Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the spirit of the New Year, here’s our annual opportunity to contemplate the year to come, and reflect on all the things we vow to read, watch, play, create, listen to, or change about the way we approach pop culture. What are your pop-culture resolutions for 2012?
Short and simple: This is going to be the year I finally at least start watching Friday Night Lights and decide whether I’m ecstatically in on the fan club (à la The Wire and Arrested Development, both of which I came to late but tried out because all my co-workers were swooning over them) or backing away slowly and politely (à la Mad Men, which I dropped without regrets after six episodes). I also resolve to get around to either finally watching season one of Fringe, or returning the borrowed DVD box set I’ve had since 2009. Sorry, Chris!
A good friend of mine pestered me for years about needing to watch Days Of Heaven. He was right. That same friend practically threatened me as a consequence for not checking out HDNet’s raunchy improv-comedy Svetlana. I owed him one for that. So in 2012, I’ll make good on that debt, heed his lone outstanding request, and catch up with The Good Wife at any cost. I tried it On Demand, but would have had to start mid-series. I constantly refresh and search my Roku catalog, but keep stumbling across a drab period feature that shares its title. But this year, out of commitment to my word and regard for my love of good television, I shall rent every season at an actual physical video store if necessary. Come December 2012, pending anything else better to do, I’ll be ready to gossip about Alicia, Kalinda, Will and Diane, and I will like it.
It’s been a long time coming, but I finally need to take the bull by the horns: In 2012, I resolve to quit perpetually being one season behind on so many of the TV shows I love. Some programs are easier to keep up with than others. But Community, Justified, and Doctor Who are just three examples of fantastic shows I can’t read reviews of or talk about with friends, because the last season I’ve watched is the season before last. The reasons for this are numerous: cheap cable plan, no DVR, the lag of DVD releases, and the scattershot selection on Netflix Streaming and On Demand. But the biggest thing that holds me back is my own stubbornness. I loathe watching TV or movies on my laptop. I spent 12 hours per day on the damn thing as it is. To me, TV-watching means it’s time to put away the computer (as well as its peripheral distractions—I can’t help checking my email numerous times while watching something on it) and immerse myself in whatever I’m seeing and hearing. I need to get over that. Or get a DVR. Or just… quit being a penny-pinching, technophobic grump altogether? Maybe that will be my resolution for, um, 2020. Baby steps.
Having placed almost my entire journalistic focus on TV since joining the Television Critics Association in 2007, I’m increasingly aware of how little music I listen to anymore. This saddens me, as I got into pop-culture writing by doing album reviews. Thankfully, the act of conducting Set List interviews has served as a wake-up call for me, so I’m vowing to set aside more time to listen to music and be more aware of the latest new releases, though I know that the albums I’ll end up buying will almost certainly be from artists I already know and enjoy. I mean, I’m sure I’ll take the time to consider a few new artists as well, but, c’mon, I’m 41 years old. Let’s not go crazy here. Beyond that, I really, really want to write a book. Or maybe see if there’s a celebrity who’s writing a memoir and needs a collaborator. That’d be fine, too. Basically, I’ve been saying I’ve got a book in me for several years now, and it’s time I either made a liar out of myself or got the job done. 2012 seems like as good a time to do that as any.
This year, I resolve to cancel my subscriptions to bad women’s magazines. It’s taken me way too long to realize that a lot of the magazines I read profit off a continuous loop of making ladies feel inadequate physically and materialistically—especially, ironically, the health-focused ones. I got so fed up with the covers of Self and Women’s Health saying, every month, “You’re awesome! Here’s how you can lose 10 pounds.” Runner’s World instead actually gives me advice on how to improve my workouts and enjoy them and take care of my body, instead of just telling me that I’m so close to being perfect, but not quite. Meanwhile, I’m increasingly enraged by Marie Claire magazine for telling me that a couple pictures of outfits that are so expensive that you have to call the store and beg for the privilege of knowing how much they cost count as “stories” and “ideas,” and for providing scant actual writing as content. (I will miss Tim Gunn’s column, though.) InStyle isn’t exactly the New Yorker by comparison, but at least it’s much more diplomatic in its approach to readers of different ages, incomes, and body types, and doesn’t act like it’s something it’s not. (I.e. a thing to make you want to buy things.)
Also, once again I resolve to not let the Internet run my life. I said this last year, and I’m not ashamed of renewing it. It’s difficult to find a way to execute this, since, as a blogger and writer, it behooves me to promote myself and interact with the online world, but there’s a difference between logging in a few times a day vs. prodding Facebook, Twitter, and comment boards into providing me entertainment as an alternative to actually doing something productive and creative. This lurking turns me into a snarkier, more irritable and paranoid person than I want to be, and as I get older, I want to feel better about the things I say and do online, and appreciate my real-life blessings more.
I’ve always gravitated toward myth-building, poetically inclined, lone-wolf types in music, and Bill Callahan (a.k.a. Smog) and Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie, originally Microphones) are pretty much my god-dudes in that department. Imagined as a pair, they’re the absolute yin and yang of their field: the former world-weary, the latter wide-eyed. I’ve built them tall pedestals in my mental musical pantheon, but I’ve still not spent as much time as I’d like with their works. Gone are those high-school salad days of savoring one record for weeks at a time. I’m constantly up to my ears in music, often cycling through dozens of artists and albums a week, so I’m resolving to introduce some SLOW LISTENING into my diet, starting with the oeuvres of these two gentlemen. I’m talking sit-down sessions with lyric-books and liner notes, comfy headphones, and either hot tea or cold whiskey. It’s time. And when I’m not excavating the weird world(s) of Misters Callahan and Elverum, I pledge to finally watch all of Mr. Show (for shame, I know), and to read more Murakami.
In 2012, I’d like to see more movies. I’ve been so engrossed in the world of television for the last six years, between my time at AOL editing the old TV Squad site and my various other journalistic projects, I’ve lived, breathed, and eaten TV for a long time. Don’t get me wrong; TV is my favorite medium, and writing about TV has been a dream job, especially during what many think is a golden age. (I’d much rather write about Mad Men than Knight Rider.) But my movie-watching has diminished to the point where I can count the number of films I’ve seen this year on two hands, and they were all seen at home. I miss the movie-theater experience, even if it involves sticky floors, people tweeting on their phones, and screaming kids. But I’d love to even watch more movies on DVD, On Demand, or streaming. I just need to re-train myself to pay attention through a 90- to 120-minute time span, and not opt for whatever screener of a television show I feel obligated to watch when my wife and I try to figure out what to do on a particular night.
I resolve to write more in 2012 and each year after that. 2011 wasn’t my most prolific year on that front. I guess being a new dad supplies a pretty good excuse (to say nothing of, say, serving as editor of this publication), but I get a little itchy when stuff starts passing me by without comment. Besides, writing is fun.
I resolve to, like Joel, make sure I stay more in the loop and watch more films. The last few years, I’ve spent much of December and January catching up on every film I’ve missed during the year which, given how little I make it to the movies, is a really tall stack. Working just feet from Scott, Nathan, Keith, and Tasha, I should really be more up on what the top films of each year are, but my own duties keep me from knowing until I read the year-end list. Then it’s a mad dash to the arthouses, multiplexes, or On Demand to watch everything I can just to be in the know, usually six to seven months late. Hopefully, come next December, I won’t have to ask Scott embarrassing questions like, “So, this move Drive, what’s that about?”
Every year, I make a resolution to experience more diverse culture and entertainment. And every year, I fail miserably. I started out in this job 14 years ago (yes, 14 years ago) as a generalist who made a point of trying to seek out everything important in music, television, and film. The entertainment world has gotten a whole lot bigger and nichier since then, and I’m afraid I’ve traveled way too far down too many rabbit holes to keep up with the broad outlines the way I should. It’s impossible to keep up with everything, but I should make a better effort to at least try.
I think all of us these days suffer from media overload, and my ongoing goal is to manage it better. I think I mentioned last year that my RSS feed is continually in the thousands, I have way too many magazine subscriptions, my iPod is overflowing with new music and podcasts, I can’t keep up with all the books I want to read, my DVR is seemingly always full, and I have a mental list of TV shows to start watching and movies to check out. I’m a very organized person, so the disarray drives me insane. This is the year I get my media life organized and sustainable. If it means paring down, so be it. I’m just sick of feeling like I’m constantly behind on stuff.
Kyle, looking back at the last two years, I see that I’ve made a similar resolution to organize and pare away, and was planning to make it again this year, except that this year, I actually did do a decent job of converting my teetering stacks into filed media (or cash). So I’m going to venture into new territory this year: my goal is to create. For the past couple of years, I’ve been buying iPad apps that I can use to make drawings, make music, make cartoons… all kinds of art. I just never have the time to actually use them. And that’s a shame, because I’ve found that my experiences in the past with shooting and editing home movies of my family have given me greater empathy for what it takes to be an actual filmmaker. I’m hoping that fiddling around with some music-creation and/or animation programs can have a similar effect. If nothing else, it’ll be relaxing.
Unlike my film-reviewing colleagues, I am not flush with invitations to free press screenings. I am out there with the great unwashed, paying my hard-earned money to see Ryan Gosling try to kill Albert Brooks. But in recent years, I’ve been doing this a lot less, fearing the obnoxious crowds and overpriced tickets, and sticking to whatever’s available on Netflix Streaming. It’s a cozy existence, but there’s not much romance in this kind of movie-going. So I resolve to see more movies in movie theaters this year. In spite of all the texters, talkers, and seat-kickers, I still buy into the communal film-going experience. Seeing Meek’s Cutoff this year with an audience full of confused old people certainly added to my appreciation of the film, as did catching The Muppets with a row full of kids behind me singing along with Jason Segel. Besides, I need to get off the couch more anyway.
This is the year I finally get into all of the geeky stuff I should have been doing in high school, but for living in a super-small town where none of it was accessible to me. This is the year I finally break the code on superhero comics, which have been so much goobledy gook to me over the years. This is the year I find a Dungeons & Dragons game to take part in, as so many of my grown nerd friends insist I’ll have a blast. This is the year I play some über-complex board game where it takes an hour to read the rules and watch Babylon 5 and go to a local sci-fi convention. Okay, I probably won’t have time to do all this in a single year, but I really do want to get to a point where I’ve finally tried some of the stuff I wished I had been doing as a 16-year-old, and can figure out whether it would have been for me. I also want to scare my wife when I wander home after hours of D&D, muttering about orcs. And if I can’t do all that, I’d like to write something not about television for once. I love TV, but I do like seeing what else is out there.
It seems a little odd to say this on a site that is gracious enough to host my writing, but my pop-culture resolution for 2012 is to write more for myself. As a full-time freelancer, it’s very easy for me to succumb to the deadline-driven lifestyle, loading my day with recaps, interviews, and Sawbuck Gamer entries up the wazoo. The last thing I want to do when I’m off the clock is continue to sit at my computer and type, just like I did for the previous eight to 10 hours. But I think it’s a necessary part of any journalist’s lifestyle. I’m going to find odd ideas that are only half-formed that I want to explore on my own, or a weird sketch that has no place on the pages of The A.V. Club. But rather than let those ideas fall by the wayside, I’m going to force myself to get them out, even if it’s just for my personal blog. I do think it’ll make me a better writer, both when it comes to articulating my thoughts, and in improving my speed—always a key thing when it comes to TV recaps—and it’ll dust up some of those creative cobwebs and hopefully make me a more prolific A.V. Club contributor. No longer will writer’s block be an adequate excuse for not doing something when I’ve given myself permission to literally sit down at my computer, open a Word document, and write “horsenfeather” over and over again. (I never promised greatness.)