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resolving to do some stuff
instead of giving up, giving out
by michelle von euw
pop culture

I heard the other day that New Year’s resolutions are out. Yeah, and northwest Pennsylvania breeds quarterbacks, Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, and kids are deathly afraid of department store Santas. But putting my Captain Obvious (now, with longer hair!) hat aside, I was never any good at making resolutions anyway, so I guess I should be relieved to hear this. (Yes, that’s right. Most people are bad at keeping resolutions; I’m bad at making them. I get all worried about subject/object placement, and caught up on the semantics -– if I vow to go to the gym three times a week, then a drive-by through the parking lot technically counts, right?)

This year, it’s all about simplifying. So instead of making a series of resolutions to do new and fantastic things that will make me a smarter, faster, better, buffer, nicer, more aware person, I’ve decided, instead, to build my list of things I already do, that I continue to keep doing.

Cheating? Maybe technically. But by Groundhog’s Day, when most New Year’s Resolution Lists are long forgotten, I can guarantee I’ll still be doing the following.

1. Watch TV. Look, TV gets a bad rap. Television has always been our socio-cultural whipping boy, the lowest form of entertainment, the place where people who can’t make it in the movies have gone. Furthermore, ever since I began paying attention to these things, we’ve been led to believe that the quality of television programming has been in a constant decline. And, yes, there’s plenty of inexplicable crap on the airwaves (exhibit A: “Yes, Dear’s” insanely long run; exhibit B: the tired list of actors the Emmys trot out year in, year out, proving that the average Academy member is so old he can no longer remember where he put the remote, and is therefore resigned to a steady diet of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The West Wing,” “Desperate Housewives,” and “whatever’s on HBO”).

But here’s my dirty little secret (OK, maybe it’s not a secret): TV rocks. In 2005, I got hooked on “Lost,” “Veronica Mars,” “The Amazing Race,” and “Supernatural;” I also upgraded my passing fancy to full on lust for both “Gilmore Girls” and “Arrested Development.” There’s not just good TV out there, there’s fabulous television, and it’s not only on cable: the shows I mentioned are on ABC, CBS, Fox, The WB and UPN. Granted, the networks are still throwing every single combination of the tired procedural crime drama at us, not to mention plugging their schedules with limp testosterone-laden sitcoms, but tucked beside them are shiny little gems that either are too critically acclaimed to be canceled or miracles, have actually attracted an audience on their own.

2. Be a writer. I woke up on the morning of January 2, and tried to think out a different life. I wondered if 2006 would be infinitely easier if I wasn’t lurching between teaching jobs that may as well pay in Starbucks benefits and wheels of cheese, or facing a mailbox full of student loan payment reminders and envelopes bearing my own handwriting, a sure hint that a shockingly impersonal rejection slip (to call them “letters” would bestow too much dignity upon them) in response to a story that I slaved over for six months, then agonized for two years about exactly the right journal I should send it to. Surely I’d be happier if I didn’t spend hours struggling with how to get a character from her car to her sister’s porch without resorting to calling my efforts “The Evil Exposition Chapter.”

That idea lasted roughly six hours, when I opened an email from a publication accepting a story I’d sent them last February. (I won’t name the journal, or the story, because I’m still not sure there hasn’t been a sorry mistake, and that they’ll yank their offer back, or, better yet, go under like a low-cost airline any moment now.) Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in –-

But, even without that rare burst of optimistic response to what sometimes seems like a masochistic promise, I still would have come to the conclusion that I am a writer, and there’s not much that could happen in 2006 to change that designation.

3. Take Offense. And, really, this one can be more specific. I recognize that when it comes to certain issues, my political views are slightly left of socialism, and this is most often manifested in my ability to bristle against acts of sexist behavior that no one else can spot. The popular TV show “24”? I stopped watching half-way through season one because of what I perceived to be an extremely misogynistic slant to the way the plot unfolded. I’ve never heard any other sane person –- or TV critic –- complain that this show may display a negative portrayal of women, but that still doesn’t sway my decision to take personal offense. A more recent example: While I enjoyed the movie Walk the Line, I was vaguely disturbed by the underlying message that a good woman will always stand angelically by while her man battles his demons, dragging her entire family into the soul-saving process and putting her own career and reputation on the line for his salvation. I was kind of surprised that no one else had pointed this out, until a friend told me how much she hated the movie Wonder Boys, one of my all time favorites.

“How can you not like this film?” I asked her incredulously. “You’re a writer!”

She replied with a very eloquent statement about the way the film treated women -– the men were the brilliant geniuses; Tobey McGuire was given a book deal, while Katie Holmes, gracefully aware of her inferior talents, quietly settled for a career as an editor -– off-camera, of course.

She has a point. And while her take on the film doesn’t put a dent in my love for it, it does strengthen my resolve to continue to take offense when I warrant it necessary –- as long as I realize that I’m probably not going to change anyone’s mind.

4. Cheer for the Boston Red Sox. This is a no-brainer. Sure, the hometown team got swept from the first round of the playoffs by those other Sox, but still, just thinking about the team’s 2004 World Series victory inspires fat tears of joy. Just last week, I felt the giddy glee of a child facing a pile of presents on Christmas morning when a friend pulled out the scrapbook she made to commemorate our team’s historic feat. “Unabashed joy” began to fade a little when we realized that the book was crammed full of men who no longer played for the Sox; entire group photographs of pitchers, catchers, first basemen, short stops, centerfielders, even general managers who’d either deserted the team or had been unceremoniously shipped off to the hinterlands of Anaheim.

A glance at the Boston papers (particularly those in the week following Johnny Damon’s signing with the Yankees) will tell you that the Red Sox of 2006 are not the same team that had us popping our champagne corks a season ago. These Sox are a different breed: the front office is incompetent, makes lousy business decisions, and have suddenly become cheap, despite charging upwards of $100 a seat to watch a game in Fenway Park; the players are too old or too crazy or just plain bad fielders. Pretty soon, we’ll all be back to our pre-2004 version of ourselves: fans who care passionately about the team, but who believe that failure is inevitable, that the Evil Empire directly to the South will always have us beat.

I can read those things, I can even write those things, but I can’t really believe them: not yet, at least, not now, not with the promise of spring and a new season only eight weeks away. Go Sox!


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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sandra thompson
1.6.06 @ 9:38a

My only resolution this year is to drink more carrot juice. I went out and bought a two hundred buck juicer to make sure I do. Oh, yeah, and to eat more anchovies. I used to buy a little can every month or so and now I'm buying three a week, so I think I can safely say I'm keeping my resolutions so far. Of course, it's only January 6th. Ask me again in July.

adam kraemer
1.6.06 @ 10:45a

Wait - I gotta take offense to something. Are you saying that just because a movie depicts two men as geniuses and one woman as not a genius that it's gender biased? Do you feel as if the story would have worked better if the Toby McGuire part were played by Natalie Portman?

And Walk the Line? Now I admit to not having seen it, but isn't it, um, based on real things that happened? If June Carter Cash really did "stand angellically by" does that mean the movie can't show that without it meaning something?

I'm not trying to start a debate here (maybe I am); but I'm a fairly liberal guy and I just can't see how creating arbitrary drama regarding the depictions of characters, male or female, can be justified.

Because if so, I think that "Veronica Mars" is biased against men. She's always the brilliant hero, where as the men are always killing people, getting into fights, losing elections, and running away with their real fathers. I'm afraid you can't watch that show anymore; it's gender biased, Michelle.


jael mchenry
1.6.06 @ 11:01a

Just for the sake of argument, there are good people and bad people of both genders on Veronica Mars -- Wallace and Daddy Mars are both shown as very positive characters, while Kendall Casablancas and oh, say, Veronica's mom are shown in a negative light. It's an equal opportunity show with no ax to grind.

As for Walk the Line (which I have also not seen), based on a true story doesn't mean true, and there are certainly ways to make the same events seem very different from a characterization point of view.

Just in the spirit of debate.

tracey kelley
1.6.06 @ 11:55a

I think "Due South" was gender-biased. With the exception of Elaine, the helpful secretary cop, all the other women are written as dragonladies/too lusty for their own good. The men are levelheaded and always saving the women.

I like the show, though, most of the time. I don't go looking for things like that, but after a while, it's kind of hard not to notice.

You know what? Walk the Line is probably exactly how it happened. But because it's a snapshot of a particular moment in their lives, what we don't see is how June RULED for many years afterwards. :)

dave lentell
1.6.06 @ 3:05p

Good point about the gender bias in films... but to play Devil's Advocate (starring Al Pacino!) what about the gender biase in commercials?

Perhaps the gender bias in films is there merely to make up for the endless number of commercials where women are portrayed as intelligent/strong/sane/cool/sexy/hip/reasonable (list of positive adjectives going on to infinity) while men are portrayed as ignorant/weak/stupid/slovenly/helpless/inept (list of negative adjectives going on to infinity)?

Or maybe I'm just a bitter, bitter man?

Maybe I need to resolve to watch fewer commercials.

mike julianelle
1.6.06 @ 3:17p

Sitcoms do the same thing. Hot women are always babysitting the idiotic, Neanderthal men...coming soon to a column near you! (hint hint!)

juli mccarthy
1.6.06 @ 3:38p

Perhaps you all missed my column on the imbalance between the sexes. Hrmph.

adam kraemer
1.6.06 @ 3:46p

You've written columns before?

No, I'm just saying that it's tough for any movie or show to be perfectly gender balanced. Especially when there are actual differences between the genders.

Just because you see bias doesn't mean it's there.

jael mchenry
1.6.06 @ 3:54p

I think it's impossible for any show or movie or other form of media to be perfectly balanced, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad to call attention to one that's imbalanced. Sometimes they mean something by it, sometimes they don't. Most of the women on "Deadwood" are whores because, well, most of the women in Deadwood were whores. Yet the show has a powerful nuanced portrayal of individuals no matter what gender they are. So it's another lens you can look through, but I don't think anyone's arguing that it's the *only* lens we should look through.

And, like Michelle says, "...I realize that I'm probably not going to change anyone's mind."

dave lentell
1.6.06 @ 4:22p

Juli - Apparently I did miss it. But, thanks to the magic of Intrepid Media, I was able to rectify that. Your column makes a lot of my points far better than I could. And in much more entertaining fashion as well.

Mike - I look forward to your column, because a friend of mine and I constantly complain about this on TV. King of Queens... yeah right... Like Leah Remini would even give a guy like Doug James the time of day in real life.

mike julianelle
1.6.06 @ 5:00p

Kevin James. It's actually only a piece of my column but yes, it's totally absurd.

And in regard to most of the gender imbalance on TV and movies, I firmly believe that it's primarily the result of BAD writing and not necessarily some kind of agenda. As Jael says, on Deadwood, a show of much superior quality than most network pablum, it is less of a problem.

Therefore I feel that the imbalance, while certainly there and noticeable to people (especially ones who resolve to take offense!), is less about discrimination and misogyny than just a general lack of talent.

Of course, you can then immediately take that argument and say that the discrimination is ingrained and instinctive and therefore an easy crutch to fall back on without even intending it, even for bad writers.

I just think, to agree a bit with Adam, that if you're looking for it you can find it, even if it's not intended. And if it's without malice, it's gotta be less objectionable, until you consider the ramifications of it being widespread, which breeds more, and ramble ramble ramble.

russ carr
1.6.06 @ 5:07p

Rick James. Because heroin is a powerful drug.

I resolve to keep smirking when discussion on Intrepid columns deviates from the topic of the column itself by the second post.

adam kraemer
1.6.06 @ 5:38p

You're welcome, Russ.

michelle von euw
1.7.06 @ 9:36p

I'm glad this discussion about perceptions happened -- I was debating writing a whole column about it, but didn't think it'd be interesting enough. Guess I'd be wrong!

Let me try to explain more clearly what I meant by Walk the Line -- the point of view of the movie was limited so we didn't get to see June Carter as a whole person, only as how she influenced Johnny Cash. Considering that she appeared to be a strong and interesting person in her own right. And, I'm OK with being bothered by that, and noticing that, even if no one else is.

I pick on the sitcom formula all the time (dumpy husband/hot wife), so I'm looking forward to your column, Mike. And in Dave's defense, Doug is the character's name, so he's half right either way!

adam kraemer
1.8.06 @ 9:11p

Whereas I find sitcoms like that give us average guys hope.

jael mchenry
1.9.06 @ 3:01p

I assume that is most, if not all, of their appeal.

kate leblanc
2.2.06 @ 9:19a

I dig Kevin James and find him hot in a most unexpected way, so I have to say that the worst offender in this category is Jim Belushi on that show I am proud to never have watched where he is married to Courtney Thorne-Smith! And hey... aren't we supposed to marry for Love and Laughter? ya....

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