generational differences

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Social Media, Selfies, and Sunset Photos

Published May 24, 2014 by Teresa

John Cho and Karen Gillan in a scene from the new ABC show, Selfie.

I’m really excited about Karen Gillan’s new ABC show, Selfie, which seems to be an interesting take on the Pygmalion (aka My Fair Lady) story. Gillan plays Eliza Dooley, and John Cho plays Henry Higgins (I guess ’cause that’s too boring a name to change?). Check out the trailer:

Gillan’s American accent is good (for the most part), and I love that rather than trying to make her “a Lady,” Higgins’ job seems to be to try to make her…a nice, thoughtful, considerate person. The focus is on fixing her insides, not her outward appearance, which is actually a more worthwhile makeover than the one so fondly remembered in the Audrey Hepburn film. (Gee, thanks for changing the way I talk and making me look and act like a snooty rich lady who looks down on people. I’m so grateful. This is so much better.)

The issue I have with the show isn’t actually an issue I have with the show, but with the idea behind the show. An idea that I’ve seen expressed everywhere lately. It’s been expressed by several friends who’ve left Facebook, swearing off it forever (until they eventually come back, because they’re missing everything). It’s been expressed by countless articles (that are spread virally). It’s been expressed by people of my generation, who were psyched for the beginning of the internet, and now long for the days of writing letters on paper and sending them in the mail.

That we’ve become self-obsessed.

That we’ve become isolated.

That we’ve forgotten how to relate to each other in a “real” way.

And I think that’s a load of horse shit.

There’s a couple of reasons why:

1) There’s no separation between The Internet and “real life.” 

Many people seem to think that the Internet makes us behave in a way that we wouldn’t ordinarily, but the Internet merely amplifies the kind of people we already are. If you enjoy people, you’ll likely be be active on social media. If you’re a douchebag in life, even a closet one, you’ll likely be active on social media anonymously, trolling comment threads and wreaking havoc. The Internet doesn’t “make” anyone do anything any more than pop culture does. At most, it’s an extension of who we are as individuals, and collectively. Mob mentality existed long before people could dogpile on others in comment threads. And let’s not pretend that human beings just became self-involved creatures with the advent of “selfies.” I have centuries of war, famine, violence, and horror that say otherwise.

The Internet just makes that more visible – and that’s what really scares us. Seeing what was already there, magnified.

An acquaintance of mine recently (and begrudgingly) returned to Facebook after removing his profile, because he’d missed several major events in his friends’ lives. Events that he COULD have taken part in “IRL” even after hearing about them on the “necessary evil” of Facebook. I wrote in his comment thread: “Welcome back! :) The thing is, FB in and of itself isn’t the problem – it’s how people choose to use it. You want to see more people IRL? You want to call people more? What’s stopping you? Nothing. :) We tend to blame FB, when the truth is, FB isn’t forcing us to sit in our seats and stare at it. FB doesn’t take our choices away from us – only we can do that.”

The Internet isn’t stopping you from seeing your friends or calling your mom. Upset that people don’t take the time out to contact you off of Facebook or Twitter? Why don’t you reach out to them?

You mean, one can get to know people in person after first meeting them on the internet? SHOCKING! :) Me, Angela, and Heather in Vail.

You mean, one can get to know people in person after first meeting them on the internet? SHOCKING! :) Me, Angela, and Heather in Vail.

2) Relationships formed on The Internet are just as “real” as the ones you form in person. 

And there are degrees – acquaintances, friends, best friends – just as there are IRL.

Two years ago, I moved 3,000 miles away from just about everyone I know and care about to make a go of it in the television industry here in L.A. Now, if we use the logic that the relationships we nurture online “aren’t real,” then that would mean that my friends and family in New York – my rocks and my foundation – aren’t my “real” friends and family anymore. And that’s just insane. Things like social media and taking selfies as I make my way out here in the Wild West allow me to share experiences with them that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. 

As for relationships started online? I have had long-lasting friendships that started online and grew in person. I met my friend Cathy online on a celebrity message board, and when I heard she would be coming to New York to see that celebrity in a play he was doing, I agreed to meet her there, where she introduced me to her other friends. Because of Cathy, I now have my friends Angela, Heather, Matt, and Sarah, and we see each other and take trips together at least once a year, despite the fact that we’re all scattered across the country. We email each other just about every day, and offer each other laughs, counsel, and support.  I joined a theater company and was a part of it for five years because of this girl named Leigh I started talking to on that same celebrity message board and later met at a reading in New York. I met my friend Janice on Twitter, when she tweeted that she was going to a Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer event in NYC (the first one! The one where they announced they were dating!), and I told her I’d meet her there. She later introduced me to an amazing writer I’ve gotten to know, who has since been instrumental in encouraging my own writing. It was on Twitter that I reached out to a television writer I admired, asking if I could possibly meet up with her over coffee for some career guidance, and she graciously accepted.

The Internet is a facilitator. Nothing more. You want to engage IRL? It’s up to YOU to do that. It always has been.

My generation seems to be lashing out against social media in part because of nostalgia. Remember when we were younger and had the time and energy to see our friends all the time? To talk on the phone for hours? To go out to bars and parties and plays and movies and connect with people in person? Yeah, we’re older now, and we have shit to do. We have more complicated job situations, and spouses, and children, and lives, and the time we can dedicate to a social life is more limited. And just as we would’ve had to do before the Internet, if we want to nurture our relationships, we need to make time and do that.

It used to be that people just accepted the petering-out of relationships as a matter of course. Now, the Internet is allowing you to preserve relationships that would have otherwise ended years ago. Without social media, you likely would’ve lost touch with most of your family, everyone you went to high school and college with, AND that cute guy you met at the bar.

Social media allows you to be more engaged and active in your relationships. Because with every status in your feed, there’s a choice involved. Do I want to keep up with this person, or not? And you have that choice now, whereas before the Internet, Life would’ve made that choice for you. Once your schedule became a certain level of busy, or their schedules became a certain level of busy, you would’ve just stopped hanging out altogether. Now, even in the midst of our busy lives, we can keep up with each other and determine whether or not we want to see each other in person based on real-time information, not memories.

I was in this play because a friend I met on the Internet was part of a theater company. Don Castro, Alejandro Garcia, Me, and Maria Schirmer in "The Ghost Dancers" (2008)

I was in this play because a friend I met on the Internet was part of a theater company. Don Castro, Alejandro Garcia, Me, and Maria Schirmer in “The Ghost Dancers” (2008)

3) This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.

People always think that The Good Ol’ Days were so much better. The truth is, they weren’t better or worse. They were exactly the same. Sure the technology is different, but people haven’t changed. Back when the telephone was first invented, people thought that it would cause people to lose the decorum of face-to-face interaction. Accepting invitations over the phone (as opposed to RSVPing to a paper invitation sent in the mail) was considered undignified. So was saying “Hello?” when you answered.

Etiquette changes as technology changes, but people stay the same. Perhaps AT&T had it right in the beginning when they asked people to take The Telephone Pledge (1910): “I believe in the Golden Rule and will try to be as Courteous and Considerate over the Telephone as if Face to Face.” 

We apply the Golden Rule to life, and to the phone; why not the Internet, too? It’s pretty simple. Well, it’s no more or less difficult than “doing unto others” in life is.

People have always taken photos at special events, and it’s always been a way of sharing moments with people who couldn’t be there, as well as remembering those special moments for yourself. Things like Instagram just make it easier to share those moments with more people. Sometimes, “selfies” are taken for practical reasons – like, you’re somewhere by yourself and you want to take a photo of yourself in front of a thing. Other times, “selfies” are taken to capture a moment in our lives. “This is me after finding out about my new job!” “This is me getting ready for that big party I’ve been excited about!” “I love my new haircut! Check it out!” Just because you’re the focus of the photo, doesn’t mean you’re “self-absorbed.” The whole reason behind taking the photo is so that you can share events and moments in your life with other people. And they share pieces of themselves and their lives with you. Just because the way we share with each other has become more visual doesn’t make it any less worthwhile or important. Sure we can send someone a letter, call them, email them, or tell them about our special moments in person – but a picture’s worth a thousand words, and every selfie tells a story, too.

Tell Cindy Sherman that “selfies” are self-involved and a waste of time. Tell Joseph Cornell that finding things that other people made and “remixing” them into a new piece of art doesn’t take talent or skill. What we think of as “the death of civilization” today will likely become Art tomorrow. That’s the way it always seems to work out. We need to stop telling kids to “get off our lawns” and start recognizing that they’re creating a new world, and we can either take part in it – sharing with them – or we can gripe ourselves into our graves.

I like sharing, personally. :)

This is me sharing my sense of humor.

This is me sharing my sense of humor.

4) We always have a choice.

I’m not saying that people don’t take things to extremes. I have friends who, whenever I see them in person, can barely make eye contact with me because they’re scrolling on their phone most of the time even though they’re getting together with me IRL. But meanwhile, whenever I go out, I generally take one or two photos to capture the event, and then I PUT MY CAMERA AWAY so that I can live in the moment and enjoy the people I’m with. This, like everything else, is a choice.

In the trailer for Selfie above, there’s a moment when Gillan’s character tries to take a photo of herself and Cho’s character, and he stops her, telling her to live in the moment. And that kind of annoys me. Because the “moment” doesn’t stop the second you take the photo. It was happening before the photo, and will continue after the photo. Meanwhile, with the photo taken, you can share that moment later with people you care about. Stopping to take one or two photos when you’re having a moment you’re enjoying isn’t going to cause society to collapse! People have always done that – they just couldn’t share them right away.

People express annoyance not only at selfies, but at food photos, or sunset photos. But to me, they’re signs of people absorbing and appreciating what they have. In order to take a photo of a sunset, you first have to stop and realize that it’s beautiful and majestic. You have to take it in before you realize you want to capture it. When you take a photo of a great meal, you first have to appreciate the fact that you’re about to eat something delicious that a chef worked really hard to make look amazing. When you take a photo of yourself, you’re either sharing your vulnerability or your confidence, and either one is brave.

To me, selfies, “food porn” photos, and sunset photos – really, any photos that people tend to take with their phones these days – are a sign that we’re trying to express gratitude for what’s around us and want to share it with each other.

How is that a bad thing? 

Oh, and by the way – let’s stop and think about the fact that Selfie is a television retelling of My Fair Lady, which was a musical retelling of a George Bernard Shaw play, which was itself a retelling of the Greek myth of Pygmalion. Then stop complaining about how this generation is unoriginal and sending us to hell in a handbasket.

 

“Girls” Makes Me Sad. And That Makes Me Old. Thank God.

Published April 22, 2012 by Teresa

Pretty much how I felt watching the first episode of "Girls."

So, I finally got around to watching the first episode of the new HBO show, Girls. You know the one. The one everyone’s been either passionately defending or ripping to shreds due to issues of race, gender, and class lately. I wanted to watch it, because lately it’s become more important to me to support female-helmed and female-created work. Yes, Judd Apatow is an Executive Producer, but this is Lena Dunham’s project as she’s not only the show’s creator, writer, and star, but also the director. The show also has a mostly female cast too, which is nice.

I’m not going to get into the show’s issues with race (it’s sadly accurate, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve met women like this in New York, and despite living in one of the most diverse cities in the world, I was often the darkest person many of them hung out with). I’m also not going to talk about the show’s issues with class, though it does come off as “rich girl whining” a lot of the time.

What I want to address is the way that the show addresses a generation. The thing of it is, it’s accurate. It’s spot-on. This is, indeed, what many 20-somethings are like. However, something being accurate doesn’t necessarily make it funny or entertaining. I was surprised that, though it’s a “half-hour comedy,” I only laughed once the whole episode. (“When I look at you both, a Coldplay song plays in my heart.”) The rest of the time, I alternated between sad, angry, and bored.

I hated Hannah (played by Dunham) immediately, and cringed at both her overwhelming sense of entitlement and her out and out stupidity (I’m sorry, but internships are generally for when you’re IN college. An internship TWO YEARS AFTER college with no other job?! File that under Poor Life Choices). She made me furious. However, Hannah’s entitlement has less to do with race and class and more to do with her age and the time in which she’s grown up. 20-somethings whose parents don’t support them have this sense of entitlement. 20-somethings who aren’t white have it, too. These days, you don’t have to be rich or white to feel like the world owes you something. In that sense, we’re living in the most egalitarian time ever, as there’s plenty of equal-opportunity entitlement to go around in the United States. But as much as I hated Hannah, I also hated her parents, because I knew that they were responsible for her being this way, and when Hannah calls them out on it (Hannah’s mom calls her spoiled, and Hannah correctly responds, “Well, whose fault is that?”) it was the first time I was really on her side.

Interwoven into my anger, were pockets of sadness, as I watched the lives of these 20-somethings unfold and felt sorry for them. Aren’t we supposed to look back on our 20s fondly? Enviously, even? Aren’t we supposed to wish we could go back? Well, if my 20-something life were anything like those on this show, I’d want to high-tail it out of my twenties as quickly as possible, because there’s no way I’d ever want to live like this. It’s amazing to me how, despite their huge senses of entitlement, these characters are so willing to accept the shitty circumstances of their shitty lives without thinking they deserve better. Hannah is in a fuck-buddy relationship with some guy (played by Adam Driver) who not only doesn’t seem to like her very much, but also doesn’t seem to even enjoy fucking her all that much. So, he’s neither a buddy, nor a good fuck. Their sex scene was just depressing. Like, it wasn’t even fun casual sex. It was perfunctory. Like, “I’m X years old. I should be having sex now. Doesn’t matter who with. Doesn’t matter if I enjoy it. This is what I should be doing now.” Ugh. Double cringe. Hannah also insults me as a writer. :) I get the whole Calling Yourself a Writer Even Though You Haven’t Finished Much of Anything thing. I’ve totally been there. What bothered me was the fact that she’s writing a memoir. Because, apparently, the thing to do in the age of reality television and social media is to write a book about yourself. Because, at 24 (and a sheltered, entitled 24 at that) you’ve totally led a life worth reading about. Riiiiight.

Triple cringe.

Hannah’s best friend, Marnie (played by Allison Williams), admits that she doesn’t love her boyfriend and says she’s going to leave him, but when Hannah asks her about it later, she’s all “No I’m not!” I guess having someone at the ready to possibly pay rent overrides being in a bullshit relationship? There’s the “worldly” Jessa (played by Jemima Kirke), who is a total cliche and seems to revel in it, as if the lives of 20-somethings have become so meta that their very lives have to be appropriated from the lives of other characters they’ve seen on TV or in movies. And lastly, there’s Shoshanna (played by Zosia Mamet, who gets to do much better work in her role on Mad Men), whom I just wanted to shake like a rag doll every time she was on screen.

Watching these people exist just made me sad, because they’re hopeless even in their entitlement. One’s twenties are supposed to be all about hope and possibility and the world being your oyster. The characters on Girls seem to be limiting their own existences based on arbitrary criteria they pieced together from the internet. And this may be what 20-somethings do now. And this is what saddens me. When I graduated college, I immediately moved out of my parents’ apartment, because I wanted to be on my own. Despite their willingness to have me live with them until I got married (we’re Latino. It’s a thing.), citing every reason why I should (“You wouldn’t have to pay rent!” “Mommy would cook for you!” and the ever guilt-inducing “Don’t you love us anymore?”), I didn’t want to be a burden to them. I wanted to pay my own bills, provide for myself, make my way in the world on my own. It was a matter of pride. I would’ve been ashamed to rely on my parents if I didn’t have to. Please don’t take this the wrong way. One should never be too proud to ask for help if they really need it, and on occasion, even after I moved out on my own, I had to ask my parents for money here and there to get by. But they weren’t paying my rent. They weren’t buying my groceries. I was. And I was proud of that, even when times were hard, because I was living life on my own terms. Still am.

An interview with Lena Dunham made me feel a little better in that the show is knowingly depicting these characters this way. 25-year-old Dunham is consciously commenting on their attitudes and behavior, which gives me hope that not everyone in their mid-twenties is so clueless and self-involved. Girls is a well-written show that is sadly accurate, which makes it not entertaining to me. There is not one character on this show that I care to spend an extended amount of time with. Marnie comes the closest, but even she gives me trouble, and she’s not even the protagonist. I may watch another episode, I may not. It will take a lot to get me in the mood to watch more.

Does the fact that the point of view of women in their mid-twenties doesn’t resonate with me and I don’t find it funny mean that I’m officially old? Maybe. But I’m also grateful that I came of age at a time when paying one’s dues was a badge of honor, not something to try and find a shortcut around. I’m grateful that I had the drive to make my own way. I’m also grateful that I’m officially past the bullshit that comes with being in your twenties. When these ladies get a bit older, I’ll be happy to welcome them to the world of real womanhood, where sex is something you’re supposed to enjoy, you take pride in learning before doing, and you’re never afraid to ask for what you want and need – a sense of entitlement that is the product of years of experience and work rather than pop culture.

**BTW – I just realized that all the characters have the same first and last initial. Their names are Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Jessa Johansson, and Shoshanna Shapiro. Really?!

This Isn’t Burger King! You Shouldn’t Always Have It Your Way!

Published January 12, 2010 by Teresa

SOUNDTRACK FOR THIS POST: QueenRadio GaGa

A little over a year ago, I had a strange hankering for something that I hadn’t wanted in years.  Yet suddenly, there it was, this hankering that evolved into a burning desire gnawing away at me until I had no choice but to satisfy it.

I needed to listen to the radio.

For the past several years, I’ve noticed that the prevailing attitude among my peers has been this weird pride in not listening to the radio.  I’m sure this conversation will be familiar to many of you:

Friend #1: What the hell song is this?

Friend #2: I don’t know.  God, I haven’t listened to the radio in years!

Friend #1: I know!  Neither have I.  I haven’t watched MTV in years, either.

Friend #2: Seriously!  I have no idea what “the kids are listening to” these days.

Friend #1: Whatever. They only play crap nowadays, anyway…

I’ve heard this conversation.  I’ve had this conversation, steeped in a pride in musical ignorance.  I’ve made those general statements about “music today” without really knowing anything about it save the stray notes I’d hear from a passing car, or on some channel or other while flipping with my TV remote.  For several years after college, I relied on my friends for musical recommendations.  Once I discovered Pandora Internet Radio, I thought I’d discovered the best of all worlds!  Here was something like radio with the added bonus of being shaped by my musical tastes!  It recommended new artists that have ended up becoming favorites of mine.  It is something I can reliably leave on all day at work, knowing it will provide me with a steady stream of music.  Great, right?  Pandora was surely the thing that would successfully transition me into being a musically mature adult!

Except that after a while, my stations started becoming repetitive.  With nothing but my limited taste to guide them (and I have a pretty eclectic musical taste!), the same songs and artists kept coming up.  The same problem I ascribed to broadcast radio – “They play the same 5 songs over and over!” – was happening to me here, too.  Suddenly, the advantage I thought internet radio had over broadcast radio wasn’t so clear an advantage.

Then I realized an even bigger problem, and it connects to that all-too-familiar conversation above.  I realized that I’d been limiting myself to music I know I like.  Friends who think like me were recommending music to me they already had an idea I’d enjoy.  I was listening to my own music collection ad nauseum.  Pandora was using its fancy-schmancy algorithm to spit out songs and artists it knew I would like.  This is a great thing in theory.

Except that I got bored.

I missed something as simple as not knowing what’s coming on next.  I missed being able to turn on music and say “I don’t like that.”  I missed taking a chance on something new and forming a new opinion.  I missed hearing radio personalities who are steeped in this music talk about it.  And I realized that the attitude I had about “what the kids are listening to” was doing nothing but insulating me in a snug (and smug) self-satisfied little cocoon.  This is a difficult realization for a Native New Yorker.  We Native New Yorkers pride ourselves on being open-minded, and we love nothing more than to look down on other people and places that don’t think the way we do and make fun of them.  But…wait…aren’t we then doing the exact…same…thing we criticize them…for doing?

Indeed.

So many people I know, myself included for a long while, stopped listening to the radio because we equated the songs found there with hormone-addled teenagers and our “less sophisticated” brethren in Middle America.  God FORBID we be anything like THEM!  And it is here where I will make a startling confession.

I LOVE POP MUSIC! Whew! That feels so good to say out loud.  I think I’ll say it again.  I.  LOVE.  POP.  MUSIC.  It’s something that, for a while, I felt uncomfortable being honest about.  And so, even when I’d come out and say something as risky as “I like Britney Spears”, it would have to be said with a trace of irony in the voice.  Because no one over the age of 16 actually likes Britney Spears, right?  Or Kelly Clarkson?  Or Lady Gaga?  Or Justin Timberlake?  Or, um, ANY hip-hop?  And it wasn’t just me.  Whenever many of my friends “confess” to enjoying a pop song, it’s always with some sort of qualifier like “It’s a fun, fluffy song!”  or saying that some pop singer or other is a “great performer!”  Both of those statements being code for: I can’t admit that I just like this song, but I can get around that by complimenting an element having nothing to do with the music or lyrics while simultaneously acknowledging that I “know” the song is “actually” bad.

Why do we do that to ourselves?  Why do we punish ourselves for what we like and make ourselves listen to music that bores us just because it’s more critically acclaimed or has more hipster cred?  And why do we dismiss pop music out of hand, as if it doesn’t contribute anything valuable to our culture, as if its lyrics can say nothing to us, or as if its melodies and beats have no artistic value?  Popular music is popular for a reason, and instead of ignoring it out of some false sense of musical superiority, perhaps it would behoove us to examine that reason, those reasons, and become a part of the conversation.  Perhaps if we do participate, pop music will evolve in our image.  Just as you can’t complain about the results of an election in which you haven’t voted, you can’t complain about the state of pop music and make snarky comments if you’ve purposely separated yourself from it.  Let’s remember - Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald sang “pop music.”  The Beatles were “pop music.”  Motown churned out “pop music.”

Pop music can change the world, if you let it.

Since I started listening to the radio again, I’ve heard some now-favorite songs of mine (like Ke$ha’s Tik Tok and Pink’s Sober), I’ve heard an interview that solidified my love of Lady GaGa, I’ve been regularly listening to a morning show I used to listen to all the time when I was younger and didn’t realize I was missing until I heard it again (Elvis Duran and the Z-Morning Zoo!), and I’ve discovered a new radio station that I’ve fallen in love with (101.9 RXP, the only rock station in NY playing NEW rock as well as classic rock) which introduced me to a UK band that might become one of my favorites very soon – Florence and The Machine. I’ve rediscovered the joy that is being part of the musical mainstream.  I know, right?  But willfully distancing yourself from “what the kids are listening to” is just as misguided as a teenager sticking his/her nose up at “old people music” for no reason other than it being outside their experience.  And they’re young, so they understandably don’t have the historical perspective to appreciate anything before their time.

What’s your excuse?  :)

For my part, I’ve decided to start a new feature here at The Teresa Jusino Experience called Pop Goes Teresa, wherein I will attempt to analyze/speak intelligently about a pop song, a pop artist, or trends in pop music.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you’ll participate and give me suggestions as to what you’d like to talk/hear about!

I’ve also decided long ago to stop being ashamed of what I like.  That way of thinking is annoying and was giving me an ulcer.  :)

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