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television without sanity
step away from the remote
by mike julianelle
pop culture

The Sopranos, Alias, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Six Feet Under, 24, Angel, The Wire.

Those are the TV shows I watch on a regular basis. During the season, there are four nights a week when I have shows to watch, shows to tape, shows to anticipate (the other three nights? Drunktime).

I can be pretty passionate about some of those shows. Sometimes they piss me off and sometimes they astound me. But I always know they are going to end, and I always know that they will end in May. I’m used to it. Like every unemployed American failure, I grew up on TV and I know its seasons like I know the seasons. So I can deal with the summer break. It sucks to have to wait so long for new installments, but that feeling of disappointment dissipates once summer starts and I can drink outside.

I’ve been surfing the net this spring, perusing some of the journalistic eulogies for Buffy (shame it’s gone, but glad the bleeding’s stopped) and I’ve noticed a disturbing phenomenon: crying.

I don’t cry often. I cried in high school when my mother and I brought our sick cat to the vet one final time. I cried when my grandfather died, and then again when I saw the car that he’d left me (it’s teal). I cried one day around 1987 when my brother kept taunting me with Bill Buckner’s immortal error. I almost cried at the end of Without a Trace when Kate Nelligan’s chubby little kid got rescued from white trash hell. But I didn’t cry when Buffy died - twice - and I didn’t cry when I watched the last episode. I didn’t cry when Chandler - sorry, Sandy - died on Growing Pains ("Mike Seaver, that's the meanest trick you've ever played!"), and I didn’t cry when Seinfeld bowed out in spectacularly non-funny fashion.

Maybe it’s because I’m shallow, maybe it’s because I’m not shallow, maybe it’s because I know the difference between real life and entertainment. It doesn’t matter. I don’t cry about fictional things that happen on television. Who does?

Apparently lots of people.

One quick frolic around the net should have you convinced that there are some real wackos out there. I mean, behold: This guy. Scroll down a bit to the pictures. Oh yeah, that's nice. But I didn’t realize how many obsessive TV fans are out there until I spent some time seeking them out.

I am not equating people who get emotional over big moments on TV shows with, well, that guy above. After all, just because I'm not as sensitive as the next girl doesn't make it wrong to shed a tear or two over an affecting moment. I'm just a little perplexed by it all.

Television Without Pity is an increasingly popular site that dissects and analyzes and chides and rebukes nearly every notable show on TV in an amusingly snarky but exhaustingly long-winded manner. The show recaps are scene-by-scene, moment-by-moment, snark-after-snark, and they often stretch on and on for more than 10 pages. That’s fine; the staffers at the site are paid to be painstaking and thorough and the recaps can be very entertaining. But there is another section of the site that is less professional, more interactive, just as entertaining in its own right, and also slightly disturbing. That’s the talkback forums, where TWoP readers gather to discuss their favorite shows.

Every show has its own discussion group and a quick perusal of them left me feeling unnerved. I’m not judging, mind you; I have participated in plenty of passionate and opinionated conversations about favorite TV shows - hell, I’ve even done it online myself at various sites. It’s not the fact that people love their TV shows enough to argue about them. It’s the fact that people obsess over the shows and characters so much that they start to lose perspective.

The behavior of some of the people on the TWoP boards and some other, more niched websites, goes above and beyond normal TV watching. I mean, I guess I can kind of relate to some of the characters on a show or two. Skippy from Family Ties comes immediately to mind. And I’ve been told I look like 90210's David Silver, even without my hoop earrings. But I draw the line at “kind of relate”. I don’t think I could ever say this about a character on a tv show: She was the most compassionate character, quiet, strong, adorable, sweet, steadfast, soulful. I miss her subtle humor...and her emotional smarts. I actually have had recurring dreams in which I'm [her and] living with the rest of the [characters].

I’m not gonna sit here and list all the bizarre examples of obsession and projection that I’ve encountered in my “research”. Just believe me when I tell you it's scary out there. What's that? You're skeptical? Okay, one more quote, which is one poster's reaction to a character's death on Buffy: Burn in Hell Joss Whedon. I hope everything you love leaves you. Yikes.

Like I said, I’m not judging; God knows I’m nobody’s poster boy for normality. I just don’t get that level of intensity. I watch shows every week, I talk about shows with my friends and I occasionally buy DVD sets of entire series runs. But I don’t form attachments to characters to the point that I get violently angry when they are written off the show. I don't fall in love with pieces of celluloid because of endearing personality traits some writer whipped up. And I certainly don't imagine that I am that character. I’m more likely to cheer a hated character’s death or departure than I am to bawl my eyes out over a favorite one's wedding. Shit happens, life goes on, no one really died on that soundstage. Get yourself together.

I’m sure that some level of submersion into the reality of these TV shows can be healthy. Imagination is a powerful thing, and watching a lot of TV is probably a better way to spend your time than getting blacked-out smasho or superhigh as shit. But once you start believing in the reality of these characters, well, the writers and actors have hit the jackpot, but you’ve gotten a little goofy. Maybe it’s time to take a step back, stop crying over the romatic travails of Rachel and Joey and Ross and realize you’re about as likely to become friends with fictional characters as those Friends are to hang out with black people.


Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".

more about mike julianelle


the american ream
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topic: pop culture
published: 8.21.02

be yourself
and your hell will follow
by mike julianelle
topic: pop culture
published: 1.14.04


matt morin
6.9.03 @ 1:58a

Yeah, I don't get this either. The only show currently on TV that I make a point to watch: Sportscenter.

I'd rather put on some music and read a magazine than watch 99% of what's on TV.

juli mccarthy
6.9.03 @ 2:16a

I'm not a big TV watcher, but there have been a few shows I have really loved and a few characters that always amuse me, entertain me, and yes, make me cry. I got pretty attached to the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, for example. I cry at the drop of a hat anyhow - my daughter teases me unmercifully about the time I cried during a rerun of Webster - but I have never gotten so involved in a show to actually CARE if it went off the air. Sure, I would have liked to see soem shows go on longer, but I really do not get obsessing over anything on TV. It amazes me that anyone would!

matt morin
6.9.03 @ 2:45a

Juli, never again admit you cried during a Webster rerun.

russ carr
6.9.03 @ 2:50a

Uh, dude...Ross was dating a black girl on Friends this season. Just sayin'...

michelle von euw
6.9.03 @ 9:35a

Oh, that quote's about Anya, correct?

The TWOP board moderators definitely discourage against people making personal threats against creators/ actors on TV shows. Though the fact that they have to proves that there are some people who get too tied up in a television show.

adam kraemer
6.9.03 @ 11:20a

Well, it's like those stories you hear about soap opera actors who play "bad guys" having women come up to them at the supermarket and yell at them for something their character did.

I admit that sometimes poignancy gets to me. The scene in Field of Dreams when he's finally playing catch with his dad - that gets me a bit misty. But, I totally agree. It's one thing to let what you're watching affect your emotions (that's really the point of watching some things); it's entirely another to let what you're watching affect your life.

del harvey
6.9.03 @ 11:43a

Television has truly become THE optiate of the masses: our politicians win or lose elections via the tube; we fight wars vicariously through the tube; we are fed (mis) information about current events via the tube; is it no small wonder that we get attached to fictional characters thanks to this electron emitter whose sole means of existence is to burn images on our brain for hours at a time?

Nice article, Mike. Spot on.

mike julianelle
6.9.03 @ 11:44a

Actually, Michelle, the quote's about Tara.

And Adam, that's exactly right. Going into mourning when a character dies/leaves a show is going way overboard. Just watch the reruns, nutjob.

mike julianelle
6.9.03 @ 1:45p

You're right, Del. And though I don't get into it in my column, it's funny that people get attached to fictional characters on fictional shows while at the same time, the 24/7 news coverage of wars and etc. leaves people somehwat desensitized to real suffering. We may have bombed a hospital or two, but we got those statues toppled! And thank God Rachel and Joey finally kissed!

jael mchenry
6.9.03 @ 2:30p

Escapism. I, for one, need it like I need air. Nothing wrong with that.

heather millen
6.9.03 @ 2:46p

I, for one, am completely against Rachel and Joey kissing.

mike julianelle
6.9.03 @ 3:04p

I need escapism too. But once that escapism bleeds into real life emotion, beyond the isolated realities of the characters and shows, then there's some trouble.
Ross and Rachel must end up together or the show is a paradox.

mike julianelle
6.9.03 @ 3:05p

Wait a second. Did Juli actually say she cried at an episode of Webster?! When was it, Juli? When the balloons nearly carry him into the stratosphere during the opening credits?

heather millen
6.9.03 @ 3:21p

I cried my eyes out at the Series Finale of Dawson's Creek. I was feeling homesick, so get the fuck off me!

Sometimes, honestly, it's easier to allow yourself to get upset/feel emotion for some silly tv show/movie than your real life. I often find myself using that as an outlet for something more important (but harder to deal with) that's going on in reality.


matt morin
6.9.03 @ 3:38p

You people are strange.

The last entertainment I cried at was E.T. when I was about 11. I don't think I've ever cried over a TV show.

tracey kelley
6.9.03 @ 4:01p

Yes, but you've gone gaga over reality TV, something I've never done.

It's more fake then an actual made-for-TV sitcom.

Juli, I hear ya. I cried at the last WKRP. I cried at the end of ST: TNG. I cried when Big left Carrie the album in an empty apartment. I cried when Claire saw her baby. I cry at Church of Latter Day Saints commercials...

...and IM gatherings. Leave me alone.

matt morin
6.9.03 @ 4:14p

If we ever run out of alcohol at an IM gathering, I guarantee we'll all cry...

robert melos
6.9.03 @ 4:51p

I guess I'm pretty cold hearted in general. I did come close to crying once when watching Steel Magnolias, and I came close to crying again when reading Southern Discomfort and Time Enough For Love. I believe people cry for selfish reasons. We cry for our feelings of loss, for what is missing from our lives. We don't cry because someone died, but because they won't be in our lives. Call me a cold hearted bastard if you will, call me evil and mean, but make sure you call me for dinner.

Oh yeah, Mike, great column.

heather millen
6.9.03 @ 5:30p

I don't agree with that. I've cried for someone else's sadness before. Where something happened to them that really didn't affect me, but I felt for the pain they were going through and that made me sad enough to cry.

Now, I'm not talking about Pacey or Dawson here. I try to limit that kind of reaction to "real" people. But let's face it, crying at anything (especially tv/movies) is much more a girl thing. I'm not shocked by any of this.

And Trace, I'm with ya. There's some tearjerkin' commercials out there.

juli mccarthy
6.9.03 @ 6:31p

Tracey, it's start to scare me more and more how alike we are on some things.

Pat Conroy, in his book The Prince of Tides, had a whole page of Tom Wingo talking about crying and how he gushes up for sentimentality, but for real sadness, he makes jokes. It's hard to identify with any of Conroy's characters because they are so over-the-top, but that one page resonated with me. Laughter is how we cushion ourselves from pain, but the tears must flow, so they turn on for cheap sentimentality.

michelle von euw
6.10.03 @ 10:00a

I'm with Tracey. I'm teary-eyed girl: but I love that I can cry over TV shows, movies, NCAA playoff games, television commericals...OK, maybe not the last one. But it's a release for me, and being moved by beauty and pain makes me appreciate my life, and being moved by fiction reminds me why I'm a writer -- what are we doing, if not striving for emotional response? I just give back in spades.

mike julianelle
6.10.03 @ 11:13a

Did anyone actually click on the Peter Pan guy's link? I'm surprised he didn't generate any discussion. What a wacko!

erik myers
6.10.03 @ 11:16a

Yeah.. I've seen him. I've been there. He really is a wack job.

mike julianelle
6.10.03 @ 11:17a

Yeah, I've actually known about that site for several years. But those pictures! Wow.

brian anderson
6.10.03 @ 11:19a

Actually taking a look at the pictures, I realized that I might be a touch *too* desensitized. I looked, and thought, "Yeah, okay, guy to stay away from at the Ren Faire. Check."

robert melos
6.10.03 @ 10:13p

Okay the Peter Pan guy frightens me. A lot!

mike julianelle
6.10.03 @ 10:18p

Really? He frightens me, but I thought he might be up your alley, Robert!

mike julianelle
6.12.03 @ 4:13p

I gotta jump back in and agree with Juli's point above, that we cushion ourselves from crying about the real heavy stuff, so when something cheap comes along, sometimes the dam bursts. I think that explains why I could almost feel myself tearing up at a few of the happy moments in Spellbound. I didn't cry, mind you, but I felt the tug. Proud parents and all that jazz.

robert melos
6.12.03 @ 11:59p

Nope, Mike, that guy ain't up my alley. I'm a top. Aside from that, the guy is too obsessive. I've been through the obsessive types. Somewhere out there, is a normal, average, semi-sane gay man who wants nothing more than a simple life with a partner.

As for crying, I'm still going with the theory we cry for our own losses, or what is lacking in our lives. I don't say I don't cry, or that I'm ashamed of crying, only that I acknowledge my tears as a sign of my selfishness, as a sign of what is lacking in my life.

nick r.
6.23.03 @ 9:44p

Yes, there are a lot of people who get way too tied up in television shows. There are also a lot of people who get way too tied up in politics and religion, and the arguments these people get into can be just as silly as, if not sillier than, a debate over which of the demons on Buffy had the pointiest horns.


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