Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I haven’t watched much television lately. I catch bits of the Nightly News with my parents (“We can’t miss Brian!”), some Jeopardy!, Jon Stewart and Colbert, and tidbits of VH1/MTV/Best Week Ever/Hannah Montana/South Park/random bits I find on Saturday mornings and at the gym. Obviously, one of the reasons why I haven’t watched much is pretty obvious: I started blogging.
And the writers’ strike.
I support the strikers 100%. I would love to march on the picket lines with them; I’d even wake up early to do so! There are all sorts of implications that will be fascinating to watch as a result of what’s going on, like the fact that pilot season as we know it is basically over. Some people have criticized Jon Stewart for his diatribe on the strike his first day back at work, but I applauded it. I literally clapped my hands and squealed in my pajamas watching it. People said it wasn’t funny, that he should stick to politics. But the writer’s strike is entertainment politics, and he skewers the media, of which he very well knows he’s a part. Of course he’s going to cover it. It’s his show, first of all, and he practically has an obligation to talk about it. He’s in a tough situation, and he tried to get an interim deal, to no avail. Give the guy some credit, some slack. Yeah, working on either his show or Colbert’s would be the shit, but it’s tough: they all make it look easy. Writers are your net, your spotter, your safety valve. They are just as important to television as any other level of production, and many, many shows would not be what they are without writers. Talent and charm and improv can only work so far, and I’m amazed at what I’ve seen so far of the striking Daily Show and Colbert, because it doesn’t feel like it’s not written. Oh, I notice the differences, that’s for sure: there’s no Word, the interviews are longer and sometimes choppy, the timing is sometimes off. But that’s ok, and I embrace it.
The funny thing about television is now that I’m done with college, where I notoriously watched little TV and what I did was either in stolen moments or very regimented, I wondered if I was going to go back to my high school days, finding all new shows to follow obsessively, back to taping and posting and scheduling my life around television. Life–and not just mine–is very different from 2003. I never use my VCR anymore. It’s not that I got a DVD player or a DVR, or that I’ve suddenly become adept at downloading shows on my computer. It’s that I don’t feel that I need to tape things anymore. A few months ago, I missed the first ten minutes of House–my current show of the moment even though I had been upset with the direction it was going–but I didn’t feel a sense of panic, of doom, of disappointment. Whatever, I’ll catch it later on Fox.com, I thought. Exactly. That sums up everything. Even though I had to wait 8 days (goddamn you Fox), I knew I could catch it. And even if I couldn’t, there would be other ways: hulu.com (pray eventually), possibly YouTube, BitTorrent and whatnot. Eventually, there would be DVDs. I wasn’t doomed. While sometimes finding things isn’t always easy, there is a chance, depending upon what you watch, that you can find clips of them online. This works better for current shows; anything even a year or two old (or even a few months old) isn’t so readily available.
When I first got wind of the impending strike, I knew I wanted to fill my time with other things, and by and large, I have, though it wasn’t planned. Now I wonder about filling in television into my current life, a problem I never had before. I was one of those people who essentially scheduled their life around television, though I always bristled at the notion. It mattered to me; so what? It didn’t prevent me from doing other things. I learned this the first week of college when I tried to watch an episode of The O.C: California wasn’t as interesting as the possibilities that lay outside my dorm room. After that, television became a communal experience, rarely watched in school unless surrounded by others. In fact, I purposely watched the Friends finale in a large group, so I could get the full impact. It was to mark an occasion, to make memories. Even when we watched Gilmore Girls or Studio 60 it was more to hang out, to argue and debate and analyze then it was about the shows, especially since in the case of Gilmore Girls it was to complain more often then not. When I came to college, all of a sudden all the shows that I had followed compulsively did not matter anymore. I grew irritated by them all and they fell to the wayside, not missed. I caught bits and pieces of things here and there, but I never vowed to return to my regular schedule. For I did not need television the way I needed it in high school; I had friends now, loads of them, providing me with the comedy and the drama and the heartbreak and the tension that I had eagerly, voraciously consumed just a short time ago.
There are times that I miss television. It is a natural part of modern life now, it is rhythm, it is air and automatic. I still long to get caught up in something so juicy. I know it’ll happen again, just like we know this writer’s strike will eventually end. I wish all the writers loads of luck. I’m with you guys, if only in spirit.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I was at work when the department head came in and told us that Heath Ledger was dead. He had came to deliver other business too, but for two minutes that didn’t matter. He told four twentysomething girls, all familiar with his work. We gasped. We thought. As we were filled in on the story, we tried to fill in details, explanations. Or at least I did: “He recently broke up with Michelle Williams. They have a two year-old daughter. Maybe that had something to do with it.”
I used to think that when people said they wanted to die when a relationship was over they were morons, weak, silly people. Now, though, I get it, which was why when a friend mentioned to me yesterday, also referring to Owen Wilson allegedly attempting suicide because his relationship with Kate Hudson was over, that both men were weak, I didn’t agree with her. Heartbreak’s a bitch.
However, a few minutes after saying the above comment referring to Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams’ relationship (and getting no responses except silence) I mentioned that I wouldn’t be surprised if Britney Spears were to off herself soon. And I did use the term “off herself”. “She’s heading down that road…it’s only a matter of time before she’s dead…she’ll just do something stupid that she won’t realize she has done and then forget it…” I rambled on my point as no one responded again.
I’m practically waiting for that piece of news, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The Associated Press has run into a bit of controversy for thinking like me: Debate rages over prewritten obituaries for young, living stars. (Of course the AP has to comment on their own story and use a boring headline.) Obituaries are traditionally written in advance for distinguished people of a certain age; here, 70 is given as a starting point. Obituary writers fill their days doing the research necessary for these profiles. If you’ve ever wondered how a 5,000 word piece on Ronald Reagan is able to go hours after his death broke, that’s why. All they do is change a few words in the first paragraph or two and are ready to go.
Go ahead. I think creating an obit for Britney would be kind of fun, just because depending upon the outlet the style would change. Struggling to turn the caricature of the events of her life into a serious story requires some skill, and everyone else will be fighting to see how comical and over-the-top they can make that news. I hope Britney gets the help she needs so I don’t have to witness any more Britney-fueled media mania. I did like Britney once, back in 1999 with light brown hair, a cute pink top and adorable glasses. She seemed normal and intelligent. She may not gain any of that back, but she should be able to have a life where she can calm down and try to heal.
(By the way, listing Courtney Love as a celebrity who has gotten her act together is both inaccurate and laughable. )
Thursday, January 17, 2008
When I first heard the Megan Meier “MySpace Suicide” story in November, my first thought was “thank God MySpace didn’t exist when I was thirteen.” I know how easily things go out of whack online, and middle school and high school are hard enough without internet games.
The basis of the story is that Megan Meier, on the eve of her fourteenth birthday, hanged herself in late 2006 after a boy she was friendly with online—but had never met—told her he refused to continue the friendship because she was “mean to her friends.” After insulting her, he signed off with “The world would be a better place without you.”
It turned out that the boy, 16 year-old Josh Evans, was a creation of a neighbor, friends with Megan’s parents and the mother of a girl who used to be friends with her. She knew Megan well—had even taken her along on a family vacation—and so created the account to gain Megan’s trust to learn what she was saying about her daughter. The mom also decided to involve an 18 year-old employee in the prank, using her for help, and told another teen girl who lived across the street.
After a year-long investigation by the Feds which resulted in no charges, the Meiers broke the story to the news media. The St. Charles Journal broke the story locally, and they made the executive decision not to publish the name of the mother who created the fake identity. Bad idea, as bloggers got ahold of the story and with a little investigating, found not only her name—Lori Drew—but her address, phone number, and details of her and her husband’s businesses and local dealings. As the story grew and notoriety spread, the Drews became victims themselves, losing all privacy. On the internet, they were vilified. Their business had to close, they had to put up cameras on their house because people were ready to attack. Once the Times published it the story exploded, which was how I heard about it.
At first, like many others, I was horrified. The woman knew her actions would cause this girl emotional distress, and for an adult to bully a 13-year-old—one who she knew already had problems—was appalling. But the more information came to light, and the more I thought about it, the more I began to see it isn’t so black and white.
None of the accounts I’ve read, including blog entries, ever brought up the topic of revenge or the fact that, as it seems to me, hanging oneself is a premeditated action, not a sudden inkling to obliterate yourself by swallowing massive amounts of pills. Hanging takes planning, gumption, and knowledge, as you have to know how to kill yourself with the least of amount of pain possible. It reminds me of a memorable scene in The Sopranos where Chris is injecting heroin into his arm: doing this drug takes work, boiling water, tightening the muscle, finding the proper vein, loading the needle with the drug, having the right angle, all to pass out in exhaustion. Too much effort for a high. Megan Meier, for some reason, had decided that hanging was the way she was going to kill herself, and she decided this long ago.
Which brings me to the conclusion that Megan Meier had been planning to kill herself—or at least attempt suicide—before that particular day. She had been bullied online for a while, so maybe she came to this conclusion a few days earlier and at the last contact she decided she was ready to put her plan into motion. So in that regard, Lori Drew did basically lead her to her death.
But I’ve also thought a lot about why Lori Drew would do what she did. She knew what she did was wrong. She’s said that she wanted to mess with the girl. But she takes no responsibility for it, which is insane. She basically said that the girl was troubled anyway so it didn’t matter what she did to her. What kind of logic is that? No, obviously if the girl was troubled, and you knew it, intentionally causing her pain and distress isn’t going to make things all better. A normal teenager girl wouldn’t have killed herself, but she sure would feel that her life was over.
I understand revenge, which to me is what this boils down to. It’s misplaced revenge, though. From what I’ve read, it doesn’t sound like Ms. Drew’s daughter came up with the idea; she was just carried along with the hoax. It’s been implied that it was Ashley Grills, the 18 year-old employee of Ms. Drew’s, who came up with the idea. It makes perfect sense that an 18 year-old would devise that scheme: she is old enough to understand MySpace and dynamics with other girls, old enough to understand the culture yet still be firmly enmeshed with it that she can work it inside and out. She would be excited by this game, and hey, it would only help her in her boss’s eyes. She would know that it would be easy to create a fake account, and Lori Drew would fill in the details. Preteens and manipulation are practically like braces and bad hair: it’s a requisite of the age. They naturally go together. It’s impossible to break away from the pack mentality at that age, and mean girl behavior is rampant. Causing pain and humiliation is practically automatic.
Bullying now is so pervasive because it can follow you everywhere. Technology has made nasty messages both persistent and replicable. Can you imagine hearing about this in school? You’d immediately hit up the MySpace profiles in question and marvel at the gossip. The idea of facing this in school is enough to make any teenager consider suicide as a viable option.
What I didn’t realize until after a few days of obsessively following this story was that I had been a target of internet bullying. I had never quite put it in those terms before, but it was true. And then it struck me how much better equipped I was to deal with this type of harassment at 20 than I would ever have been as a teenager. At 20, I had a life where I was able to escape the harassment: I had tons of supportive friends, I had a job and school to keep me busy, all separate things that had nothing to do with the people who were harassing me. But no matter how hard I lobbied, I could never get anything to stick to the perpetrators. Although I came with proof—hard copies of the MySpace and Facebook messages, things pinned to my bedroom door—and witnesses of behavior, no charges ever stuck. It was grossly unfair.
And that’s why I feel that Lori Drew should be charged. MySpace has just been issued a subpoena, so the process is starting. There should be laws on the books about internet harassment. It gets murky when it deals with schools, because if things happen off the premises the schools often cannot intercede, but clearly technology informs our relationships with other people, and we cannot tote the benefits of instant connection without understanding the drawbacks and minimizing it as much as possible. Parents can only do so much. Megan Meier didn’t really do anything stupid—who could blame a sad, lonely girl from talking to a boy who seemed to like her?
For those of you who think “Megan’s mom should have monitored her use of MySpace,” she did. She wouldn’t let her have a MySpace unless it was private, which is why she questioned how Josh knew her. She would always be in the room when she used the site. And when she heard about the comments Josh said, she told her to log off immediately and to cut off contact. While she was making dinner, mulling over the situation that they were to continue discussing during the meal, Megan hanged herself in her closet.
How can you monitor the internet? Ms. Meier knew about all of this, and while she didn’t approve, she knew that belonging to the site—a necessity in the preteen world—and interacting with peers was not only a fact of modern life but made Megan feel happy and that she belonged. While both Facebook and MySpace have received loads of negative press, the roots of it have been very different, mainly due to the type of people who use the sites and the culture within them. MySpace has always had a problem with anonymity, since people don’t use their real names, and with child predators. Facebook is hipper, caters to an educated and (increasingly) adult clientele and has complex business-y problems but privacy issues of a different sort, with Beacon and open-source applications—not things that parents and teenagers care about. Undoubtedly as a result of this tragedy, MySpace has instituted some new policies, the most notable being that all profiles under 18 will automatically be private. Regardless, there is no effective way to prove who you are with just an account.
One of the reasons this story is so fascinating is that it has multiple angles from which to analyze it. This will become a case story in journalism classes, because it deals with sensitivity, privacy, and whether or not to reveal sources—and proves that today, especially with a juicy story people will find out what they are desperate to know. Lots of people felt that because Lori Drew violated Megan Meier’s privacy it was justified for her privacy to be violated as well. The idea of vigilante justice, and how the internet feeds this, is another hot topic. Should we burn down Lori Drew’s house? Up until a few days ago, the only person charged with anything in this case was Megan’s father, Ron Meier, who smashed a foosball table the Drews were hiding in their basement as a Christmas gift for their kids. That’s actually how the police first heard the story, since the Meiers dumped the destroyed table on the Drews’ lawn with a nice welcome message. Honestly, I can’t blame them. A lot of other folks—and it’s all over the internet—would have and want to do a lot worse.
Other links of importance:
The contested blog of meganhaditcoming.com does not exist anymore.
I have yet to read The New Yorker article.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
I’ve been wondering why Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has such momentum in this presidential race. He basically came out of nowhere—that 2004 Democratic National Convention speech (how did he get picked for that?) made him our great next Democratic presidential hopeful. I understand that he’s young and that he represents a changing of the guard. I just don’t understand the particulars, how one speech that put him in the national spotlight also made it seem a given that he’s qualified enough to be our next president, and that he has a good shot of winning. Sometimes I wonder if people are supporting him because he’s black. Yes, he has the goods: charm, personality, an interesting background yet one that fits in with the status quo (lawyer), he’s young and ready to make a change…and he’s black, so why not? It’s that extra oomph that puts him ahead.
Contrast that with Hillary, who I feel is blackmarked by a lot of people because of her name. The brilliant op-ed piece by Gloria Steinem in today’s Times (#1 on the email list too!) articulates so well why the feminist in me wants to support Hillary. I know she’s worked hard her entire life, is considered an excellent senator, and really wants to be president because she wants to change things. So many people I know are anti-Hillary—and honestly, for the most part, I can’t remember why. Other than being who she is, her baggage defines her, and those are the main reasons that people don’t like her. She’s in a no-win position, damned if you do, damned if you don’t, regarding her background, experience, and the people who support her, because people don’t want to listen. They know that she’s just going to bring corruption and scandal to the office, that she reeks of the ‘90s. Although we curiously are a nostalgic nation when it comes to popular culture today, it doesn’t seem to work for the candidates referring to themselves as Kennedy-, Reagan-, or Lincolnesque. Maybe it’s because there’s a war on, and nobody is trying to be Roosevelt.
As I write this, I haven’t seen Hillary’s emotional outburst yet, I’ve only read about it. But even so, I get it. Campaigning for anything, devoting so much time and energy to any cause, let alone president, is completely giving your all. Of course it’s emotional. Every single thing these candidates do is scrutinized, and with Hillary it’s double. The pressure is exhausting and nonstop, and I applaud her for being human and for being real. Hillary, in a sense, has been preparing for this her entire life, and I’ve always liked seeing the person behind the persona, so to speak. It’s important to see it in our leaders, the people we admire and who get recognition for actively trying to make a difference in this world so we can really see how hard they work and how things get done, instead of just seeing celebrities buying cereal in the grocery store, the defunct mode of seeing famous people as ordinary citizens.
Maybe Hillary really is like Reese Witherspoon’s character in Election. Tracey Flick is a manipulative bitch, but she’s fascinating. And she does put her all into that damn election.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Thought of the week, as it was never addressed on Sex and the City: If you hook up with someone that you are not Facebook friends with, is there a responsibility for one to do the friending?
Facebook etiquette never fails.