitting themes which can be both historic, and modern. The protagonists in all of the novels listed get entangled in a certain struggle, and in the midst of that struggle slowly cease to be children and rapidly become adults. It all fits together in a nice, lovely puzzle, that drives at important big picture issues, but does not address anything that could be deemed controversial. I want the controversy. I yearn for the controversy. The controversy is essentially what makes people define middle school as the most awkward part of their entire lives (that they can remember). The writing and reading techniques that are taught during this unit are completely appropriate, and I’m satisfied with what my students walk away with, however, the themes and discussions that we untangle could be so much more engaging and relevant to where they are in their young adulthoods. Most school districts, including my own, have to protect teachers (like me) from ourselves. This may sound strange, but it can get very dicey when topics are broached in the classroom that families think are inappropriate, or don’t align with their values. While I would argue that school is the type of safe environment for such topics to be introduced, and that as the world evolves, our kids need to know about society, it has become clear to me that a lot of folks aren’t ready to change with the times. This leads school administration to the protective part of their job in which they advise teachers like myself to toe the line very carefully. I’m getting better at toe-ing the line, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

 

In a perfect world, here’s what I would add to this coming of age unit:

Discussion Topics- Heartbreak, first love, homosexuality, dealing with cliques and/or exclusivity, what to do when you outgrow your friends, what to do when your friends outgrow you, how to negotiate trends (specifically expensive ones), how to conduct yourself in public (especially in large groups, and what you’re wearing), helping others that are in tough situations, negotiating (in general), and how to be trustworthy.

 

Would these topics be easy to create unbiased, respectful conversations around? Absolutely not. Would I be able to keep my opinions to myself? Most likely, no. This is why I’m unable to tackle these ideas in my classroom. It’s my hope that maybe some parents in the universe read this and realize that they could take the lead on this and do the latter (and more fascinating) half of this unit. If my students (and I’m sure most middle schoolers would fit the mold as well) are already using Facebook, Instagram, Vine and Twitter, as well as watching shows like “The Kardashians” or “Pretty Little Liars” then they’re already being exposed to the stuff that I’m not allowed to touch. We (teachers) need parents to help us. The learning should extend beyond the walls of my classroom, and the conversations should be flowing in carpool, on the field, at dance rehearsal, at the dinner table etc. Seize the small moments, parental units! Middle school may be an awkward time, but it’s a crucial time. Help me do our work: teaching the children well – teaching them how to be great humans.

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