Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Treatment

As you know if you are a regular reader of zigzigger, HBO's In Treatment is a major pleasure around the zig's and my midwestern bungalow these days. In addition to being a soapy treat, filled with the revelations of small gestures and expressions, laden with juicy tension, sexual and otherwise, it's also led to some provocative conversations with friends. Through a series of circumstances, some of our closest friends in MKE are psychologists, clinicians who are either university faculty or private practitioners. And their reactions to the show have been revealing of the different investments of differently positioned viewers, as well as of the curious ways in which psychologists define their relationships with clients (my friends call them clients, In Treatment's Paul calls them patients).

A central story arc of In Treatment is Paul's relationship with his patient, Laura, a woman 20 years his junior who declares her love for him early on in the series. Soon we learn that Paul, living in an unhappy marriage to his wife, played by Michelle Forbes, has some pretty hot and heavy feelings for Laura, too. This situation of "erotic transference" and "counter-transference" forms the moral, ethical, and emotional dilemma at the heart of the show. Not all of my shrink friends have watched enough of the show to offer much of an opinion on this relationship. But a recent conversation about the series made clear their inability to suspend their disbelief. They were incredibly worked up about the "bad" kind of therapy Paul offers--all that talky psychodynamic stuff (these folks are cognitive-behaviorists)--and couldn't stop talking about it at that level. When the subject of Paul's relationship with Laura arose, they really got worked up, only grudgingly admitting to the potential pleasures for viewers of the forbidden romance plot underlying the ethical dilemma Paul faces.

Their reactions to the In Treatment plot have also made me think about what seems to be a tendency amongst my psychologist friends to have very strong feelings about the inviolable lines between therapists and patients/clients--a dynamic that In Treatment mulls in really thought-provoking ways. It makes perfect sense to me that, amidst the kind of emotional discourses between therapist and patient, there can be all kinds of feelings, ideas, fantasies, etc. This is what makes IT relatable and emotionally believable, even for the non-therapized (although perhaps not for the actual therapist). Interestingly, my friends have similarly rigid takes on faculty/student dynamics. Of course, I understand the power imbalance between faculty and students and strongly believe in the importance of faculty always being cognizant of their relative power and avoiding the kinds of romantic entanglements Paul and Laura are experiencing as a result.

Yet there is also a way in which faculty/student dynamics can be like therapy, or at least like the TV version of therapy we can now watch on HBO. By this, I don't mean that the professor serves as personal counselor, though of course one finds oneself in such situations from time to time. Instead, I'm talking here about the kind of mental and, sometimes, emotional, connections that professors and students can have--connections that they should have, I think, when ideas and learning are engaging and provocative for all. Such moments can be exciting, and they can result in strong ties between all involved, whether in a one on one teaching context or in a classroom setting, in which the ties can be between peers as well as between teacher and student. Such moments and the relationships they produce can and do change people, as learning to think in new ways inevitably does. And there can be an intimacy and an emotional experience tied to that that may, in some way, approximate Laura's experience with Paul, and Paul's with her.

In the meantime, I remain captivated by the show and the ways in which it makes the smallest details of the utmost importance. As MZN has discussed on zigzigger, new camera set-ups, characters standing up, wearing their hair differently, etc. are incredibly exciting moments, and always pregnant with meaning. (Paul sitting on the couch with Laura in the 3/3 episode, slouched down, with his foot up on the coffee table?!! Amazingly revealing, given his typical posture across from the couch in the leather chair.) MZN compares this to Warhol, but I say that these are the kinds of details beloved by soap fans, used to wading through hours of boring for the smallest moments of revelation. Maybe that's another parallel to the teacher/student thing: hours of boring, not much happening, interspersed with the rare moments of big excitement when ideas click and you see new things about yourself, others, the world.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sex, violence, and pole dancing, or What the hell is up with ABC Daytime?

I've been mulling over a GH post for a few days now, one about what I'm kind of liking and kind of hating on the show these days. Then I found out about the pole dancing on All My Children. And the smack-you-over-the-head product placements on GH (watch to about 4 minutes in for the moment). And I realized I may be trying way too hard to justify my allegiance to my show. Here's the scoop:

In a week in which CBS, Guiding Light, and P&G mount an all-out promotional assault to tell us about the debut of their new shooting style, ABC Daytime pulls out the stops the old-fashioned way: sex, violence, and pole dancing. Let's start with the pole-dancing. I had been feeling more hopeful about All My Children lately, what with the glowing reviews of the Jesse and Angie reunion of recent weeks, and the pretty location shooting to match it. Then the good folks at Daytime Confidential brought this to my attention: the young women stars of AMC taking pole dancing lessons from Dancing with the Stars' Maksim. I can deal with the cross-promotion, even with a cheesy "let's learn to dance" sequence, but the soft-core porny music video montage of the ladies working it out on the pole--in their office? Yikes.

Then there's my show, GH. The internets are all up in arms over the hypocrisy of the oh-so-serious PSA airing after one of last week's episodes, when pre-teen Michael Corinthos accidentally set off a gun, shooting his dad's lady love. The actors portraying said lady love and the young mafioso-in-training solemnly came on screen thereafter to tell us violence is bad. The great wits of Serial Drama, both columnists and forum posters, have painstakingly detailed the seemingly endless acts of violence portrayed on GH ever since. It's a long list.

I'm totally with these folks in denouncing the hypocrisy of it all. And yet. Here I am, hard at work on my gymnastic efforts to read much of the business on GH these days differently, even sympathetically. For example, the reveal of Diego Alcazar as the Text Message Killer (for the uninitiated, no he doesn't kill BY text message, he just likes to taunt his victims VIA text message) is, indubitably, preposterous. As zarathelawyer reminds us, the character is dead, and dead in a pretty "yeah, he's definitely dead" way. Yet I kind of don't care about how very much the story asks us to suspend our disbelief. I'm just so glad it's almost over. I think the interim writers, whose work is still playing out, desperately grasped at whatever end they could give the story that would give the killer some plausible reason for committing his murderous acts. I still can't imagine how they will explain him offing Georgie (haven't watched today's yet, so don't tell me if it's been addressed), but he has something resembling a motive for the rest of his victims. More outrageous to me is the decimation of one of the few characters of color to grace this show in recent years. It began when he was, inexplicably, made into a sex criminal by taking naked pictures of roofied girls a few years ago. And now this. Nothing about the character ever signaled these sorts of acts of misogynist degeneracy--except that they told us he did these things. And he wasn't white.

I know. I'm making all of this sound really despicable. And in many ways it is. And yet. At least they're getting us out of this damn story, and placing blame on a character who has long been destroyed anyway.

Meanwhile, I continue to find ways to see the development of Sarah Brown's mob-girl Claudia Zacchara as an interesting characterization. Claudia is aggressively sexual, like, so aggressively sexual that it's freaking Sonny Corinthos--he of the Fonz-like sexual magnetism--out. But unlike the earlier female mobster, Faith Roscoe, Claudia's sexual aggression may actually have a cause. There have been hints that she was sexually abused by her father when she was a child and Sarah Brown's magical vulnerable bravado thing is making me believe that her present-day aggression, sexual and otherwise, is all about reacting to this painful past. And so I find her sympathetic and compelling.

In contrast, Sonny and all of the other typically dominant characters (and I mean dominant in that we are typically expected to take their perspectives and attitudes as those we should accept and adopt, as well) are falling to pieces. Sonny is running around town accusing all the wrong people of shooting his lady love and kidnapping his boy, all wild-eyed and gun-wagging. Frankly, he looks like a wack-job. Meanwhile, Carly is all a-fretting and a-wailing about her missing son, the aforementioned accidental shooter, Michael, believing he's another victim of Sonny's mobbin' ways (a view shared by the other GH dominants, Jason and Sonny) when in reality the kid is just totally frakked up, wielding guns and then running for his life because he thinks his pops will respond to violence with violence. Wherever did he get that idea? So here's what I'm liking: Sonny and Jason and Carly look stupid and wrong and misguided. I DON'T think I'm supposed to accept their worldview as mine. Meanwhile, saner citizens of Port Chuck speak sensibly: Jacks wants to call the police because a kid is missing. Sensible! Ric continues on his path of redemption, making nice with Alexis and kicking Trevor to the curb. Sensible! Johnny Zacchara wants to ignore all the mob business and snuggle up with his new sweetie. Sensible!

I may be trying way too hard to find the happy in GH these days. But in a world of sex, violence, and pole dancing, I take what I can get from the ABC soaps.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The greatness of the group

I'm definitely enjoying the return of American Idol to my TV watching these days. As deadly boring as some of the episodes can be (I couldn't watch without benefit of a DVR), as irritating as the judges' banter can be, as ear-splitting as some of the singing can be, a new season of Idol, especially once the competition is on, is pure pleasure. Which of theses kids will become my faves? What kinds of theme weeks will we be subjected to next? How will the "packages" that feed us tantalizing bits about the contestants turn them into characters we know and love--or hate?

After making it to the 5th (yes, 5th!) hour of Idol this week, I was rewarded with one of my favorite kinds of Idol moments--the group number. The series typically delivers group numbers on results show nights, though not on every such episode. With this week's '60s theme and full roster of 24 contestants, we were primed for a group number and, boy, did we get one, complete with '60s get-ups right down to the girls' hair and makeup, which were adorable.

Group numbers like this embody Idol's cheese factor in all its glory. Which is not to say that I enjoy them in a so-good-it's-bad kind of way. I love them instead for their honest-to-goodness wholesomeness. It really matters to these kids' futures that they perform well, that they make us like them, and that earnestness makes such Idol moments sincere. In fact, they remind me most of those icons of wholesome sincerity, the Brady kids, and of those awesome Brady moments when the kids became a singing group and not just a bunch of step-brothers and sisters:

I was way disappointed when the second Idol concert I attended, for season 5, the year of my beloved Elliott Yamin, had many fewer group numbers than the first show I'd seen, the Clay, Reuben, and K.Lo. year, which was pure joy in its plethora of group acts. The reduction in these numbers over the years of the concert seemed to me a sign of the tour becoming more and more of a money-making machine, one that saw no need to invest in the production of new numbers when the fans would still pay money for the tickets and the Idols could just recycle songs they'd sung on the show. I'd still go to another concert, if I were to have the same attachment to the finalists as I did the two years I've attended in the past, but for now I'm holding onto the group numbers I'm getting on screen. Let's hope the bloated results show has the decency to include another next week.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wanna feel old?

Molly Ringwald turns 40 today. Defamer Australia brings us this lovely tribute to Molly in all her '80s glory. My favorite parts are the Facts of Life clips and Breakfast Club dancing scenes. How is it possible that I still covet Molly/Claire's brown boots after 23 years?

Please note as well the brief glimpse of Andrew McCarthy's mug in Pretty in Pink. I never got the appeal of the bland Blane, especially with James Spader's sleazy bad boy and Jon Cryer's geek-adorable Duckie hanging around. Nonetheless, I was excited to see Blane all salt-and-pepper-haired and charming on the Lipstick Jungle pilot recently. He's playing a bazillionaire sweeping the Linsday Price character off her feet. I found Brooke Shields pretty insufferable, but Nico, the magazine editor played by Kim Raver, was likable. I've only watched the first episode so far, but would rank it higher than Cashmere Mafia, its fellow Sex and the City clone, which was ten kinds of awful. Jungle had a better sense of humor, a more sympathetic character in Nico, and Andrew McCarthy, after all.

The Breakfast Club was the first movie I sat through twice. That's two times in a row. In the same theater. Watched it once and stayed to watch it yet again. I think it may be the only movie for which I've ever done this. There's something about being a teenager, and seeing a story of your world (or kinda your world, with a bit more "typing" going on than might be the case in daily life) beaming out from a screen. Unfortunately, I've yet to have the same kind of experience as a thirtysomething. Lipstick Jungle? Cashmere Mafia? Not my world. Maybe we become less susceptible to the fantasy that our lives are worth screening as we get older, so we're less likely to believe that an on-screen world resembles our own. Or maybe the media industries have little interest in capturing the lives of real-feeling adult women. It's moments like this when I miss Lorelei Gilmore, a real-feeling adult woman, a TV friend, existing in an unreal world I wanted to visit every week.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Technology meltdown

It's been quite a week--a host of technologies, old and new, have been acting up in my world--working poorly, not working at all, gumming up the works nonstop. Here's a list of technologies in my life that have required repair, replacement, or reworking this week:

cell phone
DVD recorder
email program

And now a child and his father beset by icky flu-like bugs. I will return to a happy place soon, I will return to a happy place soon, I will return to a happy place soon.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Games of yore

I've mentioned before that my dad was an early adopter--we often had new media technologies in our house in the earliest years of their consumer popularity.
So we had our first VCR, a top-loader that looked something like this (courtesy of in 1981.

There were also a host of video game consoles in my house. I think my dad always wanted to be a serious gamer but only had brief periods of infatuation with a console or a game before his acquisitive desires took over and he was on to the next. But he didn't get a lot of encouragement in his gaming, either. My sister, my mom, and I would be somewhat amused by the latest toy but never kept our attention on it in a way that would have stoked his enthusiasm. Nonetheless, I have crystal clear memories of the various consoles that passed through our house in the '70s and '80s. When I started to look around online for images, I spotted the games we had right away. Surely the earliest was this Bally Professional Arcade.

Next was Intellivision:

This was the era of Atari being all the rage, but no Atari in our house. I'm sure my dad had his reasons--probably an electronics magazine that told him about the superior technologies of other brands--but I would always admit rather sheepishly to kids at school that we had one of these other games when asked about my experience with an Atari title.

There may well have been other consoles along the way, but the next that I remember came much later, after I was out of the house: 3DO. My strongest memory of 3DO is of the controversial live-action game Night Trap, in which you had to stop a bunch of masked bogeymen from grabbing Dana Plato and her giggly slumber party pals. The game stirred up controversy for being sexist and violent and today it ranks on serious gamers' lists as one of the worst video games of all time. Mostly, it was pretty goofy. And I liked it--perhaps indicating that I'm never going to see eye to eye with the gamer boys who write lists like the "crapstravaganza" on which Night Trap ranks. But, c'mon, Dana Plato! As an undercover officer on a mission! And it was my job to help her! I loved the live action sequences and the semblance of narrative, the thing I found missing in too many of the games I played, however briefly, with my dad.

I've been pretty much out of the gaming universe for years now, except for reading a bit of the small but growing world of gaming scholarship and talking with a student or two who knows way more about it all than I do. But I remain kind of intrigued by the whole thing-not so much as something I want to spend time doing, but as something I want to understand--especially to understand why games so compel the attention and devotion of their largely male players (yes, I know, of course there are lots of girl and women gamers, but it is no doubt a masculine culture on the whole).

Maybe that's why I'm looking forward to attending the Video Games Live concert here in Milwaukee next month, where the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will play video game scores as massive screens display game visuals. I'm sure my dad would have gotten a kick out of the idea. No chance they'll play the Night Trap theme song, is there?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Kinda glad I'm not voting today

Bitch Ph.D. has written the post I would write, if I could think this carefully about my conflicted attitude toward the US Democratic primary.